Some dogs and cats seem to be wusses when it comes to pain. Is there a genetic reason behind it?
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Does your dog or cat act as if you’re killing him when you trim his nails, even if you’ve never “quicked” him? Scream bloody murder when all the vet tech has done is wipe her skin with alcohol? Some breeds have a reputation for being crybabies because they have what seem to be excessive physical or vocal reactions to even minor procedures. Are they wimps, or could there be a genetic reason for their behavior?
Some breeds do seem to feel pain more acutely than others, according to Michael C. Petty, DVM, who presented a lecture on managing pain in surgical patients at the 2018 VMX conference in Orlando, Florida, in February. He specifically calls out beagles, Shetland sheepdogs, and Northern breeds such as Siberian huskies -- known for their excessive vocalizations. Other veterinarians agree.
“I think Arctic breeds probably do have a heightened pain response,” says Tamara Grubb, DVM, assistant clinical professor of anesthesia and analgesia at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Right now, she’s speaking simply from experience, but she believes that one day researchers will find that certain breeds have a genetic predisposition for a heightened pain response.
We know from studies in humans that complex environmental and genetic factors result in a high degree of individual responses to pain. Subtle changes in DNA may at least partially explain the different ways people perceive and express pain. There appear to be a number of genes in humans and animals that influence sensitivity to pain.
The genes that dictate coat color may also affect behavior or pain sensitivity in some way. It’s been found, for instance, that people with red hair are more sensitive to certain types of pain because they have specific gene variants. In his lecture, Dr. Petty says, “These people have a lower thermal threshold, need higher levels of anesthetics and don’t always respond to the effects of lidocaine like other people do. I suspect that some animals have the same issue.”
A study at the University of California, Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital found that cats with calico and tortoiseshell coats are more likely to hiss, chase, bite, swat or scratch when being handled by humans. Maybe their coat color genetics are linked to greater sensitivity to pain, although one of the authors, Melissa J. Bain, DVM, said they didn’t look at reaction to pain in their study.
It could also be that there’s no real link between coat color and certain behaviors. It may simply be what’s known in evolutionary biology as a spandrel: a byproduct of the evolution of some other characteristic -- in this case, pain sensitivity -- but with no direct relationship.
Some animals who more readily express pain also react differently to certain drugs. Veterinary anesthesiologist Jordyn Boesch, DVM, says breeds such as Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes become restless, anxious or depressed under the influence of certain doses of opioids used during procedures requiring anesthesia. That doesn’t mean that opioids shouldn’t be used with them, but that they should receive the lowest effective dose, she says.
Can you teach your pet to exhibit less drama when you trim nails or visit the vet? Dr. Petty noted that dogs and cats may benefit from Fear Free techniques or the feline-friendly handling guidelines developed by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Techniques for at home and in the veterinary clinic include providing emotional and physical support, including offering a favorite treat or toy during the procedure; reducing the risk of nausea and vomiting by providing medication before car rides to the vet and prior to surgery; and environmental management of light, noise, odors, slick floors and other factors that can affect a pet’s comfort level.
The rise of
Q: Did the ancient Egyptians really worship cats?
A: You bet! They worshipped many deities, and several of them had feline personas. That’s not surprising. Early Egyptians paid homage to particular animals for reasons that often related to services they performed or admirable qualities they displayed. The cat’s prowess at hunting, with the resulting vermin control in grain storage areas, made them well worthy of worship in the eyes of ancient Egyptians.
As Egyptian culture evolved, so did the prominent role of cats in the pantheon of gods. One was the goddess Mafdet. She personified execution -- we all know that cats are excellent executioners of mice -- and was also associated with protection from venomous animals. Her name meant “she who runs swiftly,” and one of her titles was “slayer of serpents.” Clearly, the Egyptians had those cat attributes nailed.
Another cat goddess was Bast, also known as Bubastis. She took the form of a cat as well and was considered to be the protector of the pharaoh. Not surprisingly, considering the fertility of cats to this day, Bast also represented fertility and motherhood, and women visited her temple to pray for children. At Bast’s temple lived sacred cats who were cared for by priests.
Sekhmet, a lion-headed goddess, symbolized the sun. Her name meant “one who is powerful,” and she was considered a war goddess. One of her titles was “Lady of Slaughter.”
You can see where this is going. Egyptian cats were idolized as killing machines. But they were appreciated for their softer side as well. Household cats were cared for and adored. When the family cat died, Egyptians shaved their eyebrows as a sign of mourning. Today, many of us keep cats as pets, but they remind us always that they are special and deserving of devotion, just as they were 5,000 years ago. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
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recalled by IKEA
-- If you purchased a Lurvig water dispenser from IKEA for your dog or cat, return it immediately for a full refund. The company is recalling the dispensers after two dogs suffocated when their heads became stuck in the water dispenser. The water dispensers were sold in U.S. stores and online between October 2017 and June 2018, for $7.99. “IKEA urges customers to stop using the water dispenser and return it to any IKEA store for a full refund,” the company said in a statement on its website. A receipt or other proof of purchase is not required for the return.
-- The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is receiving an increasing number of calls regarding pets who have eaten marijuana plants or dried cannabis, as are local veterinarians. Animals can get sick from eating cannabis or edibles, becoming depressed or fatigued, dribbling urine and developing a low body temperature and slow heart rate. More serious side effects from products with higher concentrations include low blood pressure, agitation and seizures. At least one pet has died. The message to owners: Don’t be afraid to call a poison control hotline or to take your pet to the vet if you know or suspect he has ingested marijuana. They won’t turn you in, and they do want to care for your pet.
-- Beagles rank sixth among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club. The small scenthounds are known for a merry temperament and a love of sniffing. Don’t expect to go at a fast pace on a walk with a beagle because he’ll constantly be stopping to smell the roses -- and whatever else has an interesting scent. Beware: Beagles howl and they are food thieves, but generally they will charm you into forgiving them with a melting look from their soft brown eyes. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.