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  • Writer's pictureClaire Corridan

Whether I have my "normal vet" hat on or my veterinary behaviour/ pain assessor hat on, pain in animals is something I deal with every single day.

Most animals are incredibly resilient- and when motivated to eat, drink, run and play, despite the fact they have underlying pain issues- they get on with it, regardless.

This doesn't mean the pain isn't there, it just means that it is at a manageable level rather than an overwhelming/ debilitating level, which stops other normal and necessary functions.

Unfortunately- pet owners are often shocked and surprised when they find out their pet is and probably, has been in pain for a long time- in some cases since puppy or kittenhood, if it is a hereditary or congenital defect they have been born with.

Equally- just because an animal allows a vet to manipulate their head/ neck/ back or limbs, doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. X-rays give us a good idea what is going on under the skin's surface, but they don't tell us about the nerves, muscles, ligaments or tendons which surround the bones we can see on the x-ray. A clean or "normal" looking x-ray does not mean the animal isn't experiencing pain. It just means we can't point our finger, or a little digital arrow, on the place we want to call the "source or root" of the problem.

"Animal pain is an aversive, sensory experience representing awareness by the animal of damage or threat to the integrity of its tissues; (note that there might not be any damage).

It changes the animal’s physiology and behaviour to reduce or avoid the damage, to reduce the likelihood of its recurrence and to promote recovery.

Non-functional (non-useful) pain occurs when the intensity or duration of the experience is not appropriate for damage sustained (especially if none exists) and when physiological and behavioural responses are unsuccessful in alleviating it."

Sometimes, reluctance to go for a walk, jump into the car or on/ off furniture or window ledges (if we're talking about cats), play rough and tumble games or tolerate snuggling up on the couch- might mean they don't feel up to it or they would prefer peace and quiet instead.

Animals cannot articulate that they feel uncomfortable or would prefer not to be touched or lifted, so instead they communicate in the only ways they can, that they want space and ideally distance from the situation they are worried about. Sometimes that looks like fear, sometimes it looks like aggression, but it is coming from the same place- "I'm in pain right now or I was painful there before and I don't want to be painful again, so leave me alone!"

There are some fantastic resources available to help pet owners recognise pain in their companion animals and to help explain why it can be: unpredictable, variable, exaggerated or "temporarily forgotten" if the motivation to have fun or do something nice is strong enough.

You may find the following links helpful:

If you think, or if you've been told that your pet is in pain, do seek help from your veterinary surgeon right away- there are loads of things we can do to help. There are also qualified veterinary physiotherapists, hydrotherapists, rehabilitation practitioners and members of many other disciplines, relying on evidence- based medicine, licensed medications and recognised specialist techniques, to help support you and your pet to enjoy the best quality of life that we can give.

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  • Writer's pictureClaire Corridan

This is a concept I have been thinking about lately, because I think it does have an influence on the perception given?


Owner- "a person who owns something, it belongs to you."

Keeper- "a person who manages or looks after something or someone."

Caregiver- "a family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly or disabled person."

Guardian- "a person who protects or defends something. A person who is legally responsible for the care of someone who is unable to manage their own affairs."

As a veterinary practice owner I registered new clients and completed various forms for consent, for pet owners, without giving too much credence to the terminology used.

Most of the legislation relating to the responsibilities of dog ownership either consider the dog owner or the "person responsible" for the dog at the time of any incident or assessment, who does not necessarily have to be the official 'owner.'

I have deliberately omitted the term "pet parent" for a number of reasons: biological, ethical and on welfare grounds. For me- this is a step too far and does not necessarily equate to improved welfare for the animal involved.

I have studied and probably come across quite a wide spectrum of dog owners, at one end, those who did not show particular concern nor care for their dogs, and then thankfully, the larger majority who do. There are others who spend more time and profess more love and care, for their dogs compared to anyone else in this world. Both ends of the spectrum can have serious consequences for the welfare of both the dogs and people involved. The same legal responsibilities apply to all, but what about ethical and/or moral responsibilities for the dog. Dogs are not asked, nor can they really give consent, to participate in their human: dog bond (hence, my use of bond as opposed to relationship), so the one- sided weighting of this particular 'relationship' should surely come with greater weighting on the protection and care of the vulnerable party?

The Irish Veterinary Behaviour Association are currently drafting our "pet contract" document, which aims to advise and better equip the general public when researching and acquiring a new pet. Which of the various options should we be using for this exercise- pet owner, keeper, caregiver or guardian.

I think, for me personally, caregiver is too soft a term, in that it considers provision of need but not necessarily responsibility. If an animal keeper, manages the animal, they provide for needs but also assume a degree of responsibility both for and to, the animal, which I think I prefer. Guardian sounds like provision of safety and protection, as well as responsibility, but they may be safeguarding that needs are met, without actually being the person who provides those needs. So- for me, there does not appear to be an ideal term that encompasses all of the above. I would love to hear what you think?

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