The International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) has declared September Animal Pain Awareness Month. Animal Pain Awareness Month actually coincides with Pain Awareness Month in human medicine. IVAPM’s goal is to raise awareness and educate people about pain and pain management options for animals.
Animal pain, especially chronic pain, can be difficult for pet parents to recognize. Animals can’t tell us when they’re hurting. That’s why we, as pet parents, need to be vigilant, observe our pets closely, and consult with our veterinarians when it looks like something is amiss.
Here are some signs that your pet may be in pain. Please note that some of these apply to all pets while others are species-specific.
Reluctance to Move: A pet in pain may be reluctant to move. Your cat may stop jumping up to his favorite perch on his cat tree. Your dog may avoid going upstairs to sleep with you at night. Your guinea pig may not be as active as he used to be.
Body Posture and Position: A pet in pain may sit in a hunched-over position with an arched back. A cat in pain may tuck his legs underneath himself when he lays down instead of stretching out on his side. A dog in pain may lay with his hindquarters raised and his front end on the ground. A rabbit who sits in a hunched position with half-closed eyes, grinding his teeth is almost certainly in pain. A pet with a head tilt could be suffering from ear pain.
Vocalizing: Increased vocalizations, such as meowing, whining, howling, whimpering, grunting, squeaking, and yelping may indicate your pet is hurting.
Facial Expressions: You can gather clues about how your pet is feeling by looking at his facial expressions. A pet in pain may appear to be grimacing, have a wide-eyed stare, look sleepy, flatten his ears, pant excessively when he’s resting (for dogs), have a vacant stare, or have enlarged pupils.
Changes in Sleeping Patterns: Pets in pain may appear lethargic and sleep more than usual. Restlessness is also a sign that something is amiss. Your pet may change positions frequently in an attempt to find a comfortable position to sleep in. Pets in pain may sleep in unusual positions to try to avoid pain as well.
Mobility Issues: A pet who is limping is certainly in pain and needs to be seen by his vet. A hurting pet may also have difficulty getting up from a laying down position, move more slowly, or have an unusual gait when walking.
Decreased Appetite: Animals, like people in pain, may not feel like eating as much as they usually do. Teeth grinding is a sign of pain in rabbits and guinea pigs. If your pet is chewing out of one side of his mouth, yelps while eating, or acts hungry but refuses to eat, he may be experiencing dental pain.
Changes in Litter Box Habits: Pain is one of the most common reasons cats start eliminating outside the litter box. In addition, if your cat is hurting, it may be difficult for him to squat to do his business, so you may find that your cat gets urine or feces on the side or just outside the litter box. A cat in pain may find having a bowel movement so uncomfortable that he decides to hold it rather than go. As a result, he may become constipated.
Changes in Grooming Patterns: An animal in pain may stop grooming part or all of his body. As a result, your pet’s coat may become greasy and look unkempt. On the contrary, an animal in pain may overgroom the part of the body that’s hurting him. This can result in hair loss, sores, and secondary bacterial infections.
Uncharacteristic Aggression: If your pet becomes uncharacteristically aggressive toward you, other members of your family, or other pets in the home, he may be hurting. A pet in pain may growl, hiss, whine, or whimper when you, other family members, or other pets in the home approach him. He may also try to avoid being touched or handled or lash out at you by biting, scratching, or trying to bat you away when you touch or handle him.
The bottom line is, you are the best person to know when something is amiss with your pet. If you think something is off, it probably is. Don’t hesitate to take your pet to your veterinarian if you notice any signs that your pet is in pain. Your vet can help you determine what is going on and help you come up with an effective treatment plan.
Sierra M. Koester has been writing in the pet space since 2006. She runs the blog Fur Everywhere. She joined the awesome team at The Cat Blogosphere as Content Manager in June, 2022. She is currently working on editing her upcoming anthology, Purrseverance, a collection of stories about cats who have overcome challenges in their lives from their perspective. Sierra’s home is ruled by her two special needs cats, Carmine and Tylan, who are the center of Sierra’s world.