Playing Pet Detective sounds like fun but when it comes to end of life care for our beloved pets, playing detective when it comes to pain management is anything but fun and hardly a diagnostic tool for quality of life and palliative care.
Unlike humans pets do not complain, moan or groan about their level of discomfort but in all honesty, it would be better if they did, because it would help us evaluate our dog or a cat’s quality of life and trying to figure out a pet’s level of discomfort, stress, anxiety and pain can require education and skills that most pet parents just don’t have. So the question becomes, how can we support our hospice pets and improve the end of life journey for them when it comes to managing their pain?
With the advances in vet medicine, we now know pets feel pain and that providing pain relief helps them heal from surgeries and also maintain a greater level of comfort during end of life care. But what is the use of pain management if the people who are closest to the pets don’t know the signs and when to get that additional help on board?
Why do pets hide pain? Survival? Instinctive? We’ve all heard – “well he still likes to run after the ball, or run at the park. He looks fine. You could never tell…” Pets in the wild hide their pain because it is a sign of weakness and they hide their pain with us as we are part of their pack and dogs protect their packs. Beyond that, they love us and the bond is so great, that there cannot be any doubt that they don’t want to worry us either.
Other things to watch for are displacement behaviors which can also be (but not limited to) expressions of pain. Anything from licking, to snapping, excessive grooming, stretching or pacing can be a communication that something is wrong. So if you went to pet your dog and it was a painful area you might see them lick their lips or yawn, when what they really want to do is bite so you will not touch the area, but they love us and get conflicted. But when a pet whimpers in pain, you can be sure (unlike us humans) they are not faking it. Something is going on. A list of pain indicators are described here and must be evaluated as a whole and there is a gradient of severity of each symptom which must be put into the equation also:
Panting Licking Sore Spot Lameness Muscle Atrophy Difficulty Sleeping
Pacing Vocalizing Depressed Reclusive Decreased Appetite Tucked Tail
Avoiding stairs/jumping Dilated pupils Poor Grooming Abnormal Posture
Aggressive Obsessive licking Lethargy Rapid breathing Rapid heart rate
Trouble getting on/off furniture Missing litter box
Diseases associated with chronic pain: urinary tract disease, cancer, pancreatitis, glaucoma, megacolon or chronic constipation and osteoarthritis.
Being proactive in our pet’s pain management at any point in their life, but particularly during end of life care for dogs and cats, makes the world of difference for both pet and parent. It truly paves the path of comfort, quality time and least regrets and can leave a legacy of some sweet final weeks or days together, and a shorter and less intense grieving period. It takes a team to manage a pet’s end of life care and we are glad we are part of your team!