September is Pain Awareness Month. Like humans, pets experience pain, but unlike us, they cannot tell us with words. So how can you tell if your pet is in pain and what can you do about it?
First it is important to know that animals instinctively hide or mask their pain, making it difficult to diagnose pain. In the wild, showing signs of illness or pain made animals vulnerable to others, so animals adapted to mask signs of pain or sickness. Unfortunately for us, this means that our pets are very good at hiding any signs or symptoms associated with pain, making it hard to know when there is something wrong with them.
What are the common causes of pain in animals?
Dogs and cats feel pain for many of the same reasons humans do. They can experience acute pain from injuries like a bite wound, torn nail, surgery or from infections. They can also suffer from chronic pain caused by conditions like arthritis, dental disease, cancer and other degenerative diseases.
What are some of the common signs of pain in dogs and cats?
Some of the common signs a pet may be in pain are vocalizing (whining, groaning, yelping), change in activity level (trouble getting up, reluctance to move), decreased appetite, sleeping more, licking or biting at a particular area on their body, limping, change in body posture (tucked tail, hunched over) and a change in behavior. Some animals in pain become more aggressive.
It is important to know that dogs and cats do not always vocalize if they are in pain. Of course, most animals (and humans) will yelp if you accidentally step on their toe but for the most part many pets in pain just quietly suffer. They may have only subtle changes in behavior and just not behave like themselves. Remember, no one knows your pet better than you and you are in the best position to identify subtle changes in their behavior that may mean your dog or cat is in pain. Stay alert and notify your veterinarian if you see any concerning changes in your pet’s behavior.
It is also important that you do not attribute changes in your pet’s behavior to just “slowing down,” or “getting old”. Changes in behavior may signal something much worse than typical aging. Chronic pain isn’t normal, and further investigation into the cause should always be conducted. The sooner your animal’s pain is diagnosed and treated the sooner they will feel better and can resume a normal happy life.
What should you do if you see signs your pain may be in pain?
It is important to act quickly if you notice a pet showing symptoms of pain and seek treatment from a veterinarian. Untreated pain can worsen and lead to additional health complications.
Bring your pet to a veterinarian right away to determine what is causing your pet’s pain. Your veterinarian will examine your pet and determine what is causing your pet’s discomfort and explain the various treatment options.
How is pain in pets treated?
Depending on the cause of your pet’s pain and their diagnosis, your veterinarian may recommend treatment options such as pain medication, antibiotics, wound care, or surgery. Your veterinarian may also recommend various types of alternative treatments (acupuncture, laser therapy), rehabilitative therapies and/or over-the-counter supplements to help manage your pet’s pain and treat their conditions. Remember every pet and every condition is treated differently. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine the best treatment options for your particular pet.
Can you give your pet your pain medication?
NO!! Never administer medication to your pet without first consulting your veterinarian. Even over-the-counter pain medications that are safe for humans can be toxic to pets. For example, even small amounts of acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be toxic to dogs and cats. Always check with your veterinarian.
The good news is that dogs and cats are living longer and longer. The bad news is that, like us they are also experiencing the deterioration and debilitation that goes along with aging. Thankfully we have all kinds of treatments and medications available to help keep pets comfortable. There is no reason in this day and age that a pet should be in pain or suffer.
***If you think your pet may be suffering from pain be sure to speak with your veterinarian right away. Remember our pets depend on us to be their voice!