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Pain-killing creams and sprays for pets' injuries-do they work?

The concept of topical pain treatment is not new. It was way back in 1884 that Koller and Gaertner first demonstrated anesthesia of a rabbit's cornea with cocaine and local anesthesia was born. Today, lotions and sprays that purport to alleviate local pain or itch in animals are ten a penny. Some work and some may not. But, some ask, do animals actually feel pain and are these medications even necessary? Whether animals feel pain as we do is controversial. I believe they do, but there is evidence that pain may not be as distressing for them as it is for us. This may be because pain is a subjective moiety requiring interpretation by the perceiver. Morphine does not so much abolish pain as modify its perception. Pain perception also varies from circumstance to circumstance so there is good pain and bad pain, depending on what is heralded. Dogs and cats probably do not dwell on the consequences of pain: They just experience it and are often quite stoic about it. Melzack demonstrated that dogs raised in sensory isolation did not appear to register the pain of a lighted match, so is pain perception may, in part, be learned. Regardless of the academic discussion, it is clearly more humane to assume that animals feel pain and act accordingly. But use of a balm of, say, lavender water and aloe vera to relieve skin irritation or sooth burned or damaged paws may not be as necessary in pets as in similarly affected humans. If the decision is made to attempt topical pain relief, it is probably best to consider using a local anesthetic, such as benzocaine, as opposed to a herbal remedy. A topical form of this is used effectively to curb pain and hemorrhage when pets' nails have been trimmed too short. Other topically-applied pain relievers may help, too, depending on the circumstances. In a study at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Philadelphia, the aspirin-like drug trolamine salycylate was tested on dogs and found to be better absorbed into underlying muscles than when the dogs were given an oral version of the same. Wintergreen is a similar compound. Remember, though, whatever is applied to a pet's skin may well be licked off. This will decrease efficacy and could lead to systemic problems. Even assuming that a pet is genuinely suffering from local pain or irritation, and even if a wise choice of topical medication is made, it is advisable to apply a dressing over the treated area or to keep a very close eye on the pet.

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