The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Personality and Pain in Animal End of Life Care The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Personality and Pain in Animal End of Life Care

Monday, October 8, 2018

Personality and Pain in Animal End of Life Care

Why it is so important to treat each animal as an individual.

How Ethology Can Help Improve End of Life Care for Animal Patients: Part 1 in a 3 Part Series

Pain is arguably the most important clinical and ethical issue in end of life care for companion animals. Research suggests that many companion animals—perhaps numbering in the millions—are not being treated for pain or are being treated inadequately. [i] A significant portion of missed diagnoses, misdiagnoses, undertreatment, and overtreatment likely can be tied to incorrect behavioral assessments, particularly on the part of pet owners but also, perhaps, on the part of veterinarians.

Pain is a quintessentially personal experience. Indeed, the most common medical definition of pain is “what the person says it is.” A large body of research has explored how the experience and expression of pain can be influenced by gender, age, past experiences, and cognitive priming. Even individual personality can influence how people experience and express pain. For example, people who rate high on “extraversion” are more likely to express their experience of pain yet may, at the same time, experience pain less intensely than introverted individuals. People who score high on “neuroticism” have higher emotional stress responses to pain than those who score low. [ii] A similar dynamic appears to be at work in nonhuman animals, with individual personality shaping the experience and expression of pain. (Personality can be understood as individual differences in behavior that remain stable over time.) This has important implications for the assessment and effective treatment of animal pain.

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