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Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Dr. Petty’s Pain Relief for Dogs: The Complete Medical and Integrative Guide to Treating Pain
by Michael Petty, D.V.M.
NY: Norton, 2016
Hardcover, $24.95

Dr. Petty’s Pain Relief for Dogs is NOT a do-it-yourself book. The author states very clearly – and more than once – that no book, even his own, is a substitute for having a dog examined and treated by a qualified veterinarian. What he offers is an informative survey of various causes of pain in dogs, treatment options professionally available, and special care owners can provide. Primarily, the author is concerned that dog owners realize: (1) that dogs do feel pain (he thinks they may feel it more than we do, and he explains why); (2) that there are usually ways that pain can be relieved; and (3), that pain treatment does not have to lead to bankruptcy.

Just as the paternalistic model of medicine has been rejected, Dr. Petty rejects paternalistic veterinary care. He believes owners can and should be informed – about causes of pain, possible treatment, and expected outcomes – in order to be partners with veterinarians in decision-making for their companion animals.

Each reader of this book will be struck by different facts not previously encountered elsewhere. One that hit me between the eyes was the reference to a 1997 Lancet article on a study of infant response to pain subsequent to neonatal circumcision. It was long believed that any pain during circumcision was minimal and brief – over, done with, not registered as memory. A 1995 study showed something very different. One group of neonates was circumcised with local anesthetic, a second group without anesthetic. At their four-month and six-month vaccinations, it was found that babies circumcised without anesthetic had an increase in pain response compared to the group circumcised with the local anesthetic cream. The name for this effect is hyperalgesia: untreated pain can be responsible for physiological changes that intensify subsequent pain. Naturally, Dr. Petty’s concern is what this finding means for treating pain in dogs, but the finding itself is fascinating and would seem to have important broad consequences.

The chapter order in the book is logical, and illustrations are helpful in clarifying text. For example, in the chapter on acute pain, illustrations show how to make an emergency muzzle (to avoid being bitten by an injured dog trying to protect itself) and how to pick up an injured dog. In the following chapter on chronic pain, we are shown (from the side) the typical stance of a pain-free dog, followed by a contrasting image of a dog suffering from hip dysplasia. The first dog stands with front feet directly under shoulders, the second with front feet farther back to ease pressure on weak hips. The difference is obvious once it is pointed out.

I particularly appreciated Dr. Petty’s discussion of acupuncture, both the general explanation of how it works (briefly, by enhancing natural pain-inhibitory signaling, but Chapter 9 gives a longer, more detailed explanation) and the author’s clear statement, “I can’t think of a single type of pain that won’t respond, at least in part, to acupuncture.” Possibly skeptical readers should know that the type of acupuncture the author advocates and practices is based on modern Western medicine-based research and has nothing “mystical” about it.

In sections on various other therapies, including botanical remedies, the author gives his own best assessment, based always on serious research rather than product claims or anecdotes from convinced customers. There is even a chapter frankly titled “Pain Relief Therapies Best Avoided,” in which the doctor pulls no punches.

Whether he is providing pharmaceutical or physiological explanations, recommending stretching exercises, or advising on the choice of dog bed or socks, Dr. Petty’s voice as it comes through his writing is authoritative caring, and conversational. As a reader and dog owner, you trust him. And then he makes you laugh. Cookie stretches! Those are great! (You have to read the book to find out.) He also includes helpful appendices, endnotes, and – hallelujah! – an index.

There was one analogy in Chapter 6 that I had some trouble getting my brain around at first. The author compares the pain pathway -- from nerve endings to the spinal cord and eventually to the brain – to a commuter returning home at the end of the day. My problem with the analogy was that it is, presumably, desirable that the commuter reach home, whereas relieving pain requires not allowing pain signals to reach the brain but instead blocking them from that natural destination. Re-reading made the point clear, but it would have been clearer from the beginning if the person in transit in the analogy had been someone the reader wanted to prevent from reaching his destination – say a terrorist or other criminal.

Also in the same section there is passing reference to “agonist action on receptors.” Readers with background in medicine, philosophy, or classics will not pause in perplexity over “agonist,” but other readers may, and a parenthetical definition would be helpful at that point.

But overall, and all in all, Dr. Petty’s Pain Relief for Dogs is highly readable and informative. I learned a lot and recommend the book highly. I know that as our Sarah ages, I'll be using some of the knowledge I gained from the good doctor.

Now here’s the surprise I’ve been saving all along: Dog Ears Books will probably have the honor of hosting Dr. Petty this summer in Northport! Maybe (depending on his book tour schedule) on Dog Parade day! I’ll put a notice on the blog as soon as we fix on a date, but contact me any time to order the book now (to read and bring with you to his event for signing) or to reserve a signed copy for purchase on the day of the event.

P.S. 5/25: Dr. Petty will be at Dog Ears Books on the day of the dog parade, Saturday, August 13, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. He will give a short presentation and take questions from the audience before signing books for customers. We're excited!!!

So start now making notes of what you want to ask he doctor. This will be a very special opportunity – and a memorable one, I’m sure -- for Dog Ears Books customers.


Dawn said...

Excellent! We all wonder what they are feeling and wish we could interpret their movements to better understand whether they are sick or injured. I'll email you.

Gerry said...

The Dog Parade and excellent advice would be an irresistible combination. Miss Sadie and the Cowboy often wish that I were not so inexplicably tone-deaf.

P. J. Grath said...

Got your e-mail, Dawn. Thanks! Gerry, you and Miss S. and Cowboy are -- deaf to advice??? I'm sure not!

Gerry said...

I am unclear. It is becoming chronic.

Miss Sadie and the Cowboy believe that I should understand their communications, even when they are subtle--a twitched ear, a low woof. I do not. The results flummox them. Ah well.

P. J. Grath said...

Gerry, we sometimes call Sarah "The Great Communicator." She puts Ronald Reagan in the dust.

Kathy in Oz said...

My little dog started scratching her face. I took her to the vet who said she now has glaucoma as well as the cataracts which I knew about and she gave me drops and ointment for her eyes. The eye most affected by the glaucoma looks very different to the other one, and has brought about her total blindness. The point about all of this is that I have glaucoma also and I am not in any pain or discomfort from it; but it is painful for dogs and that is why she was scratching her face. It looks like a most interesting book and I wonder if face scratching is mentioned as a sign a dog is in pain.

P. J. Grath said...

I looked at the list of signs and didn't see scratching as a sign of pain. Could it be your dog's face is itchy? Dry skin? Allergies? But I AM NOT THAT KIND OF DOCTOR!!! And it's true that people and dogs are different in some ways. :)