Thanks to modern medicine and technology, veterinarians have made leaps and bounds in successfully managing pain in pets. But, many pet owners still find that detecting when their furry friends are in pain can be a challenge, as our pets cannot verbalize how they feel or where they hurt. While we can take a pain reliever, use a heating pad, or head to the chiropractor to get some relief when we feel uncomfortable, our pets cannot advocate for themselves about pain and care. As pet owners and veterinary professionals, we are responsible for tending to our companions’ needs—including monitoring for signs of discomfort. Unsure if your pet is in pain? We explore some common misconceptions.

Myth #1: If my pet is painful, they will show obvious signs 

When you stub your toe, sprain an ankle, or get stung by a bee, you experience acute, quick, and sometimes intense pain that is often accompanied by vocalization, abrupt motion, or other responses to the uncomfortable stimulus. In pets who experience similar acute pain, the results are comparable—yelping, limping, or paying close attention to the affected area. While these are undeniable pain indicators, other, less severe signs also can show your pet is uncomfortable. 

People can experience tight muscles, headaches, and the effects of chronic diseases like arthritis, and our pets can suffer from similar conditions. We may feel tired, irritable, or uncomfortable when we have mild to moderate pain, but these signs may be obvious to others only if we speak about our pain or seek help. Here are some subtle signs that your pet may be uncomfortable:

  • Reluctance to go for walks, jump on furniture, use stairs, or climb into your vehicle
  • Difficulty lying down or rising
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Slipping on hard surfaces like hardwood or tile flooring
  • Change in posture or gait (i.e., the way your pet walks)
  • Flinching when certain body areas are touched
  • Trembling
  • Decreased muscle tone 
  • Behavioral or attitude changes (e.g., increased aggression or depression)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased panting
  • Whimpering or whining

Depending on the source of your pet’s pain, other signs, such as changes in urination, defecation, vomiting or diarrhea, may be present. If you notice any of the above signs, or are worried about your pet, contact your family veterinarian, or our veterinary team, for guidance. 

Myth #2: Older pets normally have mobility problems 

We commonly blame a slower-than-normal walk or an occasional limp—in ourselves and our pets—on simply getting older. But, since age isn’t a disease, we cannot attribute these common signs to seniority. Rather, an age-related disease is likely the cause of your pet’s discomfort. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common orthopedic problems in pets that, unfortunately, worsens with age. Other conditions associated with aging that may lead to pain include degenerative spinal cord problems, kidney or liver disease, or cancer. 

Myth #3: Pain doesn’t cause other health problems

Pain involves an unpleasant physical and/or emotional response to a stimulus. But, pain is not only aversive, but can also lead to bodily damage. When your pet feels pain, that usually indicates trauma somewhere in the body. Whether arthritis, a laceration, or a surgical procedure are to blame, pain is our body’s way of telling us that something needs repairing. Pain that is left untreated for a period of time can have other deleterious effects, too. Studies show that pain amplifies the body’s stress response, can adversely affect metabolic and endocrine functioning, and can delay healing. Therefore, addressing pain is critical not only for keeping your pet comfortable, but also for keeping them healthy. 

Myth #4: Medication is the only treatment for pets in pain

While medications play a critical role in pain management for both people and pets, they are not your pet’s only option. Depending on the source of your pet’s pain, your veterinarian may recommend several therapeutic options, such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, laser therapy, physical therapy, or nerve stimulation. A multi-modal approach is beneficial for most pets, with medications and nutraceuticals playing important roles. 

At the Animal Rehabilitation Center, we understand pain in pets. We also know that the sooner pet owners recognize that their companion is in pain, the more likely they are to seek veterinary attention earlier on in the disease process, helping their pets feel better, sooner. Are you concerned your pet may be in pain? Contact us to set up a consultation.