At some point in your pet’s life, they will experience pain—chances are, they already have. From ear infections, to muscle sprains, to torn toenails, our pets are subject to varying degrees of pain from a variety of conditions. While no pet owner wants to envision their pet’s discomfort, recognizing and addressing pain is crucial. After all, you are your pet’s advocate. 

Why addressing pet pain is important

Pets are notorious for masking pain, and many—especially cats—won’t whine or complain when they’re feeling achy, but will continue to go about their daily life without a hitch, leaving their owners oblivious to their discomfort. One common example is a dog or cat with advanced periodontal disease who has no trouble gobbling down their breakfast, despite inflamed gums and loose teeth. How are pet owners to know when something is wrong? Naturally, regular visits with your family veterinarian are essential, but pet owners must take heed and learn to look for subtle signs of pain—especially as their pets age, or after a potentially painful diagnosis. While specific injuries or disorders may lead to distinct signs, the following general clues may suggest that your pet is hurting, sore, or plain uncomfortable:

  • Hiding, or reduced social interaction 
  • Decreased appetite or weight loss
  • Changes in posture or gait
  • Decreased willingness to exercise
  • Restlessness
  • Increased panting
  • Resisting jumping on furniture or in the car
  • Increased licking or grooming
  • New aggressive behaviors (e.g., growling or hissing)

Addressing your pet’s pain is essential since it affects so many aspects of life. Pain can make animals feel stressed, anxious, and depressed, delay wound and tissue healing, and can drastically reduce their quality of life. Recognizing and treating your pet’s pain helps them live a longer, happier life—with you by their side. 

Types of pain in pets

Until our pets can communicate with us in a common language, narrowing down the source of their pain will be difficult. Let’s look at the types of pain that pets can experience, and the potential corresponding signs: 

  • Acute versus chronic pain Acute pain occurs quickly and suddenly, usually due to a known cause. Common acute injuries in pets include ligament tears, bone fractures, or burns. Pet owners will often recognize this type of pain, which typically leads to noticeable signs such as sudden and obvious limping, whimpering, or yelping. Conversely, chronic pain, which lasts six months or more, occurs gradually, and can easily slip between the cracks, since the signs are often subtle. Look for clues like less energy, rising slowly, or mild appetite changes. If pet owners aren’t paying attention, chronic pain may go unnoticed.
  • Somatic versus visceral pain — Somatic pain occurs in the skin, muscles, and joints, whereas visceral pain occurs in the internal organs. Both somatic and visceral pain are types of nociceptive pain, which basically indicates some form of tissue injury. Somatic disorders tend to feel like gnawing or throbbing pain, while visceral discomfort can feel dull, achy, or crampy. Pet owners can distinguish the difference by taking note of any nausea, vomiting, or abdominal irritation that may suggest a visceral problem. 

Other types of pain, like neuropathic pain, can also occur in pets, and may manifest as a variety of the above signs. 

What to do about pet pain

The most important aspect of managing your pet’s pain is seeking veterinary care for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. If you believe your pet is in pain, don’t delay—contact Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care or your family veterinarian as soon as possible. We will work with you to locate the source of your pet’s discomfort, and create an individualized treatment plan to alleviate their pain. In general, pet owners should get accustomed to touching and “examining” their pets on a regular basis, taking note of any flinching, facial expression changes, or other subtle signs discussed above. Always rub your pet’s ears, lift cheek flaps, touch teeth and gums, and gently manipulate their joints. If you notice any abnormalities, record your findings, and bring them with you to your pet’s appointment. 

Still unsure if your pet is in pain? Use a pain scoring tool like this one to help you assess your pet, or contact Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care for guidance.