Q: Do pets experience pain?

cat-and-dogHow do I know if my pet is experiencing pain?

A: Dogs and cats suffer from many of the same ailments as humans. Common among these are osteoarthritis, urinary tract infections, ear and eye infections, spinal disc disease, tendonitis, and cancer to name a few.  As with humans, some signs of pain are very obvious, such as limping, shaking, crying, whining, groaning and refusing to move.

But what about the not so obvious signs?  Unlike people, pets cannot tell us if something hurts. Pets are also very stoic, and are thought to have a high pain tolerance, which can make it even more difficult to determine if they are in pain.  Fortunately, if you know what to look for, there are some subtle clues, or changes in behavior that can help you determine if your pet is experiencing pain.

Changes in mobility – For example, refusing to go upstairs, avoiding jumping or climbing, or not chasing after a favorite toy. Stiffness while walking, or refusing to walk on hard or slippery surfaces may also indicate that they are sore.

Changes in posture – Dogs that are in pain may arch their backs, assume a sunken back, or take on a very rigid stance depending on what is causing the pain.  Severe abdominal pain may cause them to crawl along the ground, rubbing their abdomen as they go.

Changes in energy levels – Hiding, or laying quietly when they are usually up and about is another indication.

Changes in breathing – Panting, or breathing with their mouth open, fast or shallow breathing is another sign.

Changes in the eyes – Squinting or discharge can indicate a painful eye, and enlarged pupils may indicate pain elsewhere in the body.

Changes in grooming habits – repeatedly licking at or chewing at a certain area can indicate pain.

Changes in food and water consumption – Refusing to eat or drink may indicate a painful mouth or tooth.

Changes in potty habits – Unexplained potty accidents in the house, or refusing to squat when urinating may be yet another sign of pain.

Being able to identify the early signs of pain will allow you to get your pet the help he needs before the condition gets worse. If you’ve noticed a change in your pet’s behavior, or suspect that they might be painful, it’s important to speak with or see your veterinarian as soon as possible.  Your vet will work with you to identify the underlying cause of the pain, and determine the best course of action and medications to eliminate this pain.

One last important note: never self medicate your pet because many over the counter human medications are toxic for pets.

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