Pain acts as a message from the body to the brain about potential or actual harm, whether from excessive heat or cold, pressure, injury or disease. This makes pain very helpful in learning to avoid or escape dangerous circumstances. Unfortunately, pain can also be unavoidable, and chronic pain diminishes quality of life for our dogs and cats. Dogs and cats cannot tell us they are in pain, so we have to pay attention to their behavior in order to notice it. Only then can we provide appropriate treatments to address that pain.
Signs of Pain
Be on the lookout for behavioral changes associated with pain:
- avoiding going up or down stairs
- eating less, being reluctant to eat
- difficulty standing up after lying down
- refusing to jump from surfaces (chairs, countertops, etc.) that the pet would previously jump from, particularly in cats
- decreased activity, less playful
- reacting negatively to being picked up or held
- excessive licking/grooming a particular area
- difficulty walking on slippery floors
- restlessness or difficulty finding a comfortable position
- vocalizing (wimpering, barking, etc.) when touched or when moving
- stopped grooming completely or a certain part of the body
Causes of Pain
Those signs above are not all associated with the same conditions. The number one cause of chronic pain is arthritis, which affects as many as 2 in 5 senior dogs. While dental disease is more prevalent, affecting about 75% of dogs and cats over the age of 3, this condition may not always be painful, particularly in earlier stages. A pet with a painful mouth may eat less and lose weight as a result. Many other conditions can cause pain as well. A veterinarian can diagnose a disease and help you manage your dog’s or cat’s health.
What to Do If Your Pet is in Pain
Of course, the first thing to do is to watch for signs of behavior change that are not explained by other changes in the environment. Bring your pet to see their veterinarian. There are no silly reasons to bring your pet to the veterinarian if you are concerned. If nothing turns out to be wrong, your wellness visit will provide peace of mind for you. Veterinarians are trained to find health problems as soon as possible. There are some practical changes you can bring into your pet’s life to make it easier and reduce their pain.
- Use medication provided by a veterinarian ONLY. Human medications are NOT for pets. They can have dangerous effects in the body.
- Provide a raised food bowl that is close to your pet’s shoulder height so they don’t have to bend down so far to eat and drink.
- If your pet is eating less and it may be due to mouth pain, start with giving your pet soft foods and see how they respond.
- Keep your pet’s weight in a healthy range. Being overweight adds stress to joints, which can cause arthritic pain. Be careful about how much you are feeding your pet (don’t forget to count treats!) and consistently provide exercise, if they are able.
- Reduce your pet’s stress. Stress, fear, and anxiety lead to an increased sensitivity to pain. Handle your pet gently, spend time with them, and maybe leave an article of your clothing with your scent on it for your pet.