When you stub your toe, bang your elbow, or lift a heavy box the wrong way, you know you’re hurt–and others will, too, if you cry out in pain! Pain isn’t enjoyable for us, nor is it for pets. With sudden or acute pain, your pet may cry out…but what if he doesn’t? Or, what if he’s suffering from chronic pain, which is common with arthritis and dental disease? How can you tell if your pet is in pain?
Pets feel pain the same way we do, but they can’t (and sometimes won’t) tell us about it the way we can tell people. And language isn’t the only barrier (even though some intelligent parrots CAN use words). Animals’ survival instincts prevent them from expressing pain to hide their vulnerability, which can make them appear like easy prey. This particularly holds true in cats, rabbits, pocket pets, and birds. Our job as caring pet owners is not only to be aware of this quirk but to watch for subtle signs of pain and seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
Signs of acute pain may be more obvious. For example, a normally friendly animal may try to bite or scratch you if you’re near or try to touch the painful area. Signs of chronic pain may be less noticeable.
Take your pet to the veterinarian if you notice any of the following changes in your pet:
- Decreased activity or reluctance to play
- Refusal to go up or down stairs
- Reluctance to jump up on surfaces like beds, couches, or chairs
- Reluctance to lie down or difficulty getting up
- Lameness or holding a paw up when sitting
- Difficulty finding a comfortable position, restlessness
- Difficulty using the litter box or house soiling
- Unusual body posture
- Shaking or trembling
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Excessively licking area, like a paw or the hind end
- In cats, decrease in regular grooming
- Fast and shallow breathing or panting for no apparent reason
- Unusual vocalizing (including whining, howling, yelping, groaning, growling, and whimpering in dogs; and purring, hissing, meowing, and growling in cats)
Whatever you do, do NOT try to treat your pet’s pain on your own. Your pet may be experiencing “referred pain”—pain felt in a part of the body that is not the source. It’s also extremely important to never give pain medication meant for humans to animals, as it can be toxic even in small amounts.
Your veterinarian is trained to identify where a pet’s pain originates and how best to treat it. Treatment may require more than just pain relief. For example, if your pet has a scratch on his cornea, this is what needs to be treated—pain medication will not correct the problem.
No pets deserve to have their pain go untreated. By paying attention to your pet’s behavior, you will be the first to notice signs that your pet is in pain. Know them, pay attention to them, and call your vet if you observe them. Your pet will thank you for it!