by Lisa Moses VMD, DACVIM, CVMA
Did you know that when your companion animal has surgery at Angell they receive thoughtful, pre-planned pain management? Did you know that patients hospitalized for acute injuries or serious illnesses also receive specialized pain treatment? Typically, clients at an animal hospital assume that all veterinary health professionals are focused on the comfort of patients. We certainly hope that is true, but the field of veterinary pain medicine is new and quickly evolving. Angell Animal Medical Center is the only veterinary hospital in New England (and one of the only anywhere) that has a full time pain medicine service. This means that your companion benefits from a veterinary staff that receives frequent continuing education in cutting edge pain medicine and has a high standard of care in providing pain management to each patient. Your veterinarian at Angell always has the option to consult with the Pain Medicine service for any case requiring extra care. Even if your companion has feathers or scales, not fur.
Pain management is highly individual and has to be frequently adjusted. When your patient is a person who is conscious and can talk, it’s relatively easy to figure out what needs to be changed. When your patient is a cat who just fell from a window or a dog recovering from surgery to repair a broken leg, pain assessment is a major challenge to the veterinary staff. Animals in pain, especially those who have been traumatized, have very different behavior than people who are in pain. They rarely use their voice to show pain. They often try hard to hide their pain and vulnerability.
Unlike diagnosing a bladder infection, for example, there is no “test” for pain. All pain assessment in patients that cannot talk (even human babies or unconscious adults) relies on the subjective assessment of observers. Veterinary medicine is creating pain scoring systems for post-operative patients. The best of these tools use combinations of vital sign monitoring (like heart rate and respiratory rate), ability to rest in normal positions, and reaction to being handled. The results of these scoring systems can be used to tell the staff that a particular patient needs more pain control.
We’ve learned from research on pain scoring in animals that the most accurate pain assessment happens when patients are assessed before and after surgery by the same person (so they know how that patient’s behavior has been changed by surgery and anesthesia) and by frequent assessments. At Angell we try hard to achieve this for all patients. Our patients receive round-the-clock nursing care from a highly trained staff and often benefit from having the same nurse for their entire hospital stay.
When your companion is having surgery or is hospitalized with us, don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian about their plan to manage your animal’s pain. We know that you know them better than we do and we rely on your observations to help us provide the best pain management. If your animal needs even more complex pain management than usual or you are especially concerned about pain control, then the acute pain service offered by the Pain Medicine service is available to help.
For more information, visit www.angell.org/painmedicine or call 617-541-5140.