To coincide with human medicine’s Pain Awareness Month, the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management has designated September as Animal Pain Awareness Month. Our furry companions are excellent at providing comfort when we are ill or injured, yet they rarely ask us to return the favor. Despite your pet’s stoic nature, you may be able to identify their hidden discomfort, and take immediate action to alleviate their pain, if you know what to look for, beyond an obvious limp or yelp. Boost your knowledge about pet pain by checking out the common signs associated with discomfort in cats and dogs. 

Signs your dog is in pain

Although your dog may try to convince you they are suffering during their spa day—especially during a mani-pedi—spotting actual discomfort is often challenging. Dogs can show pain in a variety of ways, depending on the source, and may include the following indicators:

  • Reluctance or refusal to climb stairs or jump on furniture
  • Decreased activity
  • Stiffness when rising
  • Decreased appetite
  • Excessive panting
  • Pacing and inability to settle
  • Irritability
  • Lack of interest in usual activities
  • Licking a particular area, such as a joint or bony prominence

If you spot behavior changes in your pooch, pain may be the underlying cause. While acute pain, such as a muscle sprain or fractured leg, is obvious, your pet may adapt to chronic pain and show few signs of discomfort until the disease is advanced.

Signs of pain in cats

Cats are more skilled at hiding discomfort than their canine counterparts, and pet owners can find that detecting their pain is difficult. In addition to the discomfort signs that dogs display, your painful kitty may show the following:

  • Inability to jump onto high perches or furniture
  • Reluctance to use scratching posts
  • Decreased appetite, especially if experiencing oral pain
  • Hiding 
  • Biting, scratching, or hissing when petted or groomed
  • Faster, more shallow breathing
  • Inappropriate elimination outside the litter box

Purring, paired with other signs, can also be an indicator of discomfort. Cats purr not only when they’re content, but also to soothe themselves, and help promote healing. Since cats are masters at hiding pain, at the first hint of discomfort, schedule a comprehensive physical exam appointment for your feline friend, to get to the root of their problem.

Causes of pain in pets

Pain can be caused by a wide variety of issues in pets, and is not always easy to identify without a thorough physical exam and diagnostic workup. The pain your pet may experience is divided into two categories:

  • Acute pain — Sudden, acute pain is often caused by a traumatic injury, such as those induced by exercise, rough play, or accidents.
  • Chronic pain — Chronic pain may be slow to appear, and can worsen over time. However, pets can adjust to living a life of discomfort, and compensate for a painful limb, tooth, or other body part, minimizing noticeable signs.

Some common conditions that may cause pain in your pet include:

  • Arthritis of the hips, spine, and other joints
  • Periodontal disease
  • Resorptive tooth lesions 
  • Injury
  • Ear infection
  • Bladder inflammation
  • Eye issues
  • Cancer
  • Kidney or bladder stones
  • Urethral obstruction
  • Skin conditions
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Pancreatitis

With such a range of painful conditions, a thorough exam is essential for pinpointing the cause of your pet’s discomfort, and ensuring they receive proper treatment to alleviate their pain.

How your Southwest Vet veterinarian can help ease your pet’s pain

If your pet develops a limp over the weekend, or appears uncomfortable when petted, you may be tempted to give them Tylenol, or another over-the-counter NSAID. However, a tiny dose of Tylenol can be fatal for cats, and any human pain medications can create harmful side effects in pets. Schedule an appointment with your Southwest Vet veterinarian for help, instead of trying to treat your pet’s pain yourself.

During your pet’s appointment, we will discuss a range of pain-relieving options, depending on the cause. We may recommend:

  • Pet-safe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
  • Pain medications
  • Corticosteroids
  • Surgery
  • Supplements and herbal therapies
  • Dietary and weight management
  • Ice or heat packs
  • Alternative therapies
    • Acupuncture
    • Chiropractic
    • Massage therapy
    • Laser therapy
    • Hydrotherapy
    • Physical rehabilitation

We can help ease your pet’s pain or discomfort, whether it’s extracting a diseased tooth, removing a bladder stone, or creating a multimodal plan for arthritis pain. 

Is your beloved companion slow to rise and join you in greeting the day? That may be a sign of more than old age—they could be suffering from osteoarthritis pain. If your furry pal is displaying behavior changes, schedule an appointment with your Southwest Vet veterinarian, to determine if underlying discomfort is the cause.