Both pets and humans nearing the end of their lives may experience suffering and/or pain but they are not equivalent conditions. In this post we will examine the difference between pain and suffering.

Many animals nearing the ends of their lives may experience pain and/or suffer- ing. Pain is the emotional/mental reaction to a noxious (unpleasant/harmful) stimulus. When you burn yourself, you reflexively withdraw your hand. The ‘pain’ sets in after. Pain is the mental experience of the noxious stimulus. It is because pain is a mental ex- perience that people and animals can experience phantom limb pain long after a limb has been lost. Medical conditions like cancer, osteoarthritis, infections and injury can all cause pain.

Pain can lead to suffering but when pain is minor, suffering may be minimal. On the other hand, many things besides pain can lead to suffering:

  1. Hunger – being deprived of food can cause significant emotional turmoil and suffering. Many medical conditions can result in nausea that lead to hunger and there- by suffering.
  2. Thirst – Much like hunger, thirst can significantly impact wellbeing. The need to maintain hydration is much more urgent than the need to eat and if your pet cannot keep him- or herself hydrated this will lead to a compromise in their wellbeing
  3. Hygiene – Like people, pets care about their cleanliness. If disease leads to an inability to keep themselves clean, this will lead to suffering. It also predisposes them to painful conditions such as sores and urinary tract infections. If a pet is unable to maintain hygiene, help must be provided to mitigate this suffering
  4. Mobility – As animals age, many will develop osteoarthritis. As well as causing pain which causes suffering in its own right, it also limits the freedom to explore and have fun. Sitting in one place for days on end will lead to boredom, frustration and suf- fering, even in an animal. Luckily many things can be done to keep pets mobile well into old age and ensure your pet can continue to express its normal behavior
  5. Fear/Distress – this is a form of psychological suffering. If a pet endures extreme anxiety or lives in an unpredictable environment this can lead to mental anguish and suffering

It’s therefore clear that pain can lead to a type of suffering but suffering can be caused in many distinct ways. There are often things that can be done to ensure that all of these types of suffering are minimized. Bi-annual visits with your family veterinarian allow all of these factors to be evaluated. If necessary, your veterinarian can recommend interventions to help minimize any suffering your pet may be experiencing.

If you are unsure if your pet is suffering or if you think that it is, please contact us online or call us at 201-243-3222 for a free consultation. We can help you decide if there may be more that could be done to ease your pet’s suffering or if it may be time for you to consider euthanasia to minimize pain, anxiety and distress.