Pain management in dogs and cats has undergone a dramatic evolution in the past decade. Historically it was thought that animals did not feel pain or that they perceived pain differently than humans. It was also suggested that pain following surgery or injury was beneficial because it limited movement and thus prevented further injury. We have a much better understanding today of pain pathways, types of pain and how to control pain more effectively. For example, we now know that animals have very similar if not exact neural pain pathways as humans. Also, pain whether perceived by the animal or not, is not beneficial but harmful.
Veterinarians, as advocates for our patients, have a responsibility to recognize, assess, prevent, and treat pain.
Common Myths about Pain:
Animals do not feel pain as people do.
From a physiologic standpoint, mammals and humans process pain in the same way.
Animals tolerate pain better than people do
In many cases animals do "appear" to tolerate pain better than humans. There may be several explanations for this. In contrast to pain-detection threshold, pain tolerance--the greatest intensity of pain that is voluntarily tolerated--varies widely between species and individuals within a species. Like humans, animals likely tolerate pain to a particular level before showing changes in behavior. Knowing that patients may exhibit a wide range of pain tolerances as well as a broad spectrum of behaviors can improve pain recognition and treatment.
Labradors are made of steel and Yorkies are wimps!
This myth illustrates our preconceived notions about variations in breed response to painful stimuli. The inherent danger associated with this belief system is that we may fail to treat patients who are stoic or we may under treat patients whose overt signs seem exaggerated.
Myth # 4.
Pain is beneficial in limiting a recovering animal's activity
Although one of the mostly widely held myths about pain, the type of pain produced by tissue injury, inflammation or direct damage to the nervous system is never beneficial. Aside from being morally questionable, there appears to be little evidence to support this idea.