“How do I know if my pet is in pain?” This is one of the most frequently asked questions veterinarians receive from pet parents as their beloved animals begin to age. Not only is pain uncomfortable, but it also can have detrimental physical effects on the body. Stress that arises from pain has been shown to cause immunosuppression, decrease nutrition (due to reduced eating and drinking), and negatively affect the general well-being of our pets. Unlike humans, animals are unable to express in words if they are uncomfortable. It is therefore very important that we, as pet owners, look out for the sometimes very subtle clues that may indicate our furry family member is in pain.
Pain and discomfort tend to be more easily detectable in dogs than cats. However, some dogs are quite stoic and signs of pain can be difficult to detect. Loss of appetite, decrease in activity level, excessive panting, and restlessness are considered general signs of pain or illness in dogs.
Orthopedic signs of pain can vary widely in dogs. Limping/favoring a particular leg or whining when applying pressure to a particular joint are more obvious signs of pain, but symptoms of arthritis as your dog ages aren’t always quite so clear. Joint stiffness after rest and preferring shorter/slower walks are often chalked up to old age, but these may be signs of arthritic pain. Excessive licking of the wrists is also a common (but subtle) sign that your dog may be trying to ease discomfort from painful arthritic joints.
Determining if your cat is uncomfortable can be more challenging, because it is instinctual for a cat to hide any signs of pain or illness due to risk of appearing weak to predators. Decreased appetite, decreased activity level, and lack of grooming can be general signs of feline disease. Increased aloofness/isolation is a very common yet elusive clue that a cat is not feeling well. If your cat used to spend the evenings curled up on your lap or on the family sofa but now spends most of his/her time alone under the guest bed, this may be cause for concern.
Arthritis is more common in older cats than most pet parents realize. Signs of arthritis include difficulty jumping, lack of grooming, playing less, and hissing or exhibiting aggression upon palpation of the spine. Have you noticed your cat no longer jumps on the kitchen counters like he or she used to? This is less likely a sign of social maturity, and more likely a sign of arthritis. Does your cat no longer trot to greet you at the door? Does your cat shy away from lower back scratches that he/she used to beg/meow for? These can all be indicators of musculoskeletal discomfort.
If you note any of these potential signs of pain beginning to develop in your pet, we recommend having your dog or cat evaluated by a veterinarian. There are a wide variety of treatments, supplements and pain medications your pet may benefit from, based on his/her individual needs.
With Easter just around the corner, this month we will focus on a common houseplant that is toxic to our cats - the Lily. A favorite of many, these gorgeous flowers are unfortunately very toxic to the kidneys of our feline friends. The Easter lily, Asiatic lily, Japanese lily, Tiger lily, Day lily, Stargazer lily, Rubrum lily, and Red/Western/Wood lily are those that have been associated with renal failure in cats. However, all lilies have the potential to cause gastrointestinal upset in both cats and dogs. All parts of the plant are toxic, with the flower itself being the most toxic part of all. Even pollen and water from the vase aren't safe for cats to ingest. Recent studies have shown that some cats may actually be attracted to lilies and will actively seek them out, even when the plants are in seemingly hard-to-reach locations.
Injury to the kidneys can occur within 12 hours of ingestion, but cats exposed to lilies often experience vomiting, lethargy, and anorexia within just two hours of tasting the attractive plant. It is, therefore, very important to have your cat examined by a veterinarian right away if you at all suspect he or she has ingested any part of a lily plant. Additional signs of lily ingestion include weakness, excessive salivation, depression, tremors, and increased thirst/urination. Veterinary treatment typically involves induction of vomiting and intravenous fluid therapy to help flush and protect the fragile feline kidneys. Fortunately, early therapeutic intervention has been shown to result in 90% of exposed cats surviving, with no evidence of lasting kidney damage.
It is very important that cat owners understand the hazards of lilies, and make all attempts to keep lilies out of their cat's reach.
Grape and Raisin Toxicity
Have you heard through the grapevine that grapes are toxic to dogs? They certainly are - along with their dried counterpart, the raisin. This tiny delicious fruit may appear harmless, but it can cause severe toxicity when ingested by your dog.
Although the mechanism of action of toxicity is poorly understood, the type of grape or raisin does not appear to matter. Toxicity is not always dose-dependent, and clinical signs can occur with even small ingestion of the common fruit. Because they are four times more concentrated, fewer raisins need to be ingested to reach toxic levels compared to grapes.
Grapes and raisins can cause severe gastrointestinal upset and kidney damage. The most common symptom is vomiting, usually within just a few hours of ingestion. Next, your dog may develop diarrhea, excessive thirst and urination, abdominal pain, and lethargy. Severe toxicity without medical intervention can lead to acute renal failure, in which case the kidneys shut down and no longer produce urine.
Treatment goals include preventing toxin absorption (via induction of vomiting and administration of toxin-binding substances) and minimizing damage to the kidneys (via intravenous fluid therapy to maintain perfusion to the kidneys). Prognosis depends on the quantity of grapes or raisins ingested, the severity of illness upon initiation of treatment, and response to treatment.
If you suspect your dog has ingested raisins or grapes, please seek veterinary care immediately. Grapes and raisins have only been proven toxic to dogs. Because their toxicity is poorly understood, however, it is important to keep grapes and raisins out of reach of all household pets. What are some alternative household treat options? Bananas, apples (seedless), and carrots are safe treats you can share with your pet!