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27-02-2007 - Kindness: The New Pet Pain Relief Kindness: The New Pet Pain Relief: Jennifer Perret; SPARK Plug, University of Guelph
A pill, a hug and some encouraging words could be among the treatment veterinarians prescribe for pets after a procedure, if University of Guelph researchers can find just how effective a little love can be for helping relieve pain. Professor Patricia Turner of the Department of Pathobiology and her research team are studying how social networks and positive attention can reduce anxiety and alter an animal’s perception of pain.
Turner hopes kindness may provide another means to improve comfort for animals undergoing painful procedures.
“We know that providing pharmacologic support is a major aspect of pain management, but it is not always sufficient,” says Turner. “We are looking for non-pharmacologic ways to reduce stress and pain.”
Pain and stress are known to reduce an animal’s ability to heal, says Turner, making recovery slower. Other variables, such as a strange environment, can increase stress and alter an animal’s response to pain relievers. Stepping up medication may help reduce an animal’s post-operative discomfort. But it could also increase side effects, says Turner. That’s why she and her team are looking for alternative approaches.
In the first phase of the researchers’ study, rats were put in two groups and given varying attention levels. Within these groups, rats were also divided into single and paired housing subgroups, to evaluate how living with a close ‘buddy’ influences pain response.
The first group of rats received basic care and attention, while the other group was named, spoken to and handled more frequently by caretakers. The animals were then observed for their tolerance to mild heat discomfort. Initial findings suggest that paired animals actually showed discomfort more readily than rats housed alone. And within those paired animals, those more frequently handled were even more likely to show discomfort earlier than those receiving basic care. However, animals with buddies were more responsive to pain relievers than those housed alone or handled less – leading the researchers to believe that handled and socialized animals are less stressed overall.
The research team is now looking at how natural corticosteroid hormones in the rats change as a measure of their stress response. This study will also be broadened to determine the effects of extra positive attention on dogs, and whether those that come from multi-dog households respond differently to pain than lone-dog households.
Ultimately the team hopes that the added attention could be a way to alter an animal’s perception of pain, increase the effectiveness of pain relievers and reduce the need for additional medication.
“If the technician or caretaker spends more time with an animal, just petting and speaking to them, the animal may require less medication, go home faster and have a better experience,” says Turner. “That’s what we’re hoping to find out.”
Also involved in this research is Professor Francesco Leri of the Department of Psychology and Professor Suzanne Millman of the Department of Population Medicine. This research is supported by Pet Trust.

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