Categories: pain

Veterinarians don’t know how much pain cats are experiencing or if the drug is effective

I think that this is an important statement made by a journalist on Fox News (Talia Kirkland). She states that veterinarians concede that one of the hardest things they have to do when managing animal care is to try and figure out how much pain the patient is experiencing or even if the drug is effective. We need to remind ourselves of that unpleasant thought.

Picture in public domain

It made me think. I’m sorry to say that it made me think of declawing which causes an enormous amount of pain. It has to because it is 10 amputations carried out at the same time. They apply painkillers but don’t know how much pain the cat is experiencing. It just seems hopelessly inadequate. It is clearly one more reason, and a very good one, why if you are going to cause pain to a cat because of an operation there must be a very good reason for that operation which is not the case in 99% of declawing operations.

The statement about veterinarians not understanding how much pain their patients are experiencing comes from an article about a problem currently faced by veterinarians in America in obtaining opioid painkillers such as morphine, fentanyl and hydromorphone. The reason, as you might guess, is the opioid addiction epidemic among humans.

The American government is battling to regulate opioid use among American citizens but in the meantime it has left veterinarians, on occasion, struggling to find these painkillers for their patients.

The government are reining in the production and distribution of the amount of these drugs leading to a shortage. Obviously people have first priority and therefore the animals come second and are left short.

The head of anesthesia at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Giacomo Gianotti
said:

“We anesthetize roughly 20 to 30 cases a day, we are one of the largest clinics in the nation and worry – will there be enough opioids?”

Second choice drugs are being administered which can be more expensive. They may also be less potent and leave the patient in pain. Hydromorphone is needed to sedate animals involved, for instance, in an accident. Cat owners may be concerned that their cat is not receiving adequate pain management.

Sedation of animal patients in diagnostic testing is more expensive leading to veterinarians making decisions which may not be in the patient’s best interest because diagnostic tests are a preventative measure allowing veterinarians to identify cancers and other illnesses before spreading.

A coalition of professional medical groups including the American Hospital Association among others have written to the US Drug Enforcement Administration informing them that the shortages are increasing the risk of medical errors and are potentially life-threatening.

The opioid crisis is a major issue for the American government. More than 2.5 million Americans are addicted to these drugs. A study indicated that their increasing use is due mainly to the increasing availability of illegal opioids. The biggest problem is among young white males. I’m going to guess and say that the growing availability of these opioids is through the Internet. If that’s true it is a another example of how the Internet has a negative impact.

Sources: Fox News and citylab.com.


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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • A very interesting article. It throws up so many more questions & highlights further issues.

    Why do our animal companions always have to be the ones who suffer due to the selfish, thoughtless incompetence & idiocy of humans?

    One way for vets to improve pain management, might be for all vets to study animal behaviour in more depth than is currently taught. I find that despite some small increments in improving understanding, too much of an individual vet's personal beliefs & prejudice influence pain management, whatever drugs are available. This is also a massive issue in human medicine. Fashion in analgesia is also a big factor. How many times has one heard a doctor or nurse state with 100% certainty "you shouldn't be in pain" & the classic "it's all in your head"

    Cat carers could also learn about feline pain behaviour which would help in accurately describing how their cat is responding or not.

    Vets could pay more attention to cat carers when they describe their cat's behavioural pain expression. Too often carers are dismissed as purveyors of useless anecdote. A little effort in exploring the carer's description of the cat's pain, often yields a clue as to whether a medicine is working or not.

    I am eternally grateful to the good nurses & vets who go the extra mile in working to ensure the patient is comfortable. If you find a vet who puts analgesia high on the priority list, stuck with 'em. If your vet stands there, insisting your cat's is not in pain when your poor cat is explicitly displaying every known pain behaviour in the book (and then some). run for the hills.

    For declawing, the question should be irrelevant, the surgery should never take place, unless to save a paw due to injury or disease of individual toes.

    It's time that humans stopped carrying out barbaric surgeries on animals for the sake of shallow ego & money.

    Less than 20 years ago I personally heard a vet state that " animals don't feel pain like we do" That vets is still practicing. I have no doubt that younger vets are spouting this rubbish when their seniors have an issue believing that other species even perceive pain.

    • You are a person after my heart. We think alike.

      "...too much of an individual vet’s personal beliefs & prejudice influence pain management, whatever drugs are available."

      Totally agree.

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