Manage pets' pain

Manage pets' pain

Your team can help heal the hurt pets feel with a pain management program that supports pet owners. And helping pets manage the pain they try so hard to hide is one of the most compassionate jobs you can do.

Now you may be thinking you don't have a role in managing pets' pain. And it's true that there are some things only a veterinarian can do for patients—make a diagnosis, perform surgery, and prescribe drugs. But you can still help ensure all animals receive the right care and support to minimize or eliminate their pain. After all, an effective pain management program is much more than a pill or a shot. It's a personalized plan for every pet that addresses the cause and severity of the pet's pain. And it's your job to offer clients the support they need to follow through with the doctor's pain recommendations.

Start with a plan

So what does it take to create a pain management program? First, your team needs to share a commitment to excellence in medicine. Good medicine is good business, and good pain management is good medicine. These steps will help you build a foundation for a strong pain management program in your practice.

1. Adopt pain scoring systems. While there are several different pain scoring instruments, there's not a single universal pain scoring system yet for animals. This is where your medical team will use its best judgment to choose the right instrument for the patient in front of you.

You'll find several examples of pain scoring instruments in The Handbook of Veterinary Pain Management by Drs. William Muir and James Gaynor (Mosby, 2002). And the University of Glasgow Web site offers the Composite Measure Pain Score—Short Form , a tool designed to assess acute pain in dogs.

2. Get the right tools. The practice will need to purchase the medications and other tools necessary to manage pain with a multimodal approach. This includes appropriate prescription medications and nutritional products that are designed to help the pet live comfortably.

3. Then get the right training. Continuing education (CE) has never been so easy to acquire. Your options may include online training, in-house training through your veterinarian or on CD-ROM, formal CE meetings, audio teleconferences, and published resources.

4. Plan a team meeting. Your team will talk about your pain management approach, which may include medication, nutrition, environmental management, weight management exercise or controlled exercise, acupuncture, and physical rehabilitation.

Team recommendation checklist
Next, your team will brainstorm the painful scenarios a pet may face and create a plan to address different levels of anticipated pain. Think through dental pain: extractions, loose teeth, infection, decay, and abscesses. Ovariohysterect omies and neuters require a different pain plan than orthopedic procedures. Bone surgery may be more traumatic and painful. Bowel resections may require a more aggressive pain management plan than removing a tumor from the torso skin. Then discuss the appropriate responses.

Also talk about pain management plans for your trauma patients. What will you do for the dog or cat that's been hit by a car? What about a cat with a fractured leg? Remember, cats aren't small dogs and can't receive the same pain management drugs and doses. You'll also discuss how to identify which cases should be referred.

Once you have a solid foundation of knowledge and re sources to build on, it's time to develop key messages to explain their pets' pain to clients. The two types of pain you'll most often discuss with clients are acute pain and chronic pain. Consider these two cases:

Case 1: Madison
Age: 6 months old
Reason for visit: Ovariohysterectomy