How do I know if my pet is in pain and what should I do?

Since dogs and cats can’t talk, we, as owners or vets, have to rely on observable signs to tell us when they are feeling pain, which are often too subtle and difficult to spot. For example, pain in dogs due to arthritis can cause a slow decrease in activity over time, which can be hard to notice. At Felcana, we understand that pain affects our pet’s overall health and quality of life, so we’re building products to help identify issues sooner so vets can treat pain appropriately.

How can my veterinarian help me?

You’re probably used to routine vet visits for things like vaccines, or taking your pet in when they are poorly. But what can your veterinarian do for a problem that is so hard to see? The field of veterinary pain management has developed considerably over the last forty years, with a focus on both recognising and treating pain. There are now several evidence based pain scoring scales that allow the assessment of pain to be more objective. These scales look at things like activity, posture, and demeanour to help your vet determine your pet’s level of pain. Creating and maintaining a pain management protocol with your veterinary team also helps build the veterinary-client-patient relationship, which increases the quality of your pet’s care.

Our first product, Felcana Go can help gather more data about your pet’s condition to track patterns over time and make a more objective analysis of your pet’s pain.

Felcana Go can help evaluate pain by tracking:

  1. Reduced Activity - Your pet may not be as keen to go for walks, play, or jump up on furniture, and the Felcana Go app will show you their activity patterns so that subtler changes can be identified earlier and trends can be noticed over time.
  2. Sleeping Patterns - Restlessness can be a sign of pain, and Felcana Go can measure the amount of time your pet spends sleeping or lying down.
  3. Recovery after Surgery or Hospitalization - As your pet recovers from a surgery or illness their activity levels will return to normal, and Felcana Go can track this process to tell you how they are doing in their recovery.
  4. Response to Treatment - Monitoring pain parameters like activity and restlessness can tell you and your veterinarian if your pet’s treatment is making a difference and how to adjust it to fit your pet’s needs.

Once your pet’s pain has been identified, there are many treatment options that can be recommended by your veterinarian. Some of these options may be familiar to you, but others are constantly being developed as we find better ways to assess animal’s pain and response to therapy.

Common Types of Medications:

  1. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) - NSAIDs are the most common pain medication that owners administer to their pets at home, on both short and long term bases. Medications such as meloxicam and carprofen are used to treat ongoing pain due to conditions like osteoarthritis. They can cause stomach upset, so should always be given with food unless otherwise directed. Additionally, the effect of ongoing treatment on the body’s organs needs to be monitored by routine blood tests.
  2. Opioids - When we think of pain medication, we often think of opioid medications like morphine, and these medications are incredibly effective in treating acute, severe pain. Most commonly, your pet will be given opioid medications in a supervised hospital setting during surgery or illness. An exception to this is buprenorphine, which is routinely used to treat moderate to severe pain in cats on an outpatient basis when the pain cannot be controlled with other medications. These medications may make your pet sleepy or disoriented.
  3. Tramadol - Tramadol is a synthetic opioid-like drug that has been used to treat moderate to severe pain on an outpatient basis. It is often used in combination with an NSAID, which increases the effects of both medications. It can cause some sedation, and is very bitter tasting, so it will usually need to be hidden in a treat.
  4. Gabapentin - Gabapentin is a medication that treats nerve pain. It is most commonly used to treat conditions where a nerve has been injured or damaged, like limb amputation or spinal disease. However, chronic pain can develop a nerve pain component as the nerves become over sensitized to pain, and your veterinarian may include this medication in your pet’s ongoing treatment plan.
  5. Paracetamol - This medication can be used for chronic pain in dogs in conjunction with other medications. THIS MEDICATION SHOULD NEVER BE GIVEN TO CATS. Paracetamol is highly toxic to cats and any accidental ingestion or administration is a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary treatment.

Other things you can do:

  1. Weight management - One of the biggest problems in veterinary medicine today is obesity, and it can significantly worsen your pet’s pain. Weight management plans can be discussed with your veterinarian, and often include special diets, exercise plans, and frequent weight monitoring. Felcana Go can help you monitor your pet’s exercise as part of a weight management plan.
  2. Acupuncture - There is a solid and growing body of evidence for the use of acupuncture for pain relief in animals. Most animals don’t seem to mind the process, and many of them relax or even fall asleep during treatments. It is often used as part of a pain management program alongside other treatments or medication.
  3. Physical therapy - Physical therapy is commonly used both after surgery and for chronic conditions. It can involve swimming, underwater treadmills, joint movement exercises, and controlled exercise.
  4. Environmental modifications - If your pet is experiencing pain, normal activity like jumping up on beds or furniture or walking on slippery surfaces can become dangerous and lead to injury. Things like stairs or ramps can be used to help your pet get to places like the bed or the couch, and yoga mats can be put on slippery floors to increase traction. These modifications can make it easier and safer for your pet to move around your house.

In the future, we aim to develop new products to help monitor additional factors that can reveal if your pet is in pain such as:

  1. Gait changes - Through our research collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College’s Structure and Motion Lab, we are developing the ability to assess things like stiffness, limping, and uncoordinated movement.
  2. Changes in eating and drinking - Pain can cause your pet to lose their appetite. Additionally, pain may inhibit their normal movements and therefore they may not visit the bowls as often.
  3. Litter tray use for cats - Cats that are experiencing pain often visit the litter tray more frequently and stay longer.

Felcana’s goal is to help owners and veterinarians understand their pets so that they can receive the best care.

Felcana Go will allow you to access your pet’s health and activity trends through an easily downloadable app which enables you to closely monitor your pet’s health. Dogs and cats can’t talk, therefore Felcana helps you to understand when there may be a problem or an underlying issue.#Felcanacares.

 

This blog was written by Katharine Haughton from the Royal Veterinary College.