In Pain?

Recognizing pain in animals is a challenge because animals cannot communicate the same way people do. However, there are some species-specific behaviors that can indicate pain and help us recognize it. For example, animals that are natural predators, such as dogs, behave differently when in pain than do prey animals, such as rabbits and horses.

Behavioral changes associated with pain may be subtle and not easily recognized during routine checkups or examinations in animals. Many animals mask their pain with normal behaviors. For instance, dogs may wag their tails and greet people in spite of being in pain. In addition, behavioral changes in response to pain might be very different from the typical responses associated with people who are in pain. A cat sitting quietly in the back of the cage after surgery may be in pain; however, a caregiver might not recognize the pain if he or she expected to see more active signs of pain, such as pacing, agitation, or meowing.

In general, signs of chronic pain are less obvious and harder to recognize than signs of traumatic or surgical pain.

The following is a list of questions to ask yourself if you are worried about whether or not your dog may be suffering from chronic pain :

  • Does your dog take longer to get out of bed in the morning than they used to?
  • Does your dog play or exercise less often and less vigorously or even spend more time away from the family in the home ?
  • Does your dog play in a different way, or with the lower activity toys, e.g have they stopped playing ball or tuggy and now just lay chewing a toy instead?
  • Does your dog limp or look different when walking, or running?
  • Does your dog lick a certain patch of their body frequently?
  • Has your dog changed their sleep patterns/location or eating habits?
  • Has your dog stopped or are struggling to jump in the car / onto the sofa or go upstairs?
  • Is your dog more wary on hard or slippery floors?
  • Is your dog slower only when its cold and wet?
  • Does your dog wag their tail less than they used to?
  • Is your dog more irritable or breaking their house training ?
  • Has the vet put your dog on any medication for arthritis, or are they on any other joint medication, supplements or food?

    If you have answered yes to any of the above , then your pet could benefit from a veterinary or physiotherapeutic assessment .

    Cats are even more subtle in indicating that they have a chronic pain issue . Often they will reduce their appetite and activity levels , or spend more time sleeping and venture outside less often. Also consider chronic pain in a cat that has developed a poor hair coat or matting through failure to groom itself properly. Even a cat who's litter training seems to have failed may have chronic pain issues.

    Rabbits may hunch and face the back of the hutch or even become aggressive . A very subtle indicator of pain in rabbits is teeth grinding.

    There are lots of things you can do in the home to help your pet (whatever species they are) to alleviate chronic pain and improve quality of life.