Common Signs That Your Pet is in Pain

Dr. Jacqueline Brister

cat in pain

Dogs and cats do not typically respond to pain the way that people do. They also cannot tell us if something hurts. This can make figuring out whether your pet is in pain difficult. Below are some common signs of pain in pets. While these signs aren’t always due to pain, it is a common reason you might see them. If you notice your pet experiencing any of these signs, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a checkup.

Signs of Pain in Dogs & Cats

Decreased appetite

If your pet is normally a hearty eater and has begun skipping meals, he or she may be in pain. The pain is often specific to the gastrointestinal tract or mouth, such as an infected tooth or an upset stomach. The pain could also be completely unrelated to eating – just like us humans. Any pain, if severe enough, can lead to a pet not wanting to eat or drink.

Immobility

If your pet has started laying around more, or is slow to get up or move around, he or she may be experiencing pain. This is especially common with joint or muscle pain. Just as with a decreased appetite, the pain may not be related to motion, but if severe enough, a pet may be tired from being in discomfort and may rest more than usual.

Hiding

This type of symptom is more common in cats. They are natural predators and frequently try to hide their illnesses and injuries. Some pets will also instinctively move to a quiet and secluded location so that they can rest and heal.

Favoring

Generally, this means being gentler or more careful with something injured. A common example is that when a pet has a hurt leg, he or she will “favor” the leg by holding it up and avoiding using it. Another example is favoring one side of the mouth if a tooth is infected, and only use the other side to chew.

Behavior change

You may notice this in several ways. If your pet seems normal but is not acting like himself, this type of behavior change could be a sign of pain. Other behavior changes that can demonstrate pain is if a normally docile pet is unexpectedly grouchy, or a pet who typically prefers more alone time becomes extremely needy. While these are not always signs of pain, they are definitely signs that something is off about your pet. He or she may be trying to tell you that something is not right and that your help is needed.

Breathing fast

While breathing fast may be caused by many things (e.g., anxiety, stress, heat), it can also be due to pain. Usually when a pet is in a lot of pain, his or her heart rate and breathing rate become more rapid. Breathing fast can be difficult to distinguish from general panting in a dog, so you may need to look for other signs of pain as well. Panting in a cat is almost always a medical problem and needs to be addressed quickly.

Vocalizing

Believe it or not, vocalizing or crying is not a common sign of pain. Dogs and cats are extremely tough. They accept their pain as the reality in which they live in the moment, and continue on with their daily needs and wants as normally as possible. For a dog or cat to yelp in pain, the pain is either too severe to stop them from crying out or the pain occurred or increased suddenly or unexpectedly.

Your veterinarian will be able to help you assess if your pet is in pain and why. Many problems or diseases can cause pain, but treatment options are often available to help ease your pet’s discomfort. Always call your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns about whether your pet is in pain.

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