“He’s not whining or anything. So he’s not in pain.”
Owners often say this about their pets, but it never gets easier to hear.
At first, the logic seems sound. We all know that dog and cats can vocalize when in extreme pain. In these situations, the pain is obvious.
But most animals in pain do not whine or cry out. Instead, they suffer in silence.
The Wild Instinct
Imagine being a dog or a cat. You are wilder than a human being and you have strong survival instincts. A stranger might make you hide in the corner and a thunderstorm could send you into a panic. Animals do these things to protect themselves from possible threats.
If an animal is in pain, then they are weaker, and more likely to get eaten by a predator or beaten in a fight with another animal. Crying or whining makes an injured or sick animal an easier target. In order to hide weakness, animals hide their pain and act like everything is fine.
But pain is real, and even a tough dog or cat will have a hard time completely hiding it. Fortunately, there are many more clues than whining or crying to tell us when our pets are in pain.
Signs of Pain
Limping: If the back or legs are affected, then an animal may limp. I am sometimes told, “He’s limping, but he’s not in pain.” Then why is he limping? Dogs and cats do not limp for fun. They are not seeking attention. With the rare exception of a mechanical problem in a leg, limping is a sign of pain.
Changes in activity level: If moving hurts, then your dog or cat may act less interested in usual activities.
The opposite is also possible; animals in pain may pace and act restless because they are having a hard time getting comfortable.
Less socializing: Socializing can be harder when in pain, causing dog or cats to become withdrawn, avoiding interactions with people or other pets. Cats are well-known to hide when sick or in pain.
Eating: Animals in pain often eat less than usual. Weight loss may be the first sign of pain.
Pooping and peeing: Pets may have changes in their bathroom habits. Abdominal pain can be an issue. Back or hip pain can make animals reluctant to arch their backs to poop or squat down to pee.
With cats, this might include issues “going outside the box”, as using the litterbox can involve movements that are painful.
Self-mutilation and grooming changes: Dogs frequently lick or chew at painful areas. This can lead to “hot spots”, which are red, irritated wounds. Hot spots frequently occur on the legs or paws, but any area on the body is possible.
Cats in pain are known to over-groom themselves, removing large portions of hair. This is called self-barbering. Self-barbering is typically a secretive activity, done at night or in hiding, so you are unlikely to see them doing this.
Under-grooming is also possible, so cats may have rough, unkempt hair coat.
Facial expressions: Like people, dogs and cats have facial expressions, and these can change when in pain. A couple of examples are gritting teeth and squinting eyes.
Chronic Pain Can Mean Slow Changes
Sometimes pain comes on slowly due to a long-term health condition. Two common examples are dental disease and osteoarthritis. The slow onset of pain can mean a slow onset of new behaviors.
While animals with dental disease often continue to eat, I have seen old dogs acting like puppies again after getting their teeth fixed. What many people call “just getting older” might actually be a sign of undetected, but treatable, dental pain.
See An Animal Expert
Signs of pain can range from the very obvious, such as limping and whining, to the downright difficult to find, such as slow changes in behavior over time.
Because pain can be hard to detect and locate, it is important to take your pet to the vet at least annually for an exam. Veterinarians are experts at finding pain because of extensive training and experience.
Treat The Cause and Treat The Pain
Ideally, the source of pain will be removed, such as an infected tooth. If pain is due to a condition that cannot be cured, such as osteoarthritis, then a long-term treatment and pain management plan is needed.
Fortunately, plenty of treatment options and drugs are available for animals in pain, so they can still lead long and comfortable lives. Safe, inexpensive options are frequently available when money is tight.
Your furry friend does not need to suffer in silence. Make an appointment with your veterinarian today.