Table of Contents
If your dog stops eating for 24 hours or more, seems unwell in themselves, is eating less than usual, or is showing any other signs, then you should make an appointment with your veterinarian.
What is pain?
Let’s be blunt; pain stinks, and no one likes to be in pain. However, if you have a headache or a toothache, you can tell your friends that you do and maybe pop a few Tylenol® or Ibuprofen, and wham, you have relief.
But our pets can’t just ask us for something for what ails them. Instead, they may change their behavior, have subtle shifts in appetite, or have other small changes that demonstrate that they hurt.
Pain can manifest in many ways. It could be sharp, dull, burning, hot, or crampy. It could be ongoing for weeks to months or have started five minutes ago. While you can describe your pain to a doctor, our pets can’t put their pain into words. But just like when a human is in pain, pets can become stressed when pain remains untreated. This then leads to changes in multiple body systems, even preventing recovery and healing.
Pain can occur from surgery, trauma, inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, or even cancer.
Recognizing pain early on helps prevent the pain from persisting long-term and minimizes suffering.
Why should we care if our pets are painful?
We care because who wants to be in pain? Ensuring our fur babies live a great quality of life is a pet parent’s job, and no one wants to see their pet suffering. Pain causes stress and can delay healing wounds, incisions, trauma, and more. So, it is critical that pet parents not only recognize signs of pain in their pets but that they also understand why we need to address pain.
Let’s learn how to recognize general signs of pain in your pet
Signs of pain in animals vary based on many factors, including
- Individual breeds or subspecies within a species,
- The animal’s age,
- The tolerance level of that pet.
Signs range from no changes in behavior or outward signs to collapse and complete lack of appetite.
However, generally, a pet could be painful when demonstrating one or more of the following
- Stiffness on rising or laying down
- Changes in how they lay or sit
- For dogs, excess panting (without exercise and when cool)
- Not wanting or hesitating to jump up or down off of furniture
- Not wanting or hesitating to go up or down stairs
- Changes in appetite –
- Slower to finish, leaving some until later, failing to eat at all, or picking food up and dropping it
- Changes in sleep habits –
- Sleeping more; inability to sleep; restless or pacing excessively; starting to sleep, then changing positions often
- Exercise intolerance –
- Not wanting to walk or play for as long, tiring easily, not wanting to play with toys
- Overgrooming (licking or chewing consistently at a specific area)
- Vocalization – This is a tough one. Most people incorrectly think because my pet isn’t crying or screaming, they must not be in pain.
- So just because your pet doesn’t whine or cry out when you touch them doesn’t mean they aren’t painful.
- Vocalization could be whimpering, crying out, screaming, or barking/meowing excessively
- Some breeds or species more commonly vocalize with mild pain vs. others, while others hide it instinctually.
- Behavior changes
- Grumpiness with people the pet normally likes/tolerates
- Snapping at people when they try to touch a certain area(s)
- Clinginess – that velcro pet, going everywhere you do
- Changes in bathroom habits
- Frequency changes
- Straining to poop or urinate
- Carrying their tails, head, or limb(s) differently
- Limping of any kind – Most animals are 4-legged and should walk on all 4 legs. If they are not using a leg, holding it up, or not putting weight on it completely, they are painful.
How can you help if your friend hurts?
First and foremost, animals, like people, get scared and unsure when they are hurt. So be alert for changes in the way they behave. Watch their ears, tails (if they have one), and overall body language. Are they relaxed? Are they on alert? Take your cues from them so that everyone remains safe.
There are a few things you can do to help your pets. The most obvious, when in doubt,take your pet to the veterinarian. If your pet is limping a little but still eating and drinking, you don’t necessarily have to rush them to an emergency room. However, if your pet was just hit by a car, taking them to the vet ASAP could save their life.
Sometimes, all they need may be strict rest, a hands-off approach, and a little TLC, and they will be good as new. There are a few things that you can do to help your friend out, but you don’t want to do them any harm.
What Not to do if your friend is painful?
Of course, you want to help your friend. However, there are some things you could do that can be dangerous to your pet. Potentially harmful things, especially without consulting a veterinarian, may include:
- Giving your pet a human medication – Many human meds are toxic or could kill your pet
- Using another pet’s medication – The doses and even sizes of pills vary based on weight
- Using expired medications – Drugs lose effectiveness over time and may no longer be safe
- Abruptly stopping or failing to finish medications already prescribed could lead to withdrawal, worsening pain, or even uncontrollable pain
- Changing the dose of a medication without direction to do so could lead to overdose, underdosing, incompletely treating pain, sedation, or worse, be life-threatening
- Using ice or heat without proper protection to the pet’s skin or for too long of a duration
Not only are some medications harmful to pets, but some work well for one condition while poorly for another. Yet another reason to hold on giving something you have in your home and contacting your veterinarian, ensuring you have your pet’s best interest at heart.
What can you do if your friend is painful?
Things to do will vary with the type of pain. If your pet has a toothache, consider soaking the dry food in water for 20 minutes and letting it become mushy before feeding. If your pet is limping, sore, not walking normally, having trouble getting up, or just a little off, try
- Strict rest – For dogs, this means leash walk to the bathroom and back; no running or jumping or playing; no stairs or jumping on or off furniture;
- Provide extra padding where the pet sleeps
- Avoid playing with toys or getting the pet excited until the pain resolves
- Take the pet to your veterinarian
Common painful pet conditions
Many people recognize a skin or an ear infection. Additionally, most of us have experienced vomiting or diarrhea once or twice in our lives, and we know it doesn’t exactly feel good. Despite this, people often overlook that these conditions are more than just the outward sign(s) the pet shows. Think about how you would feel if you hurt your leg, had an earache, or had GI upset. Would it be painful? If you say yes, then your pet likely is too.
It is better to presume your pet is painful early on than wait until the pain becomes too great to overcome. You want to recognize that your pet is painful, and knowing that various common problems may contribute to pain will give you a leg up in helping your pet.
Painful conditions may include
- Dental disease – Bad tartar, a tooth root abscess, a fractured tooth
- Broken bone
- Ear infection
- GI Upset (vomiting and or diarrhea)
- Urinary tract infection, bladder stones
If you think your pet is painful, ensure you protect yourself and your family when interacting. Painful animals may react differently than their normal personality; they may be shy, aggressive, or even bite. They may hide or cling to you. Regardless, take care when handling, petting, and moving the pet. You may need to pick them up differently. For larger pets, you may want to use a blanket or comforter to pick them up. At the same time, smaller animals benefit from using carriers to ensure they are safe and comfortable when handling.
Take care to ensure you know what you need to do and when. Identifying pain in your pet will help you provide the best care, treatment, rest, or other necessary intervention to return them to a great quality of life. Recognize that pain delays healing, causes suffering, and weakens the human-animal bond. Suppose your pet is simply acting a bit off. In that case, even if it turns out not to be something painful, by taking action early and taking steps to protect yourself and others, you are your pet’s best advocate!