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Pain Awareness in Pets

Posted September 16, 2016

hillary-cook

One of the most important things to know as a pet owner is how to tell when your dog or cat is in pain. Pain can be a signal of a life threatening issue.  

Signs of pain (even the subtle signs) will be more obvious to you, if you have a good idea of what your pet’s “normal” is. This includes getting to know normal attitude, energy level, gait, appetite, thirst, sleep patterns, and other physical and behavioral patterns.  

If you feel that your pet may be in pain, please be cautious as both dogs and cats may exhibit more defensive and protective behavior due to the pain.

Signs of pain in dogs and cats include:

  • Biting: Dogs and cats in pain are more likely to bite, and often more likely to vocalize when in pain. Your pet is not doing this intentionally to lash out at you, it is a natural behavior in some dogs and cats to bite in response to pain, so take care in evaluating and working with your pet during these times.
  • Posture change: Some dogs exhibit a rigid or hunched body stance when in pain. If experiencing abdominal pain, dogs will stretch like a “downward dog pose”. A painful abdomen can also come out as difficulty getting comfortable – getting up and down frequently, feeling restless. Cats may growl or hiss when stroked, touched or moved. Cats can even exhibit non-stop purring or excessive licking when in pain.
  • Heart and lung changes: Pain in dogs and cats often causes an increased heart/pulse rate; a faster breathing pattern and panting may be seen.
  • Eye changes: Dilated pupils in both dogs and cats can sometimes mean pain in the body. Enlarged, squinting, blood shot, or cloudy eyes can mean pain from glaucoma or other ocular diseases.  
  • Mobility changes—Cats in pain do not move as well and may even cry in pain when moving about. Cats tend to not want to jump on furniture or high places; dogs may not want to go up or down stairs. In addition, not moving around at all can mean your dog or cat is in pain.
  • Eating and drinking: Decreased appetite and drinking. If your dog or cat seems like they want to eat, but stop, it could mean dental pain or stomach pain.

Other signs include:

    • Straining to urinate or defecate, which may mean bladder problems, kidney problems, prostate problems, or intestinal blockages.
    • Swellings on their body, which may mean infection, inflammation, or cancer.
    • General irritability or crankiness
    • Behavioral changes – not wanting to socialize with family, hiding, or isolating oneself

It is important to speak with or see your veterinarian anytime your dog or cat exhibits any sign of pain. Remember that some signs of pain may be much more subtle than any I’ve listed above.  

If your pet has been diagnosed with a chronic condition, it is important to know if the condition has a painful aspect, what signs to look for, as well as pain relieving treatment options. Your veterinarian will be able to inform you on any specific signs of pain for a particular chronic condition.

Remember, animals suffer pain just like we do. There are many options to treat cats and dogs suffering with pain, including medication, physical rehabilitation, and holistic treatments like acupuncture, laser therapy, massage, and herbal supplement.

If you would like to know more about a treatment option for your pet, please contact me for a online vet consult through NHV. You can also contact a NHV Pet Expert—I know they’re always happy to help.

Yours in wellness,
Yours in wellness,
Dr. H. Cook (DVM, CVA)



Dr. Hillary Cook is a graduate of Virginia Maryland Regional Veterinary Medical school. She has been practicing holistic and integrative veterinary medicine for fifteen years. She certified in Veterinary acupuncture and is fully qualified in Western and Chinese herbalism. She is the owner of Animal Wellness Center, an integrative veterinary clinic in Crozet, VA. She enjoys spending time with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of pets including dogs, cats and chickens. When time allows, you can find her in the garden or on the tennis court!

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