Vet Blog

Common Signs of Pain in Your Pet

August 30, 2019
dog with closed eyes

Dogs and Cats feel pain just like we do, but they have evolved to hide their pain from us.

Not to mention some dogs and cats are very stoic. All of these issues can make it very difficult to tell if your pet is in pain because they don’t usually come and tell you they are painful. However, there are some common signs of pain in your pet that you might be able to catch at home.

Determining if your pet is in pain can allow you to get them help sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, there isn’t one simple way to detect pain in all pets and some of the signs listed below can be signs of other problems besides pain. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to bring your pet in for an examination.

The most common signs of pain in your pet:

Bodily Changes: 

  • There are many body changes that can raise concern for pain. If your pet is limping, then there is obviously pain – they are not using the leg normally because it hurts. Similarly, you may notice your pet is slow to get up or down from laying down. They may also be reluctant to use the stair or get on/off the furniture.
    dog foot pad
  • Posture of the head and tail – your dog or cat may be holding their head differently (off to one side or not lifting it all the way up, etc), or the tail may be tucked underneath (could also just be nervous/scared).
  • Breathing – panting and increased respiratory rates are common signs of pain. Unfortunately, other problems can also cause these changes too – heat or fevers, stress, heart or lung problems, etc.
  • Eyes – the eyeballs can be a great indicator of pain. If the eyeball itself is hurting you may notice they squint the eyelids or paw at the eye. You may also see redness to the white part of the eye, and the pupil (black part of the eye) will be constricted or smaller than the other eye. However, if the pain is elsewhere in the body the pupils may both be dilated or larger than normal.
    cat eye

Behavioral Changes

  • Increased anxiety or aggression – even the nicest pet may bite if a painful area is touched. Most will give warning signs before biting (hissing, growling, or pinning ears back) but not always!
  • Restlessness – Many pets will become restless when they hurt. They just can’t seem to get comfortable – especially with abdominal, back, and neck pain!
  • Sleeping – Your pet may have an increase or decrease in sleeping due to pain.
    sleeping cat
  • Avoidance – Your pet (especially cats) may avoid interactions with you and hide more than usual. Similarly, they may be head shy if an ear or eye is painful.
  • Appetite – Many pets will eat and drink less when painful
  • Elimination – Your pet may urinate or defecate differently due to pain. Common signs would be straining to urinate, frequent urination, or straining to defecate. Similarly, we can also see accidents in the house due to pain/discomfort. Sometimes accidents may occur because it hurts too much to go outside, or because they are trying to get your attention to tell you something is wrong.

what can I give my dog pain reliefYour pet is painful, now what?

Now that you know the Common Signs of Pain in your pet and you’ve noticed them – what’s the next step? The first step is to bring them to a Veterinarian for an examination. During the physical examination, your Veterinarian will determine if they are truly painful and discuss the best treatment(s) for it. If it’s during our normal hours of operation, then give us a call and we can try to get them fixed up. Otherwise, if we’re closed or you’re out of town, go to the nearest emergency clinic for evaluation.

Many times we are able to determine the source of pain and proper treatment based on our full nose-to-tail examination. However, additional diagnostics may be needed to determine the exact cause and severity of the problem. We have full radiology services, ultrasound, and lab-work to help us look inside your pet if needed. A list of our services is available on our website. 

Word of Caution:

In general, we do not recommend that you give any medications to your pets unless specifically instructed to do so by a Veterinarian. Many over-the-counter pain medications (Tylenol, aspirin, Advil, Aleve, etc) are easy to overdose, and can limit the actual medications we can use to help their pain. Not to mention they may cause additional problems due to toxicities and side effects!

Click here to read a great article by PetMD regarding risks in giving your pet pain medications that are designed for humans.

If you have given your pet any of these medications or they accidentally got into a bottle, then please call the ASPCA Poison Control hotline (888)-426-4435. Make sure you write down the case number if they tell you Veterinary care and treatment is needed – we will need it!