Several years ago, I suffered a fall from a horse and was hurt pretty badly. I sometimes feel the effects of that fall to this day, and am constantly speaking with my doctors and specialists as to the best way to make the pain go away. We’ve all felt pain at some point in our life, whether it be short-lived, from a minor bump or bruise- or chronic pain that we must deal with on a daily basis. When I think about pain, and how we humans deal with it, I realize we can verbalize our pain. We discuss it with our doctors, our friends, family or most any sympathetic ear. We are wired to communicate, and we can verbalize our pain and discomfort with others and we then seek help to alleviate that pain.
Our pets are different. Yes, they can whimper or yowl when they are in pain, but often when our pets are hurting, they suffer in silence. Sometimes their pain will present itself with a limp, or a struggle to get up from laying down. But often, your pet could be in pain- and you don’t even realize it. I want to offer some tips on how to recognize when your pet is in pain, and some potential solutions to alleviating it.
It is also important to note that cats are masters of obscuring pain or illness. Whether it’s a natural instinct to hide a weakness from a predator or another reason, cats mask injury or illness very well- which is why it is so important for your cat to have regular, annual visits to their veterinarian. Often, we see cats when an illness has gone unchecked for several years without symptoms.
How can pain be measured?
We all know what pain feels like, but how does one actually define it, or measure it? It can be very subjective. Two people suffering from an identical injury may define or describe it in radically different ways. When I was in the ER following my fall, I was constantly asked to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. While my pain may have been a 6 or 7 to me, someone else who has a lower pain threshold may have rated it a 9 or 10. Similarly, a dog or cat with a thorn in their paw may be limping into the exam room but with extreme differences in temperament. One may be wagging their tail and the other crying in pain. So, pain can be subjective- and difficult to identify unless it is acute.
The not-so-obvious signs of potential pain in your pet
Just because your pet is not limping, or showing obvious outward signs of aches or pains, it doesn’t mean they’re not hurting. Here are some not-so-obvious signs that they may need help.
- Biting. Most dogs usually don’t want to bite or snap at family members. If you notice your dog snapping or biting when being handled, or when you touch your pet in a certain area, this could indicate a painful area on their body.
- Respiration. Some pets may pant and or have a more shallow breathing pattern when resting. If your pet hasn’t been running around or exercising and they’re panting, there’s a possibility they’re hurting.
- Eating and drinking changes. Often when pets are in pain, they may consume less food and water- even if the pain is not tooth or mouth related. If the pain does reside in the mouth or teeth, they will most likely drop food from their mouth.
- Heart rate increase. Painful dogs will often have an elevated resting heart rate.
- Anti-social behavior. Your pet may slowly become more detached and no longer wish to interact with family members.
- Resistance to play or exercise. This is common in older pets, where their favorite activities of chasing a ball or toy no longer interests them. Many pet owners write this off as old-age, but it could mean they don’t want to play simply because they hurt.
Are drugs the only answer for your painful pet?
Depending on age and overall health, pharmaceuticals are often the most common course of treatment. Many drugs may have long-term adverse side effects, potentially impacting liver and kidney functions. Some NSAIDS (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) provide dramatic results, but require us to perform bloodwork on a bi-annual basis to monitor organ function. We will discuss all of this with you to determine the best treatment for your pet.
I don’t like the idea of long-term pain medications. What are the alternatives to drugs?
There have been great changes in both medicine and technology to alleviate pain over the past several years, so our use of drugs has decreased significantly. At TVH, we have seen excellent results with painful pets as a result of using laser therapy. In 2022, we invested in the latest laser therapy equipment which shortens laser therapy session times by up to half, while still achieving dramatic results in most patients. Watch the video below to hear from one of our guests whose pet has gone from painful to playful after just a few laser therapy sessions!
Laser therapy is available in single treatments or we offer discounts for three and six treatment packages.
Stem Cell Therapy/PRP
Other alternatives include stem cell therapy and Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP). Stem cell may sound familiar- but this is different from the controversial topic of embryonic stem cells, and the stem cells we’re discussing actually come from your own pet. Using your own pet’s cells to heal themself using stem cell or PRP is providing exceptional results.
The stem cell therapy process begins by removing fatty (adipose) tissue from your pet under general anesthesia. We then take the fat we have harvested and process it through a specialized machine, which breaks it down into the stem cells. We then inject the stem cells into painful joints, which then help your pet begin to heal. This procedure has shown remarkable results- more than 80% of pets who have undergone stem cell therapy have dramatic improvement in their mobility. Your pet’s stem cells are then banked if another procedure is required in the future. While this is a very basic explanation of the procedure (I don’t want to bore anyone with technical scientific jargon)- but it’s on the cutting edge.
Stem cell therapy is a relatively new technology in the veterinary field. Like most other new technologies, it is somewhat expensive. We can discuss your pet’s age, activity level and other factors to determine if your pet is a good candidate.
If stem cell therapy sounds too invasive, you may wish to discuss Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP). This is a less invasive procedure, where your pet’s blood is drawn and processed to isolate platelets, which are rich in growth factors. A serum is then created and injected at your pet’s source of pain. To learn more- watch this video from Ardent Animal Health- our Stem Cell/PRP partner.
Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are laboratory-engineered molecules designed to mimic the immune system’s natural defense mechanism against pathogens. These antibodies are produced by cloning a single type of immune cell, typically a B-cell, to create identical antibodies with highly specific binding capabilities. This precision in targeting makes mAbs an ideal choice for treating diseases caused by specific molecules, such as NGF-related conditions in pets.
NGF and Its Role in Pets
Neuropathic growth factor (NGF) is a crucial protein in both humans and animals, including pets. It plays a pivotal role in the growth, survival, and maintenance of nerve cells. NGF is essential for the development of a healthy nervous system and the regeneration of damaged nerve tissue. However, when NGF levels become imbalanced, it can lead to various neurological disorders in pets, such as neuropathic pain and neurodegenerative diseases.
Monoclonal Antibodies Targeting NGF
Monoclonal antibodies targeting NGF are engineered to specifically bind to NGF molecules in the bloodstream. Once administered to the pet, these mAbs circulate in the bloodstream, seeking out and binding to NGF molecules. This binding prevents NGF from interacting with its receptors on nerve cells, disrupting the abnormal signaling that may be causing the pet’s neurological condition.
Blocking NGF Signaling Pathways
The primary mechanism by which monoclonal antibodies work in pets with NGF-related disorders is by blocking NGF signaling pathways. NGF normally binds to its receptors on nerve cells, initiating a cascade of events that promote nerve growth and survival. However, in cases where NGF is overexpressed or dysregulated, this signaling pathway can become overactive, leading to nerve pain and dysfunction.
Monoclonal antibodies act as interceptors, preventing NGF from binding to its receptors. This disruption in the signaling pathway can alleviate the symptoms associated with NGF-related disorders in pets, such as chronic pain, nerve damage, and inflammation.
Did you get all of that? It’s a lot to get your brain around. But what does it really mean?
We’re now offering a new product to the market for cats called Solensia. This is a monthly injection that has shown tremendous results in our feline patients dealing with pain related to OA. A similar product for dogs called Librela will be released later in 2023. This product has recently received FDA approval, and has shown great results for canines suffering from OA in many European countries.
We can also look at dietary products designed to improve certain conditions such as joint pain and arthritis. There are a few diets we recommend that have shown positive results in painful pets. In addition to diet, we can consider nutraceuticals.
Nutraceuticals is a broad term that is used to describe any product derived from food sources with extra health benefits in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods. They can be considered non-specific biological therapies used to promote general well-being, control symptoms and prevent malignant processes. There are a wide variety of nutraceuticals available that can promote joint health and other issues. Talk with your veterinarian about what nutraceuticals may benefit your pet’s condition.
One nutraceutical product we’re really excited about is YuMOVE. We have lots of patients using this product, and for most pets, the improvement in mobility has been dramatic.
Another supplement we have seen tremendous results with is CBD. Not just any CBD, but products from what we have found to be the absolute BEST CBD product for dogs and cats. ElleVet sciences has a number of products that are designed to alleviate pain in addition to anxiety management. CBD is still an emerging topic in veterinary medicine, and more research is still being done. We’re pleased to partner with ElleVet- since their product is backed by science and a proven process. For more on CBD and other ailments that CBD may help with- read that blog here.
At Tampa Veterinary Hospital, we want your pet to be both happy and healthy. It is difficult for a pet who is in pain to be happy and to enhance our daily lives. If you’re concerned that your pet is quietly suffering from pain, give us a call and set up an appointment to discuss the best option for your pet.