We Don’t Like Pain
That’s not a needle, THIS is a needle!
Ouch – that hurt! Pets can’t say the words but communicate pretty well they are hurt by something we do. At home it might be when the brush snags a knot or when you accidentally tread on the toe of an eager puppy who is hanging a bit too close when you are preparing dinner. These “hurts” are accidental, whereas during a visit to the vet some hurts – such as injections or surgeries- are inflicted out of necessity to prevent or treat disease.
I hope I don’t have to tell you that, as vets, we do not like causing pain to our patients. What you might not be aware of is the myriad of ways we work to minimise discomfort to the pets we treat.
Take needle size for instance. A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and has to be injected through a wide bore needle. The needles are extremely sharp, which means they glide through the skin without pulling, minimizing pain. In addition when implanting a microchip the pet is always held by one of our skilled veterinary nurses, minimising the wriggle factor that will potentially increase the pain associated with giving the injection.
On the other hand a vaccination can be given through a very fine needle and the ‘pain’ of giving that injection can often be masked in a dog that is not anxious by giving a good scratch on the back of the neck and offering a treat. As the treat is eagerly consumed the needle is slipped in and the injection given. Sometimes even their worried owner doesn’t notice.
There are many pets that we see that associate an injection with a treat and will often stand quietly for the injection and then demand the treat afterwards. That’s the deal.
The problem is that not all injected medications are low irritant like vaccinations. Some of them sting. When we have to give an injection that we know will hurt we usually take the pet out of the consultation room and into the hospital area where they can be held by a veterinary nurse for the injection. A confident person holding them and the distraction of an unfamiliar environment all help to distract the pet and the sting of the injection is often quickly forgotten when they are placed on the floor and eagerly drag us back to their waiting owner.
We have to look after pets with sore ears, sore paws, painful teeth, broken bones and aching joints. For all of them we consider their discomfort first. If the ear is so sore that we can’t examine it then sedation is required, never force.
There is a lot of evidence in people and pets to say that if pain is minimised around the time of the surgery the recovery is quicker with fewer complications. When performing surgery we use several pain control medications that work in different ways to achieve the best outcome. This is called ‘multimodal’ pain control. Pets having surgery are given a painkiller as a premedication, prior to the anaesthesia. This makes them sleepy and enables us to place a catheter into their vein easily. After they are anaesthetised a second painkiller is given by injection. This drug starts working after two hours and lasts for 24 hours. Local anaesthetic is often used at the surgical site. Further pain relief is given if needed as they are recovering and they are sent home with medication for a few days to relieve post-operative discomfort. We formulate a plan to minimise the pain for each and every patient, and adjust the medication and their doses according to the pet’s need.
So when you bring your pet in for a checkup or surgery please rest assured that we will be doing all in our power to make the visit as comfortable and pain free as it possibly can be, and don’t be afraid to ask to the vet or surgical nurse about pain and what we are doing to minimise it.