Veterinary medicine has come along way over the years. These days, it provides extensive care for pets, including MRIs, chemotherapy, even kidney transplants.
But can it help animals enough when it comes to something pretty basic — their pain?
Reporter Diane Toomey takes us to Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, where the treatment of pet pain is a priority.
TEXT OF STORY:
DR. LISA MOSES: Look at you waggin' your tail. Happy girl.
TOOMEY: Diane Buckwald has brought her elderly dog to see veterinarian Lisa Moses. As the King Charles Cavalier Spaniel teeters into the exam room, Moses begins the visit with her usual question.
MOSES: How about her current pain level today?
BUCKWALD: I think she's feels pretty good. She's already barked at four dogs.
TOOMEY: Moses is one of the few vets in the country specializing in pain. And she runs something even rarer.... a pet pain department... here at the Angell Animal Medical Center.
MOSES: I've been kind of the self-designated champion of pain medicine here for a long time.
TOOMEY: So everyday, Moses is barraged with requests for help from other vets. Like in this case.
MOSES: "hi buddy. Is buddy having knee surgery?
OTHER VOICE: Yes, lateral suture.
TOOMEY: The little white dog lying on the metal table has already been anesthetized. A colleague has asked Moses to make sure Buddy will also be pain-free after he wakes up.
MOSES: I'm about to do an epidural injection for this little poodle.
TOOMEY: This kind of pain management is not standard in a lot of vet facilities.
MOSES: I hear his heart rate speeding up a little bit.
TOOMEY: The drug Moses injects into Buddy's lower back will block the dog's sensation of pain for several hours after his surgery.
MOSES: So he reacted a little bit during his injection so I'm going very slow so he doesn't react any more.
TOOMEY: For years, Moses has been exploring ways to treat pet pain safely but aggressively. She even spent time training at a children's hospital to learn how human doctors deal with pain in their patients who can't communicate.
But she says, even if pets could talk, they'd probably lie about their pain.
MOSES: A lot of species we work with are prey animals and they have evolved to hide their pain. Also, different species and different breeds of animals have different pain behaviors.
TOOMEY: But an individual animal's response to pain isn't all that predictable. For example, some dogs in pain are restless. Others may sleep more.
MOSES: In cats it's the same kind of thing. Some cats in pain sleep more and stay in more tightly curled positions. But in other cats, they will sleep in abnormal positions or maybe not sleep as much.
TOOMEY: Moses says a lot of veterinarians have resisted treating pain because it's so difficult to tell whether an animal is hurting and just how much. But she has a different philosophy.
MOSES: If you expect there to be pain from a condition or procedure or surgery, you try treating it and see what the response is.
TOOMEY: Vets have also been afraid of side effects from pain medication. But Moses says using smaller dosages of numerous drugs can minimize side-effects.
She also relies on non-drug therapies like massage, stretching exercises and acupuncture.
SOUND OF A DOG PANTING.
TOOMEY: That's Kyro, a lab-shepherd mix who's pushing fifteen. He's got arthritis and he's here today for his regular acupuncture treatment.
The friendly dog lies on a floor cushion as Dr. Moses inserts needles into his back. Kyro's owner, Chris Kro-Stow-Sik pays 50-dollars for these sessions... in-line with the cost of seeing other specialists here. He says it's worth it.
KRO-STOW-SIK: I wish I had a video camera so you could have seen him run down backstairs. He went leaping off last stair because wanted to play with kids. And it was like he was a puppy again.
TOOMEY: It's a story Moses is pleased to hear.
MOSES: The progression of my career has been focused on alleviating suffering and I feel like I now do that in the purest form.
TOOMEY: Back in surgery, Moses is on her way to another patient when she spots a tabby cat on a nearby table. The animal is about to have an operation for acute urinary blockage. The procedure entails making a wider opening on a part of the body that is quite sensitive. Moses calls out a question to the cat's surgeon.
MOSES: Are you doing an epidural on that cat?
TOOMEY: Turns out, the vet is.
MOSES: So the doctor who is on this case is somebody I helped train as a resident and he's very astute about pain.
TOOMEY: Moses wants more vets to be that way. With that in mind, she plans to start a consulting service for vets outside her hospital to help them care for animals in pain.
This program aired on November 8, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.