Ask the Vet
Esther van Luipen
A few months ago I was watching Noel Fitzpatrick on Supervet. It was a very interesting programme. A lady had brought her cat in to the vet practice, and while she was taking it out of its carrier, it was growling. She apologised to Noel about her pet being grumpy, but Noel put his hands on animal and said ‘This cat is not grumpy, he is just misunderstood’.
I found that such an important message. As the programme went on, they found that the cat had Tuberculosis bacteria in its leg, eating away the bone. This left it in excruciating pain. No wonder the cat was grumpy! Wouldn’t you be grumpy if a part of your leg was being eaten away by bacteria?!
Chronic pain is an awful debilitating condition, and it’s not always picked up by the owner. If animals could talk they might complain, but because they can’t they have to express their pain in a different way.
In the wild, if you showed any weakness, another animal would come and hunt you down. Many animals, cats especially, are therefore masters at hiding their discomfort. Some animals get very quiet or sleep a lot. Some animals get grumpy. Some tend to over-groom painful joints.
Occasionally, owners tell me that their dog has slowed down a lot because of old age, but age is hardly the reason for their changed behaviour. It could be osteoarthritis, which can’t be cured but can definitely be managed with anti-inflammatories and nutraceuticals like chondrotoin sulphate, glucosamine and fish oils in their food.
Dental problems, which owners can also be miss, can be a source of a lot of chronic pain too. The owner might first become aware of an issue if the an animal stops eating—but the problem is already far advanced by that stage. Dental problems are not always easy to see anyway, because a lot of problems occur under the gums at the roots. When a cat stops grooming themselves or has black residues around its mouth (dried blood) it is a sure sign of dental problems
Another source of terrible chronic discomfort and pain is itchy skin. Some animals are always tearing at themselves, but owners can get used to this and see it as a normal thing. It is only when you talk to people with chronic skin conditions, like allergies or psoriasis, that you realise in how much pain and discomfort animals with skin complaints must be suffering.
To ensure your pet is happy, healthy and pain free, bring them to a vet for a check-up at least once a year (more often when the animal gets older), and tell the vet all the concerns you might have about your pets’ health and behaviour. Remember, your pet totally relies on you for its comfort, so you (together with your vet) need to be its advocate, so it can grow old gracefully.
Esther van Luipen is a veterinary surgeon in Claremorris Small Animal Practice. She can be contacted at 094 9373955 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.