“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.