Recognizing that our pets may be in pain can be difficult. A pet that experiences acute (or sudden) pain may cry out, but how do you know what’s hurting? And a pet experiencing chronic pain may not show obvious signs of pain at all. How do you know when your pet’s in pain?
Animals feel pain the same way we do, but they can’t tell us about it like we can describe pain to our doctors. Since our pets can’t tell us with words that they’re in pain, we have to watch for signs.
Signs of acute pain might be obvious: pets may try to bite or scratch you if you touch the area that’s painful. But signs of chronic, ongoing pain may be less obvious and can be easily overlooked.
As Animal Pain Awareness Month approaches, it’s a good time to review how to identify subtle signs that your pet may be experiencing pain, whether it be an injury, osteoarthritis, or dental pain. If you notice any of the following signs in your pet, make an appointment to see your veterinarian.
- decreased appetite or thirst
- decreased activity or reluctance to play
- reluctance to go for walks
- refusal or hesitance to go up or down stairs
- reluctance to jump up on surfaces like beds, couches, or chairs
- reluctance to lie down and/or difficulty rising
- lameness, limping, or holding a paw in the air when sitting
- difficulty finding a comfortable position, restlessness
- difficulty using the litter box or lapses in housetraining
- unusual body posture
- shaking or trembling
- sleeping more or less than usual
- squinting, blinking, or rubbing of the eyes
- licking or over-grooming one area, like a paw, wrist or hip
- fast and shallow breathing or panting for no apparent reason
- unusual vocalizing, including whining, howling, yelping, groaning, growling, and whimpering in dogs; and purring (yes, purring can be related to pain!), hissing, meowing, and growling in cats
If you think your pet is experiencing pain, don’t try to treat it yourself. Your pet could have what’s called “referred pain” (pain felt in a part of the body other than the actual source). Your veterinarian will need to determine where the pain is originating and treat it accordingly.
Treatment may need to address more than just pain relief. For example, if your pet is showing signs of eye pain (squinting, watering eye, pawing at the eye), it could have uveitis, a scratched cornea, or a foreign object in its eye. Treating your pet for the pain alone won’t address the underlying problem. In addition, many pain relievers that are safe for human use are toxic or even fatal to dogs and cats. Always consult with your veterinarian before giving any medications.
By paying attention to changes in your pet’s behavior, you’ll be the first to notice any subtle changes that may indicate that your pet is in pain. Know the signs, pay attention, and call your veterinarian if you notice any changes. Your pet will thank you for it!