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They Suffer Silently

Last week, a veterinary colleague of mine shared a case with me that he came across running clinical trials for a pharmaceutical company.  In the research and development phase of new medications, pharmacies often rely on private practitioners to conduct trials of new medicines, with all expenses paid by the pharmaceutical company.  In order to draw cases, pharmaceuticals will often engage in local advertising to drive cases to the veterinarian, sometimes attracting pet owners that otherwise would not have brought their pet to the vet due to financial constraints.

This particular mew drug was for the treatment of urinary leakage (incontinence) in female dogs.  In order for the dogs to qualify for the trial, simple testing was first performed to rule out urinary or kidney disease so that it can be concluded that incontinence is primary issue, not caused as the result of some other primary disease.  In the case my colleague shared with me, the dog was a 12 year old collie who had been leaking urine since the age of one year.   The owner never took the dog to the vet for the issue, as it only happened at a few nights a week and she did not mind changing her bedding when it occurred, and since she seemed normal in every other way, the owner assumed that she was just a “bed wetter”, end of story.

However, since it would be free to have her dog looked at by a vet, the collie’s owner decided that it would not hurt to see if the urinary leakage could be treated.  However, the dog ultimately did not qualify for the drug trial, as a urinalysis quickly revealed that the dog had a raging urinary tract infection.  What’s more, after 2 weeks of antibiotics to treat the infection, the urine leakage stopped altogether.

My colleague was absolutely floored by this revelation, as this poor dog was not any sort of “bed wetter” or even a legitimate urinary incontinence case.  This dog had suffered with a urinary tract infection for 11 years, nearly her entire life expectancy!  If you have ever spoken to a person who has suffered from a urinary tract infection and understood the degree of pain such infections can cause, you would clearly understand how truly disturbing it is for a dog to suffer with one for this long.

This brings me back to the point that I continuously stress to pet owners time and again, and will continue to do until my last dying breath: pets hide pain to the best of their ability as other animals do, so as not to exhibit weakness and attract other animals to take advantage of them (steal their food, drive them from their territory, etc.).  Time and again, as I show owners the horrific condition of their pet’s teeth and gums, tell them that recessed gums, gum infection, and tooth root exposure are not only unhealthy states, but they also cause severe pain, I get the answer: “Well, he doesn’t seem to be in any pain.”  Those of us who have suffered from dental disease know far differently.

In small dogs that are born with angular limb deformities that cause the knee caps to continually pop in and out of place (luxating patella, a common inherited orthopedic disease in small and toy breed dogs), I get the same answer when I tell the owners that the condition causes pain (pop your knee cap out of place sometime and see how it feels).

When I am successful in getting owners to address these issues and allow me to correct them, the feedback I commonly get post treatment is one of the pet having a new lease on life, more energetic and playful, happier, etc.  The reason for this is clear: we have finally resolved a source of severe, chronic pain.

Take heed and do not let your pets suffer silently.  Bring them to your veterinarian for regular well visits so that they can be examined to be certain that there are no potential sources of pain.  If dentistry is recommended, do not hesitate to have the teeth addressed.   If your veterinarian points out a condition that is known to cause pain, believe him.  While pets by their nature suffer silently with pain, we are trained to discover and treat their pain.

Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital and CEO/Chief Editor of the veterinary information and blog online community, Web-DVM.

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