and Christie Keith
Just as with human medicine, advancements in the way we think of and treat pain for animals is improving the quality of life for pets, with veterinarians now being able to choose from a wide array of products and strategies to ease the hurt.
"Animals can feel all the same aches and pains that we can because they share the same physiologic structures," says Dr. Robin Downing, owner of Colorado's The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management.
Treating pain doesn't just make the hurting stop: It also promotes healthy healing. Untreated pain slows healing time, interferes with sleep and depresses the immune system. The treatment of pain improves respiration, shortens post-surgical hospitalization times, improves mobility, and can even decrease the spread of cancer after surgery.
Most veterinarians prescribe pain medication when needed, but some still believe a pet will move around less during recovery from surgery or injury if in pain -- a belief no longer supported by studies. If an animal needs to be restrained, it's better to use a leash or a crate.
Still, many owners don't give pets pain medications -- even if they are prescribed -- because of concerns about side effects. All drugs can cause unwanted effects, but those risks need to be balanced against the problems caused by untreated pain. Side effects can also be minimized by using drugs appropriately.
The family of drugs known as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can cause ulcers and damage the kidneys in pets, just as they can in humans. But in the same way that people continue to use these drugs for everything from headaches to back injuries, NSAIDs have a valuable role to play in the management of animal pain.
When NSAIDs are needed, it's essential to follow label recommendations for veterinary testing and monitoring of liver and kidney function. Pet owners should review all potential side effects with the veterinarian and stop giving the drug immediately if vomiting or lethargy is observed, or if the pet stops showing interest in eating.
Pain-management experts also suggest asking the veterinarian about the human drugs misoprostol and sulcrafate, which can help protect the stomach lining and prevent ulcers. For dogs, the prescription of Tramadol has been on the increase, and many dogs unable to tolerate NSAIDs have benefited. Tramadol can also be used with NSAIDs and can be taken with steroids, which NSAIDs cannot.
Complementary and alternative medicine also has much to offer dogs and cats suffering from chronic pain. Acupuncture, physical therapy and supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin can relieve arthritis pain. The veterinary drug Adequan Canine, an injectable relative of glucosamine, can target inflamed joints and help rebuild cartilage.
Some dogs and cats, such as those with certain kinds of cancer, need the powerful pain relief that only opiates can provide. Owners often dislike these drugs because they make pets groggy. Fortunately, if long-term use is necessary, the sedation effect usually lessens after a few days.
Opiates can also cause nausea and lack of appetite. A bit of catnip often takes care of this for feline patients, while peppermint or ginger -- even in the form of a gingersnap -- can make a dog feel better. There are also prescription medications that can help control nausea.
Downing is one of just a handful of veterinarians worldwide credentialed in human medicine's American Academy of Pain Management, as well as being a certified veterinary acupuncturist and physiotherapist. Her approach to pain takes into account the pet's lifestyle and family issues as well as the actual source of the pain.
"I certainly leverage all the tools I can for fighting pain," Downing says. "But my long-term strategy is always maximum comfort and mobility with minimum negative impact on the body. We rely on physical medicine techniques, adapted from human medicine, to complement what we accomplish with medication as well as nutrition."
Pain control is never a "one size fits all" prescription, and there are dozens of drugs that can be used alone and with other medications to relieve all but the most extreme pain in animals.
When a veterinarian isn't sure how to get to the bottom of a pet's pain, it's always worth asking for a consultation with a specialist to design a safe, individualized pain-management program. Veterinary specialists in oncology, surgery and anesthesia are usually most familiar with the wide variety of drugs available today and their safe use.
Pamphlet offers advice you need
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now offering a brochure for veterinarians to give to their clients who are prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for their dogs. Approved NSAIDs in the United States include:
-- EtoGesic (etodolac)
-- Rimadyl (carprofen)
-- Metacam (meloxicam)
-- Deramaxx (deracoxib)
-- Previcox (firocoxib)
-- Zubrin (tepoxalin)
-- Novox (carprofen)
And though aspirin is available without a prescription, it's important to note that it is also in this class of drugs.
The brochure stresses both the benefits of these drugs and the risks, and is available for free on the FDA's Web site at http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/UCM054572.pdf. If you don't have access to a computer, you may be able to get the brochure printed out at your local library -- or ask your veterinarian's office to print it out for you. -- Gina Spadafori
Which is better: rabbit or guinea pig?
Q: My 7-year-old son is dying for a dog. That's out, because I'm not really a dog person. I've also ruled out lizards and snakes. My husband is allergic to cats, so that's out, too. We're down to either a rabbit or a guinea pig. Pros and cons? -- P.R., via e-mail
A: I tend to prefer recommending guinea pigs for younger children, because rabbits can be surprisingly fragile. If a rabbit is held insecurely and kicks out in fear, he can break his back -- a sad ending for both the child and the animal.
Guinea pigs are better designed to be a child's pet. They're smaller than most rabbits, rounder, have shorter legs and are easier to hold than even dwarf rabbits. If your son is gentle enough to learn to handle a pet carefully, though, either pet will do. You might volunteer to provide vacation care for a rabbit or guinea pig owned by one of your son's friends first, just to be sure the animal isn't an allergy trigger for your husband.
Both rabbits and guinea pigs are a lot more interesting than most people realize. Throw them in a tiny cage or hutch with nothing to do, and they'll just shut down. But set them up with a little room to roam inside the house (canine exercise pens made of plastic or metal make great enclosures), with toys for playing and chewing, and they'll come alive.
Many guinea pigs and rabbits will readily adapt to using a potty box filled with an inch or so of pressed paper or wood pellets that's been topped with fresh grass hay. These pets can serve as efficient and enthusiastic recyclers of vegetable scraps from your kitchen, and they will turn them into waste products that will supercharge your compost pile. (You don't scoop the box -- you just replace the contents regularly, as everything in the box is compostable.)
I prefer not to feed my rabbits a pelleted food. Instead, I offer them all the fresh grass hay they want along with twice-daily offerings of fresh greens -- collard, mustard and so on -- plus broccoli and other vegetables and treats of apple slices. Guinea pigs are not able to produce their own vitamin C, however, and so must have a commercial pellet formulated just for them as a base for their diet.
VeterinaryPartner.com has excellent articles on caring for all small pets, written by Dr. Susan Brown, who's known for her work with these animals.
A final bit of advice: Although longhaired rabbits and guinea pigs are gorgeous, the amount of maintenance those coats require make them highly impractical as a child's pet. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Joint disease often untreated in cats
-- An article in Veterinary Practice News compared the written medical records of 100 cats older than 12 years to X-rays of the cats taken at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. The study found that while only four records contained mention of degenerative joint disease (DJD) by veterinarian or owner, X-rays found DJD in 90 percent of the cats. The study concluded that DJD occurs in most geriatric cats and is overlooked and undertreated.
-- Dogs bite about 5 million Americans a year. The American Veterinary Medical Association offers tips on preventing bites on its Web site at www.avma.org.
-- Pigeon flocks cannot be eliminated through methods such as trapping or poisoning. Los Angeles is one of the pioneers in using new methods of controlling these messy urban nuisances. The Animal Radio Network reports that a product called OvoControl is administered to birds in treats from rooftop dispensers. OvoControl, which has also been used successfully to control populations of Canadian geese, causes changes in the egg so that it cannot develop or hatch. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Picks of the litter for dog-loving car buyers
Every year the reviewers on the PetConnection's DogCars.com site name a Best in Show DogCar of the Year, marking the vehicle that best addresses the needs of those who don't like to leave four-legged family members behind.
For 2010, the award went to not one but two cars, the Honda Element EX Dog Friendly edition and the Toyota Venza. The reason: Both vehicles come with dog-friendly equipment packages designed to keep pets safe and comfortable on the road. Such a direct appeal to this specific demographic is new in the automotive industry.
The Toyota Venza, which was first introduced as a 2009 model, is a midsized sport utility vehicle (SUV) with a design similar to a sport wagon, but with more interior room than a traditional wagon. The low-to-ground clearance offers small or less-agile dogs easier access to the Venza through the tailgate or the side passenger doors. Venza buyers can order accessories made by pet-product companies Kurgo and Solvit and designed to fit the vehicle.
The Dog Friendly Honda Element EX offers a package that includes a raised platform and cushioned bed with a soft-sided crate facing out the rear of the vehicles, and an extendable ramp for easy in-and-out suitable for dogs of sizes. Other dog-friendly features include a rear fan for improved airflow, a spill-resistant water bowl, bone-patterned rubber floor mats, and a tote bag with leash, collar, ID tag and bag dispenser. Special badges on the side and rear of the Element proclaim its dog friendly status.
Vehicles honored as "ones to watch for 2010" include the Ford Transit Connect, Honda Accord Crosstour, Volvo XC60 and Kia Soul. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Veterinary specialists abound
The level of care available to pets has never been higher, in part because of the number of veterinarians who continue their education to become board-certified specialists. Their ranks include:
-- Internists (including cardiologists, neurologists and oncologists): 1,675
-- Surgeons: 1,131
-- Ophthalmologists: 271
-- Nutritionists: 51
Source: American Veterinary Medical Association
Pets need more 'yes' than 'no'
What is it about people that makes so many of us inclined to open our mouths when we see something wrong while thinking silence is golden when we see something right?
This tendency makes it much harder for pets to learn exactly what it is we are trying to teach them. Ideally, your pet should hear "yes" 10 times to every "no."
When your puppy is not pulling on leash -- praise! When your kitten is not jumping on the counter -- praise! Your pets will seek negative attention over no attention, and the behavior that gets your attention will be repeated. Every time you see your pet doing something you want -- such as sitting, looking at you, waiting quietly -- praise, praise, praise!
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.