Why aren’t animals given any pain relief after operations? When I ask this I am referring to the time when pets are allowed home after having surgery. Humans are in pain for weeks after an operation, what it would be like if we were given no pain relief at all? Imagine what it’s like for a cat or dog who has just had surgery and are sent home with nothing to ease their pain. They must be in complete and utter agony for weeks. Why is no form of pain relief offered or given to an animal when it is sent home?

Joanne
Warwickshire, United Kingdom

There was a time not that long ago (that is to say, within my lifetime) when legitimate scientists debated whether dogs and cats truly felt pain. Certainly, they were noted to respond unfavorably to adverse stimuli. But it couldn’t be proved that they feel pain in the same way as people do.

That debate, thankfully, has been put to rest. No reasonable scientist or veterinarian would now deny that every mammal perceives pain in basically the same manner as humans. And no reasonable person would deny that the sorts of injuries and disease processes that cause pain in people will cause similar pain in mammals. (Some people continue to debate whether “lower” animals truly feel pain. I, for one, believe that birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish feel pain. I’m not 100% certain about insects, but I can say without hesitation that insects respond unfavorably to adverse stimuli . . .)

After it was agreed that all mammals feel pain, a new debate emerged among veterinarians. Some vets argued that pain was good for animals. Their argument was that the pain from a broken leg would keep a dog from walking on the leg. Similarly, the pain from a surgical incision would keep a cat from licking the incision.

The argument that pain is good turned out to be as poorly reasoned as it seems. Vigorous research has shown that pain is, in fact, bad.

Pain leads to physiological changes in the body that delay healing. Pain suppresses appetite, which in turn prevents animals from obtaining the nutrition they need to heal. Pain hurts. Pain management is now a standard part of care in veterinary medicine.

Joanne, I don’t have an answer for your question. Animals that undergo surgery are supposed to go home with pain medicine.

If you have a pet that did not receive pain medicine after a surgical procedure, it might have been an oversight. Or your vet may be one of the rare ones left who hasn’t adapted to modern practices. You may want to ask him or her why no analgesic (pain control) drugs were prescribed.

Most veterinarians now are proactive about pain control in their patients. Pain in animals is less common than it used to be. But it still happens. If you believe that your pet is in pain, do not hesitate to contact your vet to work out a solution to the problem. No veterinarian I know wants to see a patient in pain.