The use of pain scales in small animal veterinary practices in the USA

R S Costa, R L Hassur, T Jones, A Stein
J Small Anim Pract. 2022 Dec 25. doi: 10.1111/jsap.13581.

Objectives: Pain assessment in veterinary medicine is challenging. Uncertainty in the ability to recognise pain in animals contributes to suboptimal analgesia. Pain scales have been developed to aid in pain recognition. It is unknown if such scales are routinely utilised in veterinary practices.

Materials and methods: A survey using RedCap software was emailed to veterinarians and veterinary technicians working in practices across the USA. This study aimed to investigate whether pain scoring was routinely performed and reasons to use or not use pain scales. One hundred and forty-four participants were required to estimate prevalence (95% confidence level, 5% precision) with hypothesised prevalence of approximately 10%.

Results: One hundred and forty-seven participants completed the survey. Seventy (47.6%) responded that pain scoring was performed in their practices, 24 (16.3%), reported "sometimes" and 53 (36.1%) reported pain scores were not performed. Reasons for not pain scoring included no training (51.9%) and busy caseload (48.1%). Disadvantages of pain scales were unreliability (16/82; 20%), duration required for completion (14/82; 17%) and vocalisation (14/82; 17%).

Clinical significance: Almost 50% of the small animal practices surveyed reported the use of pain scales as part of their routine workflow. However, many practices still do not consistently utilise pain scales to assess pain in dogs and cats. Perceived unreliability and lack of compliance were reasons for this result. Improvement of training and proper pain scale introduction and implementation in small animal practices in the USA appears to be required.