Animals suffer from pain just like humans do and whilst most pet owners believe they would know if their pet were in pain, the truth is that it can be very difficult to recognise. Being observant and knowing the signs of chronic pain could prevent your pet from suffering in silence and enable you to get them the help that they need.
Pain comes in many forms: surgical pain, trauma, arthritis, disease related – the list goes on. Whilst acute pain is usually obvious and distressing, chronic pain can be subtle and disguised as simply getting old or slowing down. Animals have an instinctive drive to hide pain to avoid showing weakness, and consequently, our pets are very good at hiding their ailments. That is why it is important that owners stay attentive to changes in their pet’s behavior, know what signs to look out for, and to seek prompt treatment if it is suspected that they are suffering from pain.
Unlike humans, pets cannot simply tell us when something is wrong, therefore it is up to us to be aware of the common signs that may indicate our pet is experiencing pain. While both dogs and cats are experts at hiding pain, they each display different signs of discomfort. Here are our top 5 common signs of pain for dogs and for cats:
Signs of Chronic Pain in Dogs
1. Decreased social interaction – Behavioural changes can be a strong indicator of pain and a decrease in social interaction may be one of the most common. Has your usually friendly dog started showing signs of aggression? Do they avoid contact or no longer greet you at the door? Have they stopped wanting to play or show a reluctance to go on their daily walk? Any of these changes could indicate that your pet is suffering and should be checked out by your vet.
2. Changes in posture or gait – Changes in your dog’s posture such as hunching or rigidity, changes in the way they walk, in their general movements such as difficulty getting up after laying down or trouble getting up the stairs are all common signs that your pet is in pain. Some dogs may also refuse to move from a position once they have settled and attempts to force them may result in signs of aggression so always be observant of any warning signs (such as growling) that your pet may be trying to give you.
3. Decreased appetite – A loss of appetite, especially in a pet that has always enjoyed their food, is a common indicator of chronic pain. Difficulty chewing, less or more water intake, and changes in weight are all signs that you should have your pet checked out by a vet.
4. Changes in grooming behaviour – For dogs, self-mutilation such as chewing or excessive licking can often be a sign that they are attempting to soothe either an external wound or an area that is painful on the inside. An example may be licking or chewing their knee after pulling a ligament.
5. Physical changes – Vocal signs such as whimpering, howling or growling may be fairly obvious indicators that your pet is in pain. However, less obvious physical signs may include restlessness and an inability to get comfortable, heavy breathing or shallow panting, increased heart rate and blood shot eyes.
Signs of Chronic Pain in Cats
1. Frequent hiding or reduced activity – Has your smoochy cat become oddly antisocial? Have they become disinterested in playtime with their favourite toys? Reduced activity, avoiding contact, hiding for long periods of time, being uncharacteristically quiet or a loss of curiosity are common signs that your cat is in pain
2. Loss of appetite – A loss of appetite, changes in water intake, and weight loss are all indications that there is something wrong with your pet. Changes in urinary or defecation habits, such as no longer using the litter tray, could also be signs that your pet is trying to tell you they are unwell.
3. Changes in grooming – Similar to dogs, cats can also exhibit changes in grooming behaviours when experiencing pain. Excessive licking and grooming are common signs however the absence of grooming and the appearance of matted fur may also be an indication that your cat is suffering.
4. Hissing/spitting – Is your cat trying to warn you to stay away? If they are experiencing chronic pain, it is likely that the thought of being picked up or touched may cause them distress. Other common signs include tail flicking and guarding behaviours.
5. Changes in posture and gait – A stiff or rigid posture, or changes in their general movements such as a lack of agility or reluctance to jump up onto surfaces are all indicators that your cat could be suffering and should be checked by a vet.
Although chronic pain may be a relatively common complaint especially in older pets, they need not suffer in silence. There are many options available to treat the various causes of pain including surgery, anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers, physical rehabilitation, and dietary changes. Noticing these subtle signs is paramount to diagnosing and treating pain in pets so be observant to changes in your pet’s behaviours, especially as they age.
If you notice changes or believe your pet may be suffering from chronic pain, contact your local veterinarian for advice.