Whether from an acute injury or a chronic condition like arthritis, pets experience pain in the same way humans do. What’s worse is that, unlike humans, pets don’t have the agency to seek relief from their pain and might suffer for longer as a result.
To coincide with Pain Awareness Month for humans, September has also been deemed Animal Pain Awareness Month to help shed some light on the pain our pets might be experiencing—sometimes without us even realizing. Regardless of your pet’s cause of pain, pet parents should be mindful of the often-subtle indicators of animal pain and how to address it.
Pet pain is not something to ignore
Humans have a tendency to ignore feelings of pain until they worsen or become unmanageable. But when it comes to pets, our furry friends can’t tell us how bad their pain level is or how it’s affecting their daily lives. Therefore, pet parents should treat the slightest signs of pain in their pets seriously.
Acute or chronic pain not only causes discomfort in pets—it also causes distress. Pets who live in pain may be more agitated and stressed and hide away from the family. It can also cause other problems for their health, including dehydration and weight loss due to not eating and inflammation from stress responses.
Pets should never have to endure pain for extended periods of time. As pet owners, it’s our responsibility to watch out for the signs that our pets are in pain and take action.
Spotting the signs of animal pain
One of the most troubling things about pet pain is that it’s often difficult to spot. Cats, as well as dogs, tend to mask their pain because of evolutionary instincts and self-preservation. Unfortunately, this makes it extremely difficult to detect when they aren’t feeling well.
Because many ailments in pets produce similar symptoms, there’s no definitive way to determine if your pet is experiencing pain or another problem. However, one or more of the following signs may indicate acute or chronic pain in cats and dogs.
- Behavioral changes: Some of the subtle signs of pain many pet owners miss are not physical but behavioral. Cats and dogs that are in pain are more likely to hide away from people or other pets in isolation and refuse to come out. They may also display changes in temperament. For example, a typically social and friendly cat may suddenly begin hissing, growling, swatting or snapping at you if they are in pain. If you manage to touch the painful area of their body, your pet may become extremely aggressive and attempt to bite you. Finally, pets may groom a painful area excessively, causing hair loss or hot spots.
- Inappetence: Inappetence is another common indicator of pain in pets, but it’s also common for a range of other health problems. If your usually hungry kitty or pup refuses to go near their bowl or only picks at their food before turning away, they might be too in pain to eat.
- Limited or altered movement: The most obvious signs of pain in pets have to do with how and how much they move. If you notice your pet limping, hunching over, walking strangely or refusing to put weight on a particular limb or side of their body, they’re probably experiencing pain in that area. Pain may also cause pets to refuse to move much at all, keeping them in their beds more during the day or affecting how much exercise they can tolerate. For cats, movement problems might also manifest in urination or defecation outside of the litter box.
- Vocalization: Pets experiencing pain may also cry, whine, whimper or howl. This is more common in dogs than in cats, who generally hide their pain more effectively. Still, if you accidently touch an area that is painful for them, your pet may vocalize abruptly.
If your pet has a condition that causes chronic pain, such as arthritis, it’s also important to track symptoms over time. Doing a certain type of exercise might produce more pain symptoms as your pet’s joints ache, or your pet might appear to be in more pain during the winter months. Knowing these triggers is important for helping your pet manage their pain.
Alleviating your pet’s pain
The first step in alleviating your cat’s or dog’s pain is taking them to the vet for an examination and diagnosis. If you believe the pain is related to an injury your pet recently sustained, explain this to the vet. Otherwise, share all of the symptoms you’ve noticed.
An exam and tests should help your vet deduce what the source of your pet’s pain is. The treatment can vary depending on the problem. If your pet has an injury, they might need surgery or a brace to help them heal. If it’s a chronic condition like arthritis or cancer, different pain-relieving methods might be used.
A combination of methods might be useful in helping your pet recover from or manage their pain, including:
- Pain medications
- Herbal pain relief supplements
- Massage therapy
- Therapeutic rehabilitation
Paying attention to the signs of pet pain can mean the difference between a life of suffering and a life of comfort and health for your furry friend. Share this information with fellow pet owners and help them become more vigilant about pet pain awareness!