If your Tripawd has phantom pain after amputation, you know it’s a very real and traumatic situation. Unfortunately it’s a poorly documented condition with little hard evidence on successful methods to treat it. But a new phantom pain in dogs study is bringing the veterinary community closer to understanding what it is, and how to help pets affected by this type of post-amputation pain.
Sometimes it seems like veterinary clinical studies happen at a snail’s pace. The reality is that every day, scientists around the world are working hard to share evidence about conditions that affect our pets. One such scientist is Dr. Marco Rosati, an Italian veterinarian with a laser focus on understanding neuropathic pain in animals, as well as epilepsy and neuromuscular disorders.
Since 2013 Dr. Rosati has served as Assistant Professor/Lecturer at the Institute for Veterinary Pathology, Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich, Germany, where he works as a neuropathologist in the Comparative Neuropathology Laboratory.
In 2015 Dr. Rosati contacted us to assist in his latest project, a phantom pain in dogs study. The purpose of the study was to document
“Our knowledge as veterinarians is strongly limited by the absence of scientific data on the frequency of phantom limb pain, its clinical manifestations and possible risk factors associated to its occurrence,” Dr. Rosati told us in 2015. “This lack of knowledge ultimately impacts our work and the quality of care that we can offer you.”
Thanks to the willingness of the Tripawds Nation to participate, he received 107 completed surveys to help his research. “Without you, this study would have not been possible,” he told us in an email announcing the publication of his study, “Approaching phantom complex after limb amputation in the canine species.”
Unlike many other veterinary research publications, the Journal of Veterinary Behavior allows anyone to read the full text of published studies. We encourage you to browse the text, but in short here’s what Dr. Rosati and his colleagues discovered about phantom pain in dogs (referred to as “PC” or phantom complex in the study):
Important Points from Phantom Pain in Dogs Study
Dr. Rosati was specifically researching canines for this pilot study. We hope that this is the first of more studies that will also research phantom pain in Tripawd cats. Meanwhile, here are some highlights for this one:
- 53% (36/68) reported that dogs experienced pain more than 1 month before surgery (69% of oncologic patients), whereas the remaining 47% (32/68) described pain from 24 hours to 4 weeks before amputation.
- 9% (6/64) described pain from 1 to 3 months after surgery and 5% (3/64) experiencing pain from 3 to 6 months after surgery.
- Focusing on the presence of possible PC-related behaviors, dogs exhibited different manifestations of pain or discomfort (Supporting Information: Table S4). In particular, among dogs showing those manifestations in the time frame comprised from 3 months to more than 1 year after amputation, 35% exhibited muscular twitching in the stump region (23/66), 23% licked the stump (10/43), 19% whimpered (10/52), 17% yelped (6/35), 16% were restless (10/61), 11% chewed the stump (1/9), and 8% scratched the stump (1/13).
- The present investigation represents a preliminary step approaching PC in dogs after amputation of a limb. According to our survey, 14% of owners felt that their dogs experiencing pain from 1 to 6 months after surgery with and without accompanying behavioral changes. Similarly in human amputees, 5%-10% of patients report persistence and worsening of pain beyond the stage of postsurgical healing, leading to the development of a debilitating and neuropathic type of pain (Nikolajsen et al., 1997; Hill, 1999; Nikolajsen and Jensen, 2001; Meissner et al., 2015).Taken together, these findings suggest that the establishment of neuropathic pain in the residual limb may be delayed for months after surgical resection and that postoperative care might/should go well beyond wound healing.