Recognizing Pain in our Pets
How do we know our pet is experiencing pain?
Pets feel pain for many of the same reasons as humans: dental problems, infections, arthritis, disease and cancer as well as discomfort after surgical procedures. There are certain signs and changes in behavior that can indicate when a pet is suffering. As a pet owner, you are in the best position to notice those often subtle changes. The sooner your dog's pain is diagnosed and treated, the sooner he or she can heal and resume a normal, happy life.
Out of instinct, many animals will hide their pain. This is most common in our cats. In the wild, animals that appear sick or injured are vulnerable to predators. For this reason, our pets often disguise the fact they are in pain.
Also true is that our pets do not simply slow down because they are aging. Age is not a disease. If your senior dog or cat is less active, it is likely because there is something wrong and may very well be that he is suffering from arthritis pain or some other type of pain.
The most obvious signs of pain are crying, whimpering, growling and limping. A common misconception is that a pet that is limping is not painful because he/she is not vocal or is still willing to play and chase the ball. The fact is, an animal that is not painful does not limp (assuming that there are no anatomical abnormalities that result in an abnormal gait). If your dog or cat is limping, it is because his/her leg hurts. There are many reasons the leg may hurt but the bottom line is that your pet is in pain!
Behaviors that may indicate pain:
- reluctance to move or reluctance to lie down
- facial expression frequently vacant stare, wide eyed, and/or grimacing
- posture rigid, hunched back
- decreased appetite or not eating at all
- hiding or avoiding contact versus interactive and asking for attention
- generally “grumpy"
- “accidents” in the house/soiling outside litterbox
- doesn’t want to be picked up
- guarding a body part
- focused on one part of their body – licking, biting, scratching or staring at a body part
- panting excessively
- excessive grooming/not grooming at all
- some animals will “talk” more when they are in pain where others may “talk” less than they normally do
- unable to sleep/rest for long a period of time
- circling, getting up and down on bedding
- Sleeping excessively
- withdrawn for long periods of time
Treating pain Please do not try to treat your pet’s pain yourself. Many forms of human pain relief can be dangerous (even fatal) to our pets. Pain occurs for many different reasons and so treatments will depend on the diagnosis. Pain relief options for our pets is a rapidly expanding field, and there are many safe therapies available. We will explore some options for pain control in our next post. If you are concerned and want more answers now, contact us at 315-446-7933 and ask to speak with our Pain Management Service. More information is also available on our website www.vmccny.com
Written by Dr. Michelle Burnett, Director of VMC's Pain Management Service