What is pain?

Pain can be defined as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage”.

In the 19th century Charles Darwin wrote in “The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals” that expressions of pain in “animals, children, savages, and the insane” should not imply they were aware of pain.

Up until the ‘80es, less than 50% of patients in pediatric units received analgesic treatment, even after traumatic procedures such as amputation.

We have come a long way from there and nowadays veterinarians not only understand the value of pain management, but are pushed by their customers to alleviate the pain of their pets.

In the case of equine vets, effective pain management has another important aspect: the restrain of the horse during examination and surgical procedures, this is very important given the impact that an aching horse can have on the well being of the vet.

A dog’s reaction to pain is dependent upon the individual dog and the degree and nature of pain it is experiencing. Not every dog reacts the same way.

Most dogs that are experiencing pain will change their behaviour patterns – a dog with back pain or joint pain may become reluctant to climb stairs or may not want to go for a walk. Things that may change in pain include posture, movement and vocalization (e.g. whining).

Different kinds of stimuli or injury can cause different levels of pain in the dog

  • Irritating or mild pain – a minor cut or scrape
  • Mild to moderate pain – a broken bone after it has been stabilized surgically
  • Moderate to severe pain – an operation on the back or abdomen
  • Severe pain – neck surgery, amputation of a limb, chest surgery, large burns, infection in the abdomen
Charles Darwin