There’s an old joke about someone finding the simpleton hitting himself in the head with a hammer. When asked why he would do such a thing, he replied "It feels so good when you stop."
When I was a boy, we used to camp at Alley Springs State Park for our family vacation. In those days you could camp right on the spring "branch", the exceedingly cold, clear stream leading from the spring itself to the nearby Jack’s Fork river. We waded in this knee-deep stream and our legs and feet would become quite numb from the cold after just a few minutes. It was much too cold for swimming, yet every evening my father would immerse himself briefly. He would jump up and out to land on the bank, shaking like a wet dog and exclaiming about how great it felt. One evening, I decided to emulate him and received the shock of my life as the icy water closed over me. "Dad, why do you do that?" You guessed it: "It feels so good when you get out."
There is some truth to this, of course. "Hunger is the best relish", meaning that you really cannot appreciate how good some simple food is unless you’ve been really hungry. Thankfully, I’ve never been starving. The closest I’ve come to this was my apprecation of a simple stew after a long day of working the rappelling cliffs with the Scouts. It may not have been the best meal I ever ate, but I remember it as being so.
You can appreciate the true beauty of being warm after being chilled to the bone. One night, I lay prone in the snow, in short sleeves, delivering a calf down in a wooded gully. I got pretty wet in the process, and it was a fair hike back to the truck. When I finally arrived home, I opened the damper wide on our wood-burning heater, took a hot shower, wrapped up in a blanket in front of the stove, and ate hot soup. Good is not a strong enough word for how I felt then.
When we took our hiking trip at Philmont Scout Ranch, we were ten days on the trail. We wore one set of clothes and carried a spare. There were streams to wash them in, but it wasn’t sunny enough to dry them. You could change clothes, but not into clean ones. In ten days, I got one shower, and one sponge bath. You cannot imagine the exquisite pleasure afforded me by a hot shower and clean clothes at the end of the trek.
By the same token, the relief of a pet’s pain is a wonderful thing. Sadly, animals often conceal their pain. Their instincts tell them not to advertise their weakness. You have an abscessed tooth? Don’t let anyone know you can’t bite them. Chew on the other side. Don’t cry. You will never know how much your pet is hurting until the pain is relieved. The arthritic pet who was "just getting older" — after five days on an anti-inflammatory, his owner calls to say "I have my dog back". The pet with abscessed teeth (for six months) –who has a personality change after the teeth are extracted: "We can pet her now. She doesn’t bite us and she wants to be loved on."
Certainly we can use some rules of thumb. When surgery is performed, just think: "Would this be hurting me?" Your pet is no different in the amount of pain he feels. He is just more stoic about concealing it.
Sometimes we just don’t know what’s going on to depress the pet so much. When in doubt, try relieving the pain.