Last week I did a routine spay on two little kittens. Everything went well, the kittens recovered normally, and they were getting lots of attention before they left because they were so cute. When the owner came to pick them up our receptionist offered pain medication for them to go home with.
The owner said "Do they really need it?"
Okay, stop and think here for a minute. We just took two young cats, each about five pounds, cut through their skin and abdominal muscle with a sharp knife, pushed around their internal organs with a probe, pulled out their uterus, tied off the appropriate areas, cut away the uterus and ovaries, and then put in several layers of sutures to close everything up. After all that we are asked "do they need something for pain"?
Unfortunately there is a perception among many people that animals don't feel pain, or don't feel it in the same way that we do. There are even some vets who don't feel convinced that pain control is necessary, and that pain can help a patient by forcing them to restrict their activity. Both of these viewpoints are severely flawed.
Quite a lot of research has been done on pain in animals over the last 15-20 years, and the overwhelming conclusion is that they feel pain as acutely as we do. Just like some people can push past it while others are a bit wimpy (raising my own hand, here), some animals show more obvious symptoms than others. But they certainly do have pain receptors just like we do.
Why does this matter? So what if they hurt a little bit? It doesn't really bother them, does it?
Pain is the result of stimulating certain nerves and those signals begin a cascade of chemicals released into the body. Pain increases stress hormones which have been shown to slow healing. Pain also causes significant mental stress and can lead to long-term trauma and aversion of events or locations where the pain occurred. All of this can have tremendous effects on a pet.
Let's put it very simply. Painful animals suffer mentally and physically and heal slower. Pain-free animals have a much faster recovery and healing process with less stress and trauma. Whenever an illness, injury, or surgery causes pain, it is absolutely in the pet's best interest to do everything we can to control that pain.
Think about yourself. If you had surgery how would you feel? What would you think of a doctor that didn't worry about controlling your pain? Extend that attitude towards your pets and you're in the right direction.