September is Animal Pain Awareness month. It is an essential subject because animals feel pain just like we do but they can’t tell us when they hurt. We believe at Braescroft Animal Clinic, that pet parent education is critical to the well-being of your pets. So, please read on to learn more about recognizing pain in animals.
How Can I Tell if My Pet is in Pain?
Even though our pets can’t talk, there are symptoms you can look for that indicate your pet is experiencing some distress. Here are some common signs of a pet in pain:
- Decrease or loss of appetite
- Being off by themselves – not joining the family
- Lameness (limping)
- Crying or whining
- Excessive licking or scratching
Then there are more specific signs of pain depending on the type of animal. For example,
- Tight or twitching muscles
- Shaking or trembling
- Arched back
- Holding their head below their shoulders
- Vocalization, e.g., frequent unpleasant or urgent sounding meowing, groaning, hissing, growling.
- Grooming less or increased grooming but to a particular area (potentially leading to bald patches and sore skin).
- Panting is not usual for a cat. If your cat is panting, it can indicate extreme fear, pain, or difficulty breathing.
- Displaying aggression when you touch them in some regions of their body.
It can be harder to recognize when exotic pets such as birds, rabbits, hamsters, Guinea pigs, and reptiles, are in pain. Signs of pain and distress in exotic species are often individual or species-specific.
Many exotic pets are prey animals. Their instincts help protect them from predators. One of these instincts is to become very still and not perform their usual behaviors when they are in distress. Most of these pets will not vocalize when they are in pain unless the pain is severe and acute. And some of them simply cannot vocalize at all.
While this behavior may help keep them safe in the wild, it can make it more difficult as a pet parent to know when your pet is in pain.
With exotic pets, it is essential to look for any changes in your pet’s behavior. For example, are they eating less or not eating at all? Are they less active? If you suspect but are not sure if your exotic pet is in pain, it is safest to give us a call and tell us what you have observed so we can assess if your pet needs a veterinarian examination.
Once we have assessed your pet and found the root cause of their problem, we begin treatment. Part of the treatment includes managing their pain. Of course, our pets are part of the family, so no one wants to see them suffer. But there are also physiological benefits to treating and managing pain in pets. When we do not control their pain, they can experience an increase in the production of stress hormones, such as cortisol. This increase in hormones can cause:
- Increased blood pressure
- Slower wound healing
- Increased length of hospital stay (after surgery)
- A decrease in gastrointestinal motility
When necessary, we administer pain medication for the pet to heal from whatever is ailing your pet. A pet recovering from illness, injury, or surgery needs to be kept calm and so its body can heal quickly.
Staying observant and recognizing when your pet may be showing signs of pain is an important responsibility for every pet parent. If you observe any of the above symptoms or non-optimum changes in your pet, please contact us and schedule an appointment so we can assess the problem and get your pet on the road to feeling better and being pain free.
Dr. Lisa Lowenstein
Braescroft Animal Clinic