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Our Pets Can Feel Pain, Too

Two distinguished veterinarians, Dr. Tammy Grubb and Dr. Ralph Harvey, answer important questions about pain as it relates to pet wellness.

Combined, Dr. Tammy Grubb and Dr. Ralph Harvey have nearly 80 years of experience in veterinary care with a focus on pain management. Both work to promote pet wellness through awareness of pain and pain management.

Dr. Tammy Grubb is Associate Clinical Professor of Anesthesia & Analgesia in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, a certified acupuncturist and a member of the Board of Directors of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM). Dr. Ralph Harvey teaches anesthesia and pain management in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of TennesseeCollege of Veterinary Medicine. Hehas served as Executive Secretary and as a member of the ACVAA Board of Directors. Both are certified as a specialist by the American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia(ACVAA), and they work to promote pet wellness through awareness of painand pain management.

They were happy to take time to answer these important questions about pain in animals as it relates to their experience and the introduction of new technologies to measure pain.  

Dr. Tammy Grubb, DVM, PhD, DACVAA


Dr. Ralph Harvey, DVM, MS

Diplomate ACVAA, UTCVM Ret

How have you seen the animal pain management industry evolve over the years?

The role of animals in our lives has shifted dramatically. As Dr. Marty Becker with Fear Free Pets points out, “Our pets have come from the barnyard to the backyard, to the backdoor, to the bedroom.” Over the past 40 years, we’ve seen the recognition of animal pain as an essential concern. We’ve seen the development of increasingly effective treatments to relieve painful conditions that rob our animals of their vitality, companionship, and quality of life. A doubling of the average pet’s lifespan over the last 40 years increases the need for veterinary care. With new tools like PainTrace, we can measure pain, assess pain relief, and better document our care.

What are some of the most common misconceptions regarding animal pain?

The most common and most damaging myth is that animals don’t feel pain. The reality is that the mammalian pain pathway is incredibly similar among species. So, if humans feel pain, animals most certainly feel pain. The problem is that, evolutionarily, animals are programmed to hide pain. And they do that well. The most effective way to debunk this myth is to have a tool that measures animal pain, whether or not they exhibit behavioral signs of pain. PainTrace does precisely that, and it will revolutionize our ability to assess—and then to treat—animal pain.

What are some of the best ways to protect one’s pet from pain and suffering?

Pain negatively impacts your pet’s health and quality of life, which will influence pet behavior.  The best way to protect your pet from pain and suffering is to recognize it early. Spend time with your pet and learn its normal behavior, including playing, grooming, and toileting. Change from normal behavior is a common sign of pain or other health issues requiring treatment.  Also, choose a veterinarian who is proactive about preventing or treating pet pain. Ask your veterinarian if you can use pain and quality of life assessment tools. Actively watching for pain is an essential step in protecting your pet from suffering.

What steps do you recommend pet owners take to better educate themselves on the health and well-being of their pet?

Start by talking to a veterinarian. Veterinarians have a vested interest in your pet’s health and well-being. A veterinarian can help guide owners to medically accurate websites and other resources that will provide valid education regarding their pet’s health and help prepare them to be an effective advocate for their pet. They can then recognize problems, like early warning signs of arthritis, so that important conditions are addressed. PainTrace may support earlier diagnosis through inclusion in their wellness visit.

What were the biggest challenges you witnessed the pet industry face over these last few months?

A positive: Under COVID-19 restrictions, people spend more time with their pets, strengthening the human-animal bond and potentially allowing for earlier recognition of problems.  

A challenge: COVID-19 led to curbside service, which is not a normal medical scenario.  

Veterinarians and pet owners form a team, together they discern subtleties in patient health and quality-of-life changes that the owner may not recognize without focused questioning with their veterinarian. The presence of pain is more likely to have gone undiagnosed.  As veterinarians, we agree that new technologies, new techniques, and approaches help veterinary clients speak for their pets and help veterinary personnel provide better medical care.

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