Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pain Medication is Gold Standard for Vet. Hospice Care By Dr. Cheryl Maguire

Photo courtesy: Pet Plan
I recently received my annual membership card to the American Veterinary Medical Association and included with the card came a wallet-sized copy of The Veterinarian’s Oath. By taking this oath, I swore to use my knowledge and skills to “prevent and relieve animal suffering” and I strive for this every single day. Receiving this little wallet-sized reminder inspired me to do even more when it comes to preventing and relieving animal suffering. One way I would like to do that is to address the concerns many owners have when it comes to giving their pets pain medication.

Physical pain is something we have all endured at some point in our lives and, for most of us, an experience we would like to avoid at all costs. As a profession, veterinary medicine is recognizing and treating pain in animals more aggressively than at any other time in history. Most pet owners now consider their pets as members of their families. So, why then, are so few of my patients receiving the pain medication they need and deserve? Surprisingly, I find that many of my patients are not taking any pain medication at all despite most of them suffering from conditions that cause pain and discomfort. How can this be?

Although veterinarians are doing a better job than ever before at proactively recognizing and treating pain there are still some veterinarians out there who do not offer pain medication options to their clients. I would like to think that these cases are rare. For the most part, the patients I see have been prescribed pain medication but the owners are either not well-informed on how to administer the medication or the owners are reluctant to administer as prescribed. I have found that many owners are reluctant to give their pets pain medication out of fear and this is so unfortunate.

Many owners fear that pain medication will make their pet’s condition “worse” and this is just not the case when the pain medication has been appropriately prescribed by a veterinarian. Please trust that your veterinarian has carefully weighed the risk to benefit ratio when prescribing pain medication for your pet. Most pain medications are very safe especially on a short-term basis. If these medications must be given chronically over a long period of time your veterinarian should be monitoring your pet frequently. The need for regular rechecks with your veterinarian should not be a reason for withholding pain medication from a pet that would benefit from such.

For many conditions, more than one type of pain medication may be prescribed and pet owners may fear that their pet is being “over-dosed.” Giving more than one type of pain medication is called a multi- modal approach to pain relief and one of the most effective ways to tackle pain because it uses different classes of drugs together which may be more effective than using them singly. Please do not be afraid that your pet is being “over-dosed.” Using more than one type of pain medication is an accepted and effective method of treating pain.

If a particular pain medication does not seem to be working for your pet or is causing an unacceptable side-effect such as vomiting, please do not give up on pain medication all together. Discuss how the medication is affecting your pet with your veterinarian and in most cases an alternative pain medication can be prescribed.

Pain medication must be given consistently for it to work. This is especially important for chronic painful conditions such as arthritis. Also, it is much easier to manage pain that is at a tolerable level than to try to relieve pain that is severe and excruciating so, unless your pet has been prescribed a pain medication on an “as needed” basis please give the doses as prescribed. If your pet has been prescribed medication for arthritis it is important to give the medication as prescribed even if your pet seems better. Your pet is improving because the pain medication is relieving pain and inflammation and that is a good thing! We don’t want to slip back down that slippery slope of pain and immobility by rationing the pain medication.

This was not intended to be a discussion about the different pain medications available to treat pets but rather my attempt at addressing some of the concerns I hear frequently from my clients. For owners who would like to learn more about specific medications I recommend they ask their veterinarian for this information.

I hope I have alleviated some of the fears pet owners have regarding administering pain medications to their pets and opened the door for owners to discuss the topic of pain management with their veterinarians. Sadly, our beloved pets are not immune to physical pain, even though they may not show signs of pain in the same way that humans do, they do experience pain. Fortunately, we have some good options available to treat pain in pets but these medications will not help if they stay stashed away in a kitchen drawer or cupboard. I urge pet owners who are reluctant to give their pets pain medication to discuss their concerns with their veterinarians. Please do not withhold pain medication. Your pet will be grateful you didn’t.

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