Recognizing Pain in Dogs & Cats

No pet owner wants their pet to be in pain. Sometimes it’s easy to notice when your pet is painful, but other times it can be difficult, if not impossible. It’s one of the reasons why veterinary medicine can be so challenging. September is National Animal Pain Awareness Month. Dogs and cats have very different ways of showing pain. This is part of the reason that we recommend annual physical examinations, because we can see things on physical exam that you as a pet owner might not notice and could be causing your pet pain and discomfort. And hearing from you as the pet owner may give us clues about a pet’s health.

Certain behaviors can be clues that your pet is actually hurting. Here is a list of some behaviors that pets display when in pain:

  • Not going up or down stairs
  • Difficulty standing after lying down for a long period of time
  • Overall decreased activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Unwillingness to jump up onto surfaces
  • Shuffling gait
  • Over grooming or licking a particular area
  • Not grooming well
  • Hiding or sleeping in unusual places
  • Aggression (growling, biting)
  • Vocalizing when touched or moved

Osteoarthritis is very common in our dog and cat patients, but can be hidden from us as owners. Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease. The most common type of osteoarthritis that we think of is age-related, but it can also be caused by congenital joint deformity or previous injury/trauma. Risk factors are genetics, previous injury, and obesity.

With our canine patients, we start noticing limping or difficulty rising when they are affected by arthritis. Clients often notice this and know that it is related to joint pain and stiffness. This makes it easy for the owner to seek treatment. Cats, on the other hand, rarely show signs of lameness with osteoarthritis. Recent studies have shown that OA is more common in cats than we could have guessed. Most common is behavior changes because of the chronic pain, such as aggression or hiding. Also cats that used to enjoy being up high on cabinets or cat trees no longer want to jump up or climb to those high places because of joint pain.

Another common cause of pain in pets that isn’t always noticed by owners is dental disease. Dental disease can cause significant pain and discomfort, but only in severe cases does a dog or cat actually stop eating because of dental disease. This is why we recommend annual exams to look at the teeth and gums. We can recommend dental care such as treats or chews and dental cleanings.

There are many other diseases and conditions that can cause pain in pets. If you think your pet might be in pain, you should consult your veterinarian. Also never give medication without talking to your veterinarian first. Sometimes all it takes is a physical exam to identify the problem and treat appropriately. Other times it may take longer and require diagnostics and treating with medications. Remember to be patient with your veterinarian and provide as much information as possible. We want to give your pet the best care possible, and you as the pet owner are an important part in making that happen.