Combatting Pain in Pets: A Guide For Pet Owners

As dedicated and attentive pet owners, we like to think we can tell if our beloved pet is in pain, but it’s not always easy. Why? Animals have evolved to mask signs of distress and hide their discomfort as a survival instinct. When injured or ill, wild animals become targets in their social group and vulnerable to predators, so appearing healthy is a critical survival skill. Our pets have retained this wild instinct, so no wonder pet owners often can’t tell their pet is in trouble.

Careful observation and noticing subtle changes in their behavior is the most effective way to catch pain problems early. In honor of Animal Pain Awareness Month, we explore common signs and behaviors that indicate pain in dogs and cats, tips on recognizing and addressing pain in pets, and how veterinary medicine can help.

What Causes Pain in Dogs and Cats?

Sudden or acute pain is often apparent. Usually caused by a sudden injury or illness (such as a broken bone), your pet’s veterinarian can immediately address this kind of pain. However, chronic pain can come on gradually, build over time, and be difficult to spot.

Some causes of chronic pain are:

  • Arthritis and joint disease
  • Back or joint pain
  • Cancer
  • Gastrointestinal conditions
  • Heart disease
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Muscle injuries
  • Periodontal disease

Recognizing Pain

You know your pet the best, and you can often detect subtle changes by paying attention to their daily eating, sleeping, playing, resting, and elimination routine. Personality changes can also clue you into their discomfort.

A change in any of these behaviors can be a red flag:

  • A change in friendliness (less to more, or more to less)
  • Hiding more than normal
  • Shaking/trembling
  • Panting while at rest
  • Pacing
  • Inability to get comfortable/rest
  • Excessive licking or grooming of a specific area
  • Absence of grooming behavior (in cats)
  • Snapping or growling when touched
  • Limping
  • Vocalizing more than normal
  • Changes in litter box use (some painful cats can no longer get to or get into the litter box)
  • Reluctance to jump into or out of the car
  • Loss of interest in toys, treats, or outings

Advancements in Veterinary Pain Management

Over the past twenty years, veterinary science has made giant strides in recognizing pain in pets and developing more effective pain management techniques. Pet pain was not regularly assessed in veterinary medicine years ago, but an industry-wide pain assessment coupled with earlier intervention and more strategic pain management has allowed us to provide even better pain control than ever before.

Incorporating a pain assessment with every physical exam is one way your family veterinarian can catch pain early–another reason regular annual exams for your pet are critical. By discovering and addressing pain early, your pet is treated more quickly and heals faster and more thoroughly. We can also help spare your pet the ongoing discomfort of living with chronic distress.

Fighting Pain at The COVE

Once we have established that pain is present, we have multiple ways to combat it. We fight pet pain by:

Pre-empting pain where possible. Anticipating and preventing discomfort before it starts is essential for successful pain control. Pain management strategies before a painful event, such as surgery, can be very effective. Each patient receives a complete pain assessment and plan. We often use a continuous rate infusion technique, allowing us to deliver small, steady doses of pain control through your pet’s IV line while hospitalized. Preventing breakthrough pain speeds recovery and healing.

Managing multiple pain pathways. We know we are most successful in managing pain when we use a combination of drugs and techniques that target different pain receptors. Local and regional pain management in the form of strategically placed local anesthetic infusions is also provided to patients when indicated. By using this multimodal approach, we can use fewer opioids and decrease complications caused by suboptimal pain control. We can also use less inhalant anesthesia during surgery, ensuring your pet wakes from anesthesia quickly and safely.

Using multiple methods. While pharmacologic drugs are often essential to pet pain management, other complementary and alternative methods can also be helpful. If you would like a referral for physical therapy, acupuncture, or cold laser therapy, please ask our veterinarians; we would be happy to help.

Pain is a severe detriment to your pet and their quality of life. Our team at The COVE is dedicated to fighting pain in pets whenever possible. Please let us or your family veterinarian know if your pet needs our help. We are always here for you and your pet.

About Us

The COVE’s veterinarians and staff wholeheartedly embrace the core values of community, collaboration, commitment, compassion, and integrity. This focus ensures that pets, the people who love them, and their primary care veterinarians have as positive and affirming a healthcare experience as possible, regardless of the circumstances that bring us all together.