Attitudes towards perception and management of pain in rabbits and guinea pigs by a sample of veterinarians in New Zealand

AIMS: To determine the perceptions of a sample of veterinarians in New Zealand regarding pain and pain management in rabbits and guinea pigs.

METHODS: Questionnaires were distributed to all members of the Companion Animal Society, part of the New Zealand Veterinary Association. The questionnaire gathered information on the demographics of respondents, obtained an assessment by veterinarians of the level of pain associated with clinical procedures for rabbits and guinea pigs, established the willingness of respondents to perform these, obtained information on the anaesthetics and analgesics used during these procedures, and the factors associated with selecting different types of drug.

The level of knowledge of respondents and interest in continuing education regarding pain recognition and management in these species was also assessed.RESULTS: A total of 155/610 (25.4%) responses were obtained. Rodents and lagomorphs accounted for 0-5% of the total caseload in the practices of most (133/155; 86%) respondents. Anticipated pain scores differed for different procedures (p<0.001) but did not differ between male and female respondents or between species of animal. There were also differences between procedures in the respondents willingness to perform them (p<0.001). Selection of anaesthetics and analgesics was mainly determined by the amount of information available for the species, and ketamine was the drug most commonly used. Many veterinarians felt their level of knowledge regarding the recognition and treatment of pain in rabbits and guinea pigs was inadequate. CONCLUSIONS: Rabbits and guinea pigs represented a small percentage of the caseload of veterinarians in this study. From an animal welfare perspective this may be of concern as, anecdotally, these species are common pets. However, further study regarding the actual number of these animals kept as pets in New Zealand is required for validation. Veterinary perception of anticipated pain, and willingness to perform procedures, varied between procedures, but was not influenced by gender of veterinarian. Many respondents felt their knowledge of issues relating to pain recognition, anaesthesia and analgesia in rabbits and guinea pigs was inadequate. CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Understanding how veterinarians choose to provide analgesia or when they decline to perform surgeries for rabbits and guinea pigs may provide significant information for targeting professional development, and improving animal welfare. The study is from the Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand.

Keown A, Farnworth M, Adams NJ. N Z Vet J 2011; 59(6):305-310.