Some people still believe that reptiles can not perceive pain. Unfortunately it is more often that we do not perceive that they are in pain because the signs they show are often subtle and unlike mammals.
Many recent scientific studies have shown that reptiles have all of the necessary neurotransmitters and anatomy to feel pain. It is likely that they have simply evolved to hide their pain to avoid predation in the wild. I have also seen the clinical effects of pain relief in reptiles, for example I consulted with a lizard that had severe burns and was being treated by another veterinarian. This reptile was not on pain relief and hadn't moved or eaten in days. Hours after being given an injections of an opiod and an anti-inflammatory this very same lizard was able to move around her enclosure and was eating again. We have to remember as pet owners and veterinarians that what is painful for us is likely painful for all living creatures.
Unfortunately very little data exists on the dosages, frequency and side effects of pain relief medication in reptiles. All of the drugs we use are 'off-label' and generally registered for use in cats and dogs. But with the advice of other practitioners who regular consult with reptiles we are able to make analgesia choices that almost certainly help our scaled friends.
PAIN RELIEF MEDICATION
Meloxicam is an anti-inflammatory agent used commonly in dogs and cats. In reptiles most veterinarians use this drug at 0.2mg/kg given once daily. It can be given both orally and via injection, but unfortunately we do not know for sure how well either is absorbed.
Opiods are commonly used to provide pain relief in veterinary and human medicine. Recent studies have shown that tramadol is an effective pain relief medication for most reptiles. It is generally used at 5-10mg/kg once or twice daily (dependent on species). Other opiods have also been used with varied success, including some promising studies on the use of fentanyl patches in snakes and lizards.
Local anaesthesia is also an effective method of pain relief for reptiles, particularly during surgery.
I hope this post has given you some insight into the medications I use commonly to provide analgesia to my reptile patients. If you have any questions about a specific case please feel free to comment or contact me.
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