Effectively managing pet pain can require a combination of treatments, and new ones are on the horizon
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
If you’ve ever accidentally stepped on your dog’s paw or leaned back in your rocking chair only to realize your cat’s tail was beneath the rocker rails, you know from their vocalizations that pets feel pain. Yet the biggest myth about pet pain is that it doesn’t exist. For centuries -- and even into the present day -- some people have believed that animals don’t experience pain.
Maybe that’s because they are so good at hiding it, says Tamara Grubb, DVM, a board-certified veterinary anesthesiologist with a strong interest in pain management and assistant clinical professor at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. But just because they don’t show us they’re in pain doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. In fact, animal pain travels the same neurological pathway as human pain.
We need to become better at identifying pain in animals, Dr. Grubb says. The signs that an animal is hurting are often so subtle that they go unnoticed until pain is advanced. Look for changes in behavior, even if they seem trivial or even normal. Think slowing down on walks and attributing it to age, or no longer jumping on the kitchen counter and assuming your cat has finally learned that’s not allowed.
Recognizing pet pain is important to ensure they get the care they need. And the pain relief available to them now is increasingly effective. A soon-to-be-available treatment for cats and dogs is monoclonal antibody therapy.
Sounds like science fiction, right? Happily for pets -- and humans -- it’s science reality, and a very cool development indeed.
“Our body already has antibodies that fight disease,” Grubb says, “and this is just a scientific enhancement of those antibodies. Antibodies can be targeted to fight specific problems or conditions.”
One such condition is pain. Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a potent generator of inflammatory and neuropathic pain. Elevated levels of NGF are associated with many acute and chronic pain conditions.
Monoclonal antibodies that work against NGF have been developed for both dogs and cats. Use of monoclonal antibodies in this way has two advantages, Grubb says. They are targeted specifically against NGF so pets experience fewer side effects than they might from other types of medications. And monoclonal antibody medications are usually injectable and have long duration.
For instance, Solensia (frunevetmab), the new monoclonal antibody anti-NFG for cats expected to be available later this year, is a monthly injection that is FDA-approved to control osteoarthritis pain in cats. That’s a dream for cat lovers who dread the thought of giving pills or liquids to noncompliant felines.
“It’s a very safe platform for drugs because monoclonal antibodies are just proteins,” Grubb says. “The body already has antibodies, it knows what to do with them, so the proteins are just broken down and recycled versus drugs that require kidney or liver excretion. Monoclonal antibodies don’t damage the kidney or liver, and they don’t need the kidneys or liver to be eliminated from the body.”
Multimodal management -- the use of different types of medications and techniques -- is also effective. A single medication may work at only one part of the pain pathway, but with chronic pain, changes can occur in the pain pathway that affect a medication’s ability to treat that pain. Adding other treatments allows the body to attack pain through different pathways.
“It doesn’t even have to be drugs,” Grubb says. “It could be an anti-inflammatory drug and acupuncture.”
Beyond acupuncture, nonpharmaceutical treatments that can help include physical rehab, laser (photobiomodulation), and pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy. All have good scientific evidence behind them to support their effectiveness, Grubb says.
If you’re concerned your pet may be in pain, make an appointment with your veterinarian for an assessment. Ask about your pet’s level of pain, how long it may take before a treatment begins to take effect, what side effects a prescribed medication may have and signs that a particular therapy is working.
Keep muddy paws
from marring floors
Q: It has been raining here a lot, and I just got a new puppy. The mud! How do I keep my floors clean?
A: I hear you. And in this case, prevention is key. That means dealing with muddy paws before they ever hit the floor. Here are some tips to help you keep your floors clean.
-- Place large water-trapping mats inside and outside the door. They should be wide enough that every paw will fit on the mat when your dog steps on it. For outside, Waterhog mats from L.L. Bean work really well and hose off easily.
-- Teach your pup to walk in and sit patiently to have his paws wiped. This is good training practice for both of you, and he can even learn to lift each paw by name: left, right, back left, back right. Ask your trainer -- you’re going to puppy kindergarten, right? -- for tips on teaching this skill. It doubles as a way to teach your pup to shake or high five or give a paw to have nails trimmed. Hand out lots of treats and praise in the process.
-- Save old towels for this purpose, and keep them in a stack at the back door or wherever your puppy enters the house after going mudding. If you don’t have any ratty towels, purchase a pack of shop towels or look for super-absorbent pet towels or mitts made just for this purpose.
-- Keep a good enzymatic stain and odor control product on hand. If a muddy paw gets past you, clean up messes immediately, especially if your dog tracks mud on carpet. Tile and other hard surfaces are easy to clean up later, but carpet can stain unless you have the type that’s treated to be stain-resistant. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
popular for pets
-- It’s Independence Day, and if you have a new puppy or kitten, you might be thinking of giving it a name suited to the holiday. You wouldn’t be alone. Americana-inspired pet names are popular, according to a survey by Embrace Pet Insurance. A look at the names of pets insured by the company found dogs and cats named Lincoln (6,125), Hamilton (1,975), Jefferson (454) and Washington (114). Inspirational names are favorites as well. More than 2,500 pets were named Liberty; more than 1,800 were called Spirit; more than 550 bore the moniker Freedom; nearly 550 were Glory; and 205 were honored with the name Honor. Last but not least are flag-related names, with 6,553 named Star and 203 named Stripe.
-- Kids and dogs go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and a study published last month in the journal PLOS One shows that their connection has real benefits. Researchers found in the randomized controlled trial that schoolchildren who spent time with a dog twice a week for 20 minutes over the course of four weeks had significantly lower stress than children in relaxation groups or control groups with no treatment. Stress was measured by levels of cortisol -- the stress hormone -- in saliva. During the school term, children in dog intervention groups showed no baseline stress level increases, and their cortisol levels decreased following the dog interactions. In contrast, the children who received no treatment or who were in the guided relaxation intervention group experienced increases in baseline cortisol levels by the end of the school year.
-- Keeping a diary with observations of your dog or cat’s daily eating and elimination habits, behavior and activities is a great way to keep track of what’s normal for them. This will help you notice patterns developing or changes that should be brought to your veterinarian’s attention. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.