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Is Your Pet in Pain?
There are ways to know when your pet is experiencing pain. Together you and your veterinarian will identify and help your pet resolve any pain that may be present. Your pet's response to pain will help your vet understand the extent of the pain present. Treatment recommendations for controlling the pain will be made and may include medication, therapy, or surgery.
Pet Expressions of Pain
Know your pet's usual activities and energy levels. Be alert to changes in behavior or habits indicating that pain is present. Veterinarian James Clarkson suggests watching for the following to help identify pet pain:
Start with the obvious signs of vocalizing, growling, whimpering, and limping. Harder to distinguish signs may be one or more of these:
Lack of appetite
Body position is abnormal
Posture is pensive not stiff-backed or erect
Activity level has decreased
Handling your pet elicits a response that isn't typical
Acting withdrawn, self-isolating or hiding
Movement is painful so they have accidents in the house
Shakes or shivers
Licking or grooming that is excessive. Arthritic pets and pets with stomach pain do this so be sure to let your veterinarian will guide you!
There are ways to know when your pet is experiencing pain. Together you and your veterinarian can identify and help your pet resolve any pain that may be present. The issue of pain in animals is so critical that the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) teamed up with the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) to develop guidelines and recommendations for veterinarians and veterinary professionals. The guidelines educate new and already-practicing veterinarians about pain thresholds, causes of pain, medications to resolve pain and treatment recommendations.
"The most common culprits behind pain are sprains and arthritis. Things have come so far in pain management," says James Clarkson. "Because of that, pets are living better lives." Clarkson, a veterinarian for nearly 35 years says that he's "embarrassed that we didn't do more to address pain in pets" during his early years of practice. The collaborative guidelines developed between the AAHA and the AAFP help pet owners address concerns they may have for their pet's health and well being.
During your visit with your family veterinarian to discuss your pet's discomfort or changes in behavior your veterinarian will assess your pet. The vet will examine your pet's body and feel each area to check for lumps, bumps, sensitivity, swelling, inflammation, or tenderness. A physical exam often includes moving your pet's joints and watching their response to the movement. If your pet feels discomfort or pain remember to be prepared. Your pet may try to snap at anyone nearby or cry out if the pain worsens during the exam.
"An iguana may react to abrupt pain, like an injection, by trying to bite, whipping its tail, or trying to escape. If the pain is deep and generally debilitating the animal may be depressed and hesitate to do any physical activity," says exotic veterinarian specialist Erik Stauber. These moments of pain or discomfort are necessary so that your veterinarian can make an accurate diagnosis and identify what is going on in your pet's body.
Your pet's response will also help your vet understand the extent of the pain present. It may be necessary for your pet to have x-rays taken to make a full and accurate diagnosis. Your veterinarian will advise you as to the steps needed to move your pet toward recovery. Typical next steps could include medication, physical therapy, or surgery.
"Medications are metabolized very differently by animals. Dosages can vary due to age, weight and species," says Clarkson. Any medications your veterinarian prescribes must be used exactly as ordered. Always discuss the use of herbs or natural remedies with your veterinarian before using them with your pet. Adverse reactions can occur. These substances can also be toxic to pets.
PetsMatter suggests looking for clues in your pet's behavior. Monitor the following and call your family veterinarian to report abnormalities or changes in your pet's behavior.
Snapping when touched
Hesitation going up stairs
Lack of appetite
Sudden behavior changes
Clarkson advises that he is seeing more pets with dental pain in his office. He reports that the majority of these pets are over the age of three or four. Being alert to possible dental pain is also important and he suggests that owners keep an eye on pets for these red flags:
An odd head tilt
Passing up treats
Avoiding crunchy food
Eating wet food only
Not eating at all
Taking longer to eat
Odor involving the mouth
Dogs avoiding chew toys or bones
"We help clients relate to the need for pain control by comparing the pain humans experience with similar procedures or illnesses," advises veterinarian Spencer Tally. Always ask your vet to help you understand how to control your pet's pain. Pain management is essential to your pet's wellness and speedy recovery.
1American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). AAHA/AAFP Pain management guidelines for dogs and cats.
2American Animal Hospital Association. Accredited practices assess pets for pain. PetsMatter Volume 2 Issue 5.
3American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Is your pet in pain? PetsMatter, Volume 3 Issue 3.
4Shaw, Lorrie. What to do when you suspect your pet is in pain, but hiding it.
5Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. How to tell if your pet's in pain.
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