Recognizing Your Pet’s Pain

As a pet owner, have you ever found yourself asking, “Is my pet in pain?” Chances are if you find yourself asking this question, then it is most likely your pet is in pain. Knowing the signs and symptoms of pain may either set your mind at ease or help you decide when it is time to seek your veterinarian’s advice.

There are several ways your pet may show signs of pain. Some of the more obvious clues can include:

  • Limping
  • Yelping
  • Persistent meowing
  • Heavy panting
  • Labored breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Reluctance to jump
  • Change in regular activities

However, there are signs that can sometimes be overlooked or mistaken for something else, such as behaviour changes. Behaviour changes can be one of the first signs of pain your pet exhibits.

These changes can include:

  • Aggression
  • Reclusive (avoiding affection)
  • Depression
  • Pacing
  • Lethargy
  • Inappropriate urination
  • Anorexia
  • Excessive Grooming (to the point of hair loss or discolouration of the skin)

Owners are sometimes surprised that excessive grooming makes the list as they often associate this with a flea infestation or neurotic behaviour but it can in fact mean pain. Just as people tend to rub their arthritic hands or massage a sore knee, animals will also self soothe a sore joint or injury by grooming. In these cases, owners usually notice hair thinning, hair discolouration or bald patches from over grooming. Physical signs of pain can include hunched backs, droopy ears, squinty eyes and a tucked tail.

Another clue that your pet may be coping with pain is a change in muscle tone. One limb may start to look smaller than the other or you will notice your pet’s shoulders broadening as they carry more of their weight up front to relieve pain from their hips or hind limbs. Common causes of pain range from acute injuries and trauma to physical changes due to aging. Contributing factors include breed, age, excess weight and congenital or hereditary defects such as hip dysplasia or DJD. As your pet gets older, it is easy to dismiss his lazy afternoon snoozing or reluctance to jump into the back of the car as “just old age”. However, living with the day to day changes of becoming a senior, doesn’t mean having to live with pain.

How to help

There are many ways you can help your pet cope with pain. You can start by making changes around your house such as a new litter box with lower sides, moving your dog’s bed downstairs where it is more accessible or perhaps keeping a small stool in the back of your truck to help your pet in and out of the vehicle.

Your veterinarian is a great source of advice and help as well. After a thorough physical exam (which may include x-rays or other diagnostic procedures) and reviewing your pet’s history, your veterinarian will advise you on the best course of treatment.  This can include medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, special diets, supplements, exercise restrictions, physiotherapy and/or laser therapy.  Laser therapy is a non-invasive, drug free treatment that can be applied to many injuries and has been shown to alleviate symptoms of several conditions such as sprains/strains, acute and chronic inflammation, joint injuries, deep pain, post surgical pain, cruciate ligament injuries, muscle trigger points and small bone fractures to name a few.

Every pet and every condition is unique but there are numerous options for treating and controlling pain; it is just a matter of finding the one that works best for your pet so they can continue to live a long, happy, pain free life.