Knowing the signs that your pet is uncomfortable or in pain is important for their health.  Most pet parents have been in the unfortunate situation where their loyal companion has suffered an injury. Whether they stepped on something with their paw, or pulled or strained something, most pet parents have at one time or another heard the heart shattering yelps and cries from their best friend. But is this the only way we know when our furry pals are hurting?
Pet parents obviously love their furry children and want to do what is best for them. Most humans associate pain reactions with an expressed reaction, whether it be a whine, cry, yelp, or something obvious like a limp. However, when it comes to our pets, they often communicate their pain response in a completely different manner.

September is Animal Pain Awareness Month

Everyone knows that there is nothing worse than having a beloved family member who is hurting. Last year, my Springer Attie somehow had managed to get a thorn deep in her paw. I woke up to her excessively licking her foot and whining. When I sat down to look at her foot, it was swollen to about twice its normal size and was bright red. Of course, with me being an overprotective pet parent, I freaked out! Thank goodness there was an area vet that could see us immediately. The thorn was extracted; Attie could now heal, and mama could begin to breathe again!

Signs that your pet could be in pain

Your pet could have one or several of these warning signs. The main idea is to ensure you are paying attention to what your pet is “saying”.

1. Heavy breathing. While ‘panting’ is a normal reaction or way for your pet to cool down, if they are doing so in excess, or for no apparent reason, this could be an indicator that they are in pain. If pets are breathing in a shallow manner, this could mean that it may be painful for them to breathe.

2. Vocalizations.  Like growling, whining, whimpering, hissing, or crying can be signs that a pet is suffering.

3. Excessive grooming. If your pet is constantly licking a specific, localized area of their body, it could be an indicator they are trying to soothe themselves. When an animal is hurt, their first instinct is to lick the area to clean it. While it’s easy for us to see cuts, their pain may be internal as well.

4. Sudden, unexplained aggression. When pets are in pain, they may not be themselves. They may try to avoid contact with humans, become aggressive, or not greet you at the door. When Attie was in pain with her foot last year, she raised her lip at me as a warning sign when I tried to look at it. That told me right away that something was wrong, and she was indeed hurting.

5. Difficulty getting around. The most obvious signs like limping or stiffness can be the result of an injury, sore paws, or potentially arthritis. Your pet may have less interest in going for a walk/run, not be as active or show reluctance regarding stairs.

6. Shaking is often a sign of discomfort. You may initially feel that your pet is frightened or cold if you see them trembling, but look around, did they fall? Maybe they just jumped off the couch or the bed? It’s possible they twisted their back, or their neck upon landing and the shaking is due to pain. I have seen this more than once.

7. Changes in eating, drinking, and sleeping habits. Pets that are in pain, tend to be unsettled. You may notice pacing or an inability to lay down and relax. A pet with a loss of appetite and no interest in drinking water are other common symptoms.

8. Your pet is carrying themselves differently. I have seen dogs arching their backs when in pain. You may notice a head-bob when they walk. This is a sign that movement has become more of a ‘chore’ and something isn’t quite right.

9. Self-isolation.  Hiding may be another indicator your pet (dog or cat) is experiencing some discomfort.  They may be seeking out dark, quiet places in which to try and sleep or self soothe.

10. Pay special attention to cats. Cats can be tough to read in general, let alone if they’re hurting. Look for changes in your cat’s routine, posture, behavior, vocalization, demeanor, and facial expression for signs of pain.

No one likes to see their fur babies hurting, and these subtle signs will go a long way in helping your read your pet. So, what should you do if you recognize one or more of the indicators above and believe your pet is in pain? Make an appointment with your vet right away. Early diagnosis could be key if some of these symptoms turn out to be a more serious health concern.