Pets can be experts at hiding pain or other illnesses from us. This is a natural instinct for them, but unfortunately, this means it can take longer to get them the help they need. Regardless of your pet’s age, it is important to educate yourself on signs of pain or illness, so that you can catch them early and get them the medical attention they need. September is Animal Pain
Awareness Month and below we have some signs that your pet may be in pain so that you can help them.
- Heavy Breathing. A dog panting excessively, or panting when there seems to be no reason for them to need to “cool off” can be a sign that they are in distress. This can be a sign of a fever or pain, or both. Cats will also pant or breath heavily when they are stressed or in pain.
- Vocalizations. These can vary from growling, whining, whimpering, hissing, or even crying. These can happen while you are petting or near your pet, but may also happen in general. Your dog may whine or whimper while seeming to be okay, or it could happen as they are laying down or walking around. While some dogs, especially larger dogs, may make noises while getting up because it takes more effort, many of these noises are a sign of distress in your pet.
- Excessive Grooming, Usually Localized. If you see your pet licking a certain spot, or even scratching a certain spot, it usually means they have an irritation in that spot. It could be a surface wound or something not visible to you. Dogs especially will lick a certain spot, almost obsessively, if it is hurting. We usually see this on their paws or legs, but it can be any part of their body. Cats may also neglect grooming when they are ill. If you notice a change in their fur, it is best to get them to the vet for an exam soon.
- Sudden, Unexplained Aggression. As mentioned under vocalizations, dogs may growl when they are in pain. They may also snap or become seemingly aggressive for no reason. Like many of these symptoms, they can vary greatly from one pet to another. A cat may nip at you when you pet a certain spot, or just not want to be petted at all. Cats might also hiss or scratch. A dog may try to nip or growl when you touch a certain spot.
This might be their feet, their ears, or any other part of their body. They may also become more anti-social. They may growl or try to get away when you or kids get close to them. If your dog is experiencing new signs of aggression, please get them medical attention as soon as possible, as you would not want them to accidentally hurt you because they are simply in pain.
- Difficulty Getting Around. It is normal for your dog to slow down as they age. They may not run as often or be quite as playful, but this change should happen gradually. If your dog has a sudden change in energy or behavior, it is a sign to get them to the vet. You should also pay attention if they just seem to be having more trouble getting around than usual. This might be getting up from a sitting or laying down position, they could have difficulty getting onto furniture, or they might have a visible limp or change in their gait. This could be a sign of many things including joint pain or they may even have something stuck in their paw.
- Refusal to Eat/Decreased Appetite. While your pet may occasionally skip a meal or eat less, change in appetite can be one of the early warning signs of a myriad of illnesses. Whether it is a digestive issue, pain from a bad tooth or oral issue, or illness somewhere else in the body, many dogs will refuse to eat if they are not feeling well. While all of these symptoms are essential to watch for, a pet that is not eating or drinking water as they should could become dehydrated or malnourished very quickly if they are sick.
These behaviors are typically in most family pets when pain is an issue, but if you have a cat, you might also need to be extra attentive. Cats are known for hiding their symptoms or illnesses very well so you may not notice they are sick right away. When they are sick, your cat might hide or they might start doing their “business” outside of the litter box.
If you notice any of these signs that your pet may be in pain, what should you do? We absolutely encourage you to reach out to your vet. Only you can judge how urgent the issue may be. If it is a sudden change in behavior and your pet is in obvious distress, you should contact your vet immediately, or reach out to an emergency vet if it is after hours. As pet owners, we have a responsibility to care for them because they cannot care for themselves.
We must pay attention to warning signs of illness, and help get them the best care that we can. Always keep open communication with your pet sitter or dog walker, as they may be able to help notice a change in behavior while you are away. Again, pets can be very diligent when it comes to masking pain or illnesses, but by being aware of these signs, you will be able to catch an illness early on and save your pet from even more pain.