The International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management has designated the month of September as Animal Pain Awareness Month. In recognition of that we’d like to share some tidbits on how to tell if your pet is in pain. Sometimes it is very obvious when an animal is in pain; such as when we observe limping, swelling, or an open wound. However, some animals are very good at hiding their pain and the symptoms are much less obvious.
The biggest sign in both dogs and cats is behavioral changes. Knowing your pet’s “normal” behavior will give you a big advantage when looking for signs of pain. A dog in pain may become antisocial or even aggressive at times. He may have a loss of appetite and sleep more often than usual, as sleep is the body’s time to heal itself. Excessive vocalization, grooming, and panting when not exercising are also signs there may be something wrong with your pup. Some dogs may show changes in their posture, such as a rigid stance if they’re stiff or swollen; or they may get into the “prayer position” with their paws down and bottom up, potentially to alleviate abdominal pain. Restlessness, shaking, and trembling may likewise be indicators that your dog is hurting internally.
Our feline friends tend to be a bit less obvious; they are much better at hiding their pain from us. Again, look for any behavioral changes. Biting or scratching when that is not their “normal” is usually a red flag that something isn’t right. Panting is rare for cats so if you see this symptom, you’ll want to watch them very closely and look for other symptoms, such as a decrease in appetite, energy, or mobility. Although most cats will purr, especially if they’re getting attention, pain may actually cause an increase in purring even when you’re not near them; this could be their way of trying to self-soothe. If your cat’s pupils are dilated for an extended period of time, this could also be a pain indicator and maybe even a sign of head trauma. Lastly, one of the biggest clues a cat will give is a change in their litter box habits. If they are in too much pain to get in and out of their litter box, they may start urinating or defecating on the floor. Cats that are not eliminating any waste at all could either be constipated or have a blocked urethra. These are both very serious medical conditions in felines.
So now that you know what to look for, what is the next step? If you think your pet is in pain, you should make an appointment with your local veterinarian as soon as possible. They will be able to determine the source of the pain and the best way to alleviate it. Make sure you listen carefully to your veterinarian’s instructions, such as limiting your pet’s activity and giving the correct dose of medication. Please do not self-prescribe medications for your pet! Just like humans, all animals react differently to medications and we know you want to keep your pet safe and healthy!