Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Improving veterinary management of Pain and Welfare in Kerala

Improving veterinary management of Pain and Welfare in Kerala

Professor Natalie Waran and her Edinburgh team will be working with veterinary colleagues from the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Science University to address the need for improved education for vets in the area of best practice management of companion animals in the veterinary clinic including superior evidence based methods for improved animal pain recognition at a special workshop taking place on November 24th.  

Over recent years we have increasingly looked to our nation’s veterinarians to ensure that the animals used for food, companionship or research are not only productive and healthy but are also managed humanely. It is becoming increasingly emphasised that international standards of animal welfare are vital not only for animal disease management, but also for sustainable productivity, food safety and public health, and there is an expectation that the veterinary profession take a leading role in promoting respect for animals in a progressive society.

Dogs and humans have been closely associated for many thousands of years with advantages for both species. However with an expanding population of free-roaming dogs especially in certain parts of the world such as India, and concerns about public health issues associated with unmanaged dog populations, there is increasing recognition of the need to control dog populations without causing unnecessary or avoidable pain or suffering. 

Interestingly, pet dog ownership has risen dramatically over recent years. In Europe where there is a long tradition of keeping a wide variety of pet animals, there are now an estimated 100 million dogs and cats kept as pets. Although cats being smaller and easier to manage in more confined homes, are being more frequently kept than dogs, but there are also rises in the keeping of small mammals such as rabbits, mice and rats. With changing lifestyles and an increased number of double income households, there has been a growth in pet ownership particularly in urban areas of India. Increasingly, pets are being looked upon as companions and members of the family rather than for utility such as  guard dogs. A recent survey concluded that there are at least 3.6 million pet dogs in the six major cities alone. Pet owners have started to take an interest in their pets wellbeing leading to an increase in demand for well -qualified small animal veterinarians equipped with the skills and knowledge to ensure the highest standards of animal health and welfare, and an increasing recognition of the importance of properly assessing and managing animal stress and pain.

There has until recently been little research into the best way to tell if an animal is in pain. This is of concern because without reliable ways to recognise and record pain in our pets, there is every chance that they may not be provided with the painkillers they need to help their recovery from illness or operations, and to ensure they do not suffer. Because animals cannot speak, they are reliant upon human carers and their veterinarians for their wellbeing. Increasingly it is becoming recognized that animals being non-verbal, express their experience of painful conditions and procedures through their behaviour, and that there are certain postures, sounds and actions that are extremely reliable when it comes to being able to tell if the animal is in pain.  In humans, pain is what the patient says it is, and we know that the patient’s subjective experience varies from individual to individual. Indeed the negative experience of being in pain doesn’t necessarily relate to the size or seriousness of the wound of illness, nor to the severity of the condition. In animals, because they have no way to speak to us, pain is what we humans say it is. In some cases this has led to concern about whether there exists a wide variation in pain assessment and therefore pain management. For example, recent research into the way that cats and dogs are managed for the same condition, suggest that our pet cats have been under-provisioned. The reasons for the difference between species are probably due to our familiarity with some animals and not with others. Detecting pain behaviour in some species is difficult due to their nature. Prey animals such as sheep and goats are less likely to express their pain in obvious behaviours because this makes them vulnerable to predation. This doesn’t mean they don’t feel painful rather that they have been shaped through evolution to show only subtle responses – often overlooked or ignored by humans. Because good pain management relies on good recognition of pain, it is essential that research to identify reliable indicators of a painful experience be carried out and the results properly disseminated and used in veterinary practice.

A recent development in the field of animal welfare science is the recognition that animals are sentient and therefore have the ability to feel things that are both negative and positive for them. As with humans, their emotional health is central to their well-being and for good welfare scientists have agreed that there should be an absence of strong negative feelings, such as pain, stress and fear, and the presence of positive feelings, like pleasure.

'this recognition of animal emotions, marks a significant change is the way science has traditionally viewed animals – and has led to raised international standards for welfare, increased demand for research addressing the needs of all animals and a need for improved education for future as well as existing veterinarians’. Prof Natalie Waran





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