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Is My Pet in Pain?


Many times, pet owners just like you, when visiting us with a pet that has obvious symptoms of pain, say something like, “but he doesn’t seem to be in pain.”  This is a question that has been asked so many times, in situations we think are so apparent, that we thought we better take the time to discuss the topic of pain further.

If I were sitting upon my doctor’s stool, and when I went to stand up was slow, braced myself on the counter and moved stiffly, would I have to say to you that I was in pain?  Of course not, you would know from my body language that something was hurting.  For some reason, we tend to see the same symptoms in our pets but often dismiss the idea that there is any pain involved.

Many people want more from their pet before they will acknowledge that pain is present.  Unfortunately, unlike humans who will cry, whine and complain with every little ache or hangnail, dogs and cats don’t operate that way.  Certainly, with severe injuries and other problems pets may cry out, scream or try to bite when touched.  We all interpret that as a painful pet.  But most pain that pets feel, like us, is that of a chronic, dull and throbbing nature.  Pain nonetheless, but not as acute or obvious.

Often pets with badly abscessed teeth go on eating and never “demonstrate” to their owners that a problem is present. Pets that just had surgery will often act like nothing is wrong.  Yet, we all know what a bad tooth or surgery feels like and it is the same for pets as it is for people.  We need to understand how dogs and cats think to understand the difference.  When we whine and complain about a sore back or bad tooth for instance, we get sympathy, love, concern and care.  To a dog or cat, however, in the animal world, if they show their pain, they are fair game, in their mind they are going to be eaten by the other pack members who are just waiting for them to slip up!  Therefore, they can only do one thing; do all they can to pretend that nothing is wrong.

Some signs of pain are very subtle, other signs more obvious, but let us address signs relating to back and joint pain.  Let us say before the list, if your pet shows some of these signs, they are in pain; if your pet just had surgery, there is pain involved:


Changes in gait or movement in any limb
Reluctance to perform usual activities or play
Stiffness getting up or lying down or reluctance to go up or down stairs
Lameness that is constant or comes and goes
Thinning (atrophy) of muscles in an area
Sudden and unexplained yelping or trying to bite when touched
Trembling or shaking of any leg or generalized and unexplained shaking or trembling
Panting excessively
Getting tired easily when walking or playing and laying down more often
Not eating or eating with less enthusiasm

All of the above can be the signs that your pet is in pain!