Pets and Pain(pills)

bandaged-head2  In modern human society, the use of pain relievers and narcotics (legal and illegal) has grown to become a multi-billion dollar business.  Humans are obsessed with pain relief at any cost–physical or financial.  It’s no wonder then, that we have spread this desire for “pain management” to our pets and the veterinary industry.

What the general pet owner does not understand, is that dogs and cats and animals in general, have a much higher pain threshold than humans.  Pain that would cripple a human could be merely a nuisance to a dog.  Nature designed them this way in order to survive.  We still have not managed to breed out all of nature’s design in our dogs and cats.  But we tend to overprotect our animals like we now overprotect our children.  Pain is a part of life and a learning tool.  Pain for pets or people should not be eliminated entirely from life experience.

Pain is hotly debated in the veterinary/pet world as some professionals preach that minor pain will help keep a pet quiet/non-active while it heals.   The opposition stands anywhere from, “this is cruel” to “pain lengthens healing time”.  Well, in different cases, all three of these assertions may be true.  For instance, if a dog has just had a benign lump removed and has stitches–the minor pain will keep him from running, jumping, twisting etc, and ripping out stitches.  Even if the dog is in a crate–if he feels good, he may dig at the door to get out, tear up toys and blankets in the crate and generally work himself up into hurting himself.  The pain will be gone in a day (although it’s usually even less) and the dog will function normally, but will be careful of the surgical area if it feels some pain there.pain-pill

Now, if a pet has been hit by a car, has a broken leg and is badly bruised or injured, it might indeed be cruel to let the pet lay there in a higher level of pain if it can be eased a bit by medication.  The pet won’t be moving much anyway in this case, so a little pain relief will not cause the animal to get too frisky.

And lastly, if the above pet who was hit by a car is to properly heal, they will eventually need to move around to regain joint mobility and muscle strength.  If they are still in a lot of pain, they may not want to move around and this could indeed lengthen the healing process.  In the case of cats who are having pain issues due to injuries or surgery, pain meds could help healing as well.  When cats are in pain, they typically won’t eat.  If they don’t eat, they will lose strength and energy and this will delay healing.

But in general, I believe pain management has become a cash cow for the veterinary world, the same as it is for human medicine.  Young, healthy animals getting routine surgeries should not be prescribed pain pills whether or not they need them. Most vets these days routinely send all spay and neuters home with pain meds.  Pet owners are made to feel cruel if they don’t take the pain meds.  My husband had major thyroid surgery–a 3 hour operation on his throat.  The surgeon told him he’d probably only need pain meds for a day or two–but when we got to the pharmacy we found she had prescribed 40 pills!! Enough for 2 weeks or more.  My husband used 3 of the pills over the course of three days.  But some pharmaceutical company is getting big kickbacks when every surgical patient is sent home with this many pain pills. The same is true when every spay and neuter gets sent home with pain meds.

Animals have a much shorter lifespan than humans, and pain pills carry some potentially dangerous side effects like liver damage and intestinal upset and damage.  Why would we want to shorten their already short lives–if it’s not absolutely necessary for their well-being?

Finally, I want to be sure that people don’t get too angry at their vets and staff when these people push the pain pills.  Just like in human medicine, pain management and prescription pain killers for pets is being taught now in the vet schools.  The drug companies come in and “teach” how great this stuff is and why.  And the whole industry gets brainwashed.  How can we expect a 22 year old Vet student to have the wisdom and experience to challenge what their professors and other professionals in the pet industry (drug companies hire veterinarians to peddle this stuff) are telling them?  It’s up to each one of us to independently research and learn what we can so we can help educate others and do what is best for our pets (and ourselves).

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