Pain as a Form of Exercise Restriction

In practice we often hear people say “I did not give kitty the pain meds because he did not look like he was in pain” or “I did not give puppy the pain pills because I didn’t want him to feel good and run around and hurt himself”. Does this sound familiar? I think that we have all either heard or said this at one point in time. Well here we will discuss why this is not only not ok, it is detrimental to our pets.

Pain is the way that the brain tells us something is wrong. We then react depending on the degree of pain and our tolerance to pain. People vocalize the intensity of their pain because we depend on verbal communication to express what we feel and think. Animals do not. They will cry or bite when pain intensifies, but otherwise they do not vocalize to let us know something is actively hurting. A dog with a broken leg is in significant pain, but what we usually see is them holding the leg up. I cannot tell you how many times I have had the owner say “she won’t put the leg down, but she is not acting like she is in pain”. My answer is “if she wasn’t in pain she would be using the leg”.

When an animal is in pain, the body secretes chemicals that can cause problems such as cystitis (urinary/bladder pain) and intestinal problems. Their appetite decreases, and with lack of proper nutrition the body can’t heal properly. Pain can result in depression and when not controlled can cause hypersensitivity, or more pain. In short, pain control is not just about pain, it is about health.

Another part of pain control is decreasing swelling. When a patient has arthritis the goal of oral medications is to control pain, which is secondary to inflammation and irregular joint surfaces. When we withhold anti-inflammatory therapy we are allowing swelling and allowing the joint to deteriorate faster. You cannot stop or reverse arthritis, but we can slow down its progression and improve the pet’s quality of life. The same applies to soft tissue injuries and surgeries. Not giving a pet its medications after surgery because ‘she is not in pain’ results in swelling and delays healing, which can lead to infection and opening of wounds.

A very real concern for pet owners is the side effects that some of these medications have. Most anti-inflammatories are processed by the liver, and over time can lead to liver disease. Some can result in kidney disease, and some pets may develop intestinal problems ranging from soft stool to gastric ulcer formation. While rare, they may happen and they can sometimes be life threatening. However, living in pain and having a poor quality of life is not fair to our pets. Living 3 great pain-free years is more humane than living 4 painful years. We need to look at quality of life over length of life for our pets with chronic pain.

New medications with fewer side effects are being made available and they provide a way for pain and inflammation control for our pets with peace of mind for pet owners. If your pet is in pain, has decreased in activity level, or looks uncomfortable, please follow up with your veterinarian to see if something can be done to improve their quality of life. We love our pets and we owe it to them to make them as happy as they make us.


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