Diagnosing patient pain: Don’t just ask how he’s doing, ask what he’s doing

“Pain jeopardizes the human-animal bond,” says Ralph Harvey, DVM, MS, DACVA. “[It] jeopardizes everything [veterinarians] seek to achieve.”

September is Animal Pain Awareness Month, and Harvey, an associate professor of anesthesiology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and a coauthor of the AAHA Anesthesia Guidelines for Dogs and Cats, talked to NEWStat about the importance of pain management in strengthening the human-animal bond, and offered a great tip on how front office staff can help.

It’s no coincidence that Animal Pain Awareness Month is the same month as human medicine’s Pain Awareness Month. And this year’s theme, Pets Feel Pain, Too, illustrates that humans and animals alike process and feel pain similarly—if something is thought to cause pain in humans, it also may produce pain in our animal counterparts.

That’s the message the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM), which started Animal Pain Awareness Month, wants to spread.

It reflects IVAPM’s larger commitment to encouraging pain management for all animal species through education and advocacy. During this annual campaign, IVAPM is also encouraging veterinarians and veterinary hospitals to raise public awareness about pain and pain management in pets.

And the first step is knowing the pain is there in the first place.

“The 2015 AAHA/AAFP Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats emphasize that we, as veterinarians, need to look for pain in our patients,” says Harvey.

Harvey says a hospital’s client service representatives can play an important role in pain management by asking specific questions about behavior when talking to clients.

“Not just, ‘How’s the dog doing?,’ but, ‘How is his behavior changing? How have his interaction with the family and the kids changed over the years? Is he doing the [same] things now that were important to him when he was a puppy? Is he still catching a frisbee? Is he going after a tennis ball? Is he engaging with other animals in the house?’”

In short, is he capable of joy? Of showing love?

It comes back to pain and how it interferes with the human-animal bond.

“A quote that I find useful is from Sigmund Freud,” notes Harvey. “Freud said, ‘A man with a toothache cannot be in love.’ We need and want our animals to be in love with us. The suffering component of pain, the emotional aspect . . . is probably the most important aspect of pain for us to deal with in companion animal medicine.”

Get your hospital involved in helping IVAPM spread the word about Animal Pain Awareness Month by downloading these posters (cat pain poster, dog pain poster) to display in your practice and educate your clients about pet pain signs and symptoms. Also, share this pain awareness graphic on social media.

Photo credit: © iStock/ Konoplytska