Many pets suffer silently with pain from arthritis, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and chronic infections. Because they can't point out where they feel pain, it's up to pet owners to know the signs of pain.
Back in the early 90's (when I was still practicing only traditional veterinary medicine), the miracle drug, Rimadyl, was introduced to the market. Veterinarians were told it was the latest, greatest, best gift to dogs everywhere and would eliminate the pain associated with arthritis and post surgical suffering. (Of course, within a few years we all saw the horrific side effects and death that could accompany the use of the medication, but those details were not immediately known.) I had an older Doberman at the time and I decided to try treating him with the drug. He became a new dog within a few days. He was back to acting like a puppy, bouncing around the house and yard, chasing deer, and generally being a nuisance. What I had assumed was just him acting old and sleeping more turned out to be a dog suffering with pain. He slept a lot and didn't move around much because it hurt when he did. While I no longer reach for the bottle of Rimadyl, I do treat my pets and patients with supplements, diets, acupuncture, chiropractic, and cold laser to alleviate pain.
Watch for these signs your pet may be in pain:
- Sleeping more than usual. Many pets in pain simply don't move much. My 14 year old dogs are just as active as the 5 year old dogs when their arthritis pain is well managed.
- Limping upon getting up or acting stiff. Arthritis will commonly cause stiffness and limping, which may get somewhat better once they get moving and loosen up the joints. Lameness that does not improve within a few days should be a signal for a veterinary exam. Torn ligaments and bone tumors can cause more serious lameness.
- Moaning or whining. Some pets are very stoic, but others will actually vocalize that they are painful.
- Shaking or trembling. Sometimes this occurs with weakness in the nerves or muscles, but it can also be a sign of pain.
- Panting. Pets pant to blow off heat. Inflammation causes heat and pain.
- Licking one spot. Pets will try to heal themselves the only way they know how. If they are licking at a joint or mass, there is pain underlying that area.
- Snapping, biting, or growling. Pets with behavior changes are commonly in pain. If your dog has always enjoyed interacting with the family but has started showing signs of aggression, he may be trying to tell you he is in pain.
- Hiding. Pets will withdraw and find a place to hide if they don't want to interact. If your pet used to love going for walks, but now declines your invitation, there is probably something that hurts.
- Loss of appetite. Drooling. Drooling is a sign of pain in the mouth or stomach. It's also a sign of nausea. Loss of appetite can occur for reasons that include pain, metabolic disease like Diabetes, kidney disease, or fever. Chewing on only one side of the mouth or dropping food from the mouth can be a sign of dental pain.
- Restlessness or pacing. These pets just can't seem to get comfortable. It hurts to get up and down, so they just pace.
Never give your pets over-the-counter human pain medications. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is deadly for cats. Ibuprofen can cause intestinal bleeding and kidney failure. Aspirin can cause bleeding in the stomach. Always consult your veterinarian before giving medications. Natural remedies that may help include glucosamine/chondroitin supplements for joint and bladder pain, homeopathic arthritis treatments, enzyme treatments for ear pain, Omega 3 fatty acids or coconut oil for inflammation, nutritional supplements for IBD, or the latest trend, CBD for pain. Dental pain should be addressed by professional cleaning and extractions, along with ongoing care.