When humans experience pain, we have the fortunate ability to communicate what hurts (or at least point to the vicinity of what hurts), how long it’s been hurting, and the severity of the hurt. When our pets experience pain, they can’t simply tell us this information. Often, in cats especially, they hide their pain from us. Because signals of suffering are often subtle, it falls on us to notice even the tiniest clues of discomfort or pain.
Sometimes a pet’s pain, and even the pain source, is clear. Visible trauma or injury, severe limping, and yelping all point to an obvious presence of pain. Other signs are more subdued and can sometimes amount to a pet simply not acting right. If a pet suddenly begins acting out of character, there’s usually a reason. While it may not always be pain, unusual behavior calls for attention. The following is a list of signs that a pet is possibly experiencing pain.
- Decreased appetite/weight loss
- Abnormal amount of time spent sleeping
- No desire for social interaction
- Unusual body posture
- Decreased or lack of grooming (cats)
- Inappropriate elimination, such as cats refusing to use the litter box
- Cats unable or unwilling to jump atop their usual places such as counters, cat trees, and beds
- Slow or abnormal gait
- Self-mutilation (excessive licking, pawing/clawing, or biting/chewing feet, tails, or other parts)
- Slow to get up
- Shying away from touching
- Hiding (in normally social cats)
- Reduced amount of play or hunting
- Excessive panting
Because pets don’t always show symptoms when in pain, it’s important to keep up with regular wellness checks. Routine care and tests such as blood counts, radiographs, urinalyses, palpations, dental exams and cleanings, and conversations all help veterinarians detect problems and pain in pets.
It’s also important to know that pets don’t always behave the same way at the doctor’s office as they do when at home. If pets display an unusual behavioral trait at home that disappears while at the clinic, we want you to tell us. You see, touch, play with, talk to, and know your pet every day. No one knows their body and behavior the way you know them. This is why, in addition to a physical exam, we like to establish a history of home behavior and make note of any changes.
Pain happens. If you notice something about your pet’s behavior that’s out of the ordinary, don’t panic. Monitor the situation closely and call your pet’s veterinarian to discuss the path to diagnosis and treatment. In the meantime, establish a long-term healthcare relationship with a veterinarian and keep up with regular wellness exams.