How do you know if your pet is in pain?
Do you remember the last time you were limping? Maybe you sprained your ankle or your knee was acting up or you were battling sciatica. Whatever the specific reason, you probably limped because pain prevented you from walking normally. It is the same for animals.
Pets almost never cry out due to pain! If they are moving slowly, not bearing full weight on a leg or having difficulty getting up & down, it is most likely because they are painful. Nearly every day, veterinarians hear phrases like "He can't put weight on that leg but he is not in any pain." I have even had countless people refuse medication for pets, despite clear evidence that they are hurting.
Lameness is, of course, not the only sign of pain. Conditions which cause discomfort in people also hurt animals. Things like toothaches, headaches, eye pain and stomach aches cause suffering too, even if an animal doesn't "complain" in a way that is obvious to its human companions.
Thankfully, analgesia in veterinary medicine has advanced considerably. We now have many ways to treat pain appropriately, depending on its cause. In most cases, owners report that pets have more energy and a better quality of life following treatment. Families often tell us, “I had no idea he was hurting so much; since we started treatment/pulled the tooth/gave the medicine he has been like a puppy again!”
Sometimes we can only extrapolate from human conditions and assume discomfort based on physical exam findings. Other times, the clinical signs are already showing but are misinterpreted. Senior pets who are "just slowing down" are usually painful due to arthritis and a variety of other conditions. Cats who stop grooming well are not lazy but often cannot position themselves comfortably due to arthritis pain. With other conditions, signs of pain may include reluctance to eat the usual food, go for a walk, play with toys, jump on the bed, etc. Anything that seems out of the ordinary for a pet should be considered a sign that something may be wrong.
Prescription medications are not always needed; high quality joint supplements can often make a big difference in an arthritic pet's quality of life. Other conditions can be managed by changing a pet’s lifestyle or completing a brief treatment regimen from a veterinarian. If you notice anything unusual about your pet’s gait or behavior, please seek a professional opinion! - Written by: Dr. Elizabeth Chosa