Pain and Analgesia in Herps
©2000 Melissa Kaplan
The realization that animals experience pain has been a long one coming in scientific, veterinary and animal care circles. For some reason, it has been supposed that just because an organism does not respond to pain the way that humans typically do, they must not be feeling pain. This ignores the fact that organisms are wired differently, if you will: evolution and survival favor those organisms who act and react in ways to ensure their longevity in order to reproduce themselves as much as can. Those who respond appropriately to stimuli endangering their survival - within the environments in which they evolved - will survive. Those who survive are more likely to pass on to their offspring whatever it is in their genes that enabled them to survive.
Humans can and do mask pain. Some may be so used to a certain level of pain that they adapt to it in the sense that their body appears to continue to function as usual, or with some accommodation, but this ignores the metabolic and hormonal processes going on inside the body which continue to exact a high price for the body continuing to have pain. Athletes may mask pain in order to keep from being benched or getting a lower bid on their contracts. Parents and teachers may mask pain to prevent their children or students from worrying about them. People with invisible disabilities, which may include severe muscle and joint pain, are often hassled when they park in disabled parking spaces, despite the fact that they have the proper permit, obtained by their physician completing the necessary forms to get the permit.
Humans - most humans - can verbalize their pain. They may groan, or grunt, or use spoken or written words to describe where and how much it hurts. Not all humans can speak, however, including preverbal children. Do we assume they aren't in pain just because they can't tell us about it? Does a human have to cry and fuss in order to be thought in pain? Then why do we assume that just because animals aren't telling us they are in pain, that they are not?
Just because many animals, including herps, cannot vocalize to indicate they are in pain, does not mean that we cannot detect clues to their comfort/discomfort status, nor that we should assume that they are not in pain despite their being subjected to an event we can reasonably assume is painful: toes or tails or bodies being subjected to blunt force trauma, bites, burns; abscesses and lacerations; and surgical procedures.
There is a growing body of literature on the pain in animals, and the use of anesthesia and analgesia to control pain. There is a smaller, yet growing, body of work relating specifically to reptiles and amphibians in these areas. What follows are links to articles, or sites, and to a bibliography of other works.
of Pain and Discomfort in Herps
For reference, see Signs of Illness and Stress, Picking A Healthy Reptile or Picking A Healthy Iguana. While the latter article is written in this instance for green iguana owners, most of the points covered apply to all or most other reptiles, and to many amphibians.
Books & Proceedings
Management in Animals
Advances in Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia: Companion Animals
D. Heard (Ed.), University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA.
Pain and Analgesia
Anesthesia in Reptiles
of pain in reptiles
Anesthesia and Analgesia
Management and Humane Endpoints
on Pain Physiology
and Formulary Information
Research Animal Resources, University of Minnesota
Veterinary Formulary, University of Kentucky
Exotic Animal Formulary, 2nd Edition, Carpenter, Mashima, and Rupiper, W.B. Saunders, 2000
National Agricultural Library's Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC)
Need to update a veterinary or herp society/rescue listing?
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