How To Tell If Your Pet Is In Pain

Published: November 17, 2019

Academy Animal Hospital Greenwood

Sadly, contrary to what movies like Super Buddies or Secret Life of Pets would have you believe, our pets can’t talk. This unfortunately means they may suffer in silence when they are hurt. Since they can’t tell us, sometimes it can be difficult to tell if and when your pet is in pain as a result of an injury or medical condition.

Fortunately, there are signs you can watch for; these changes in body language, disposition, and personality that can tell us our pet is in pain. Here are some ways pets tell us they hurt.

Changes to daily life habits such as sleeping, eating, and drinking

When your pet is in discomfort, they may sleep more. It’s possible that they’re listening to instincts to slow down and try to heal or it could just be painful to move around too much, so sleeping and laying down quietly is the more comfortable choice.

Eating and drinking changes can also indicate trouble – refusing to eat or having trouble chewing dry food can be an indication of mouth pain or tooth trouble, while drinking excessive amounts of water can be a sign of anything from diabetes to painful kidney problems.

Changes in behavior – becoming antisocial, irritable, or even aggressive

You may notice that your typically happy, “I missed you so much when you were gone for 10 minutes!” dog isn’t running up to greet you at the door, your usually friendly, cuddly lap kitty has become skittish and is spending lots of time hiding out under the bed, or your usually “tolerates anything, friendliest dog around” pup has started growling when people pet him.

Changes in behavior like these are a definite cause for concern. Less obvious, but still concerning is the behavior of frequently stretching in the “downward dog” or “prayer position” - particularly after eating. This can be an indication of stomach or intestinal problems.

Breathing changes - excessive panting

Panting as if they’ve just been on a long walk even when just sitting around is a very clear sign that something is wrong. Taking short, shallow breaths or fast panting can mean that it hurts to take a normal breath.

Shorter-snouted dogs like pugs, Boston terriers, and bulldogs tend to breathe heavier and pant more by nature, due to their shorter snouts, so just be aware of changes to what you would call normal for your dog.

Changes in mobility or posture

Changes in a pets’ mobility is a fairly obvious sign of pain. You may see them limp, favor a limb, or walk with a more stiff, measured gait. They may get up slowly and carefully from laying down, move slowly while climbing or flat out refuse to climb stairs, and may not show interest in taking walks, or playing as much as they usually do.

A change in the way your pet stands or sits – appearing more rigid, or with their back end slightly tucked down, appearing almost “hunched over”— can also indicate they are hurting.

Appearing unsettled or agitated

Some dogs circle in their beds to find just the right, comfy spot. This is perfectly normal. What isn’t normal is repeatedly getting up to change position, never seeming to settle, not sleeping restfully, or pacing back and forth. These are sure signs that there is a problem.

Licking or Grooming Incessantly

Your pet’s instinct is to lick their wounds to soothe and clean them, so it is natural for them to lick an area of their body that is hurting, even if there isn’t an open wound. Dogs in pain may also lick their paws incessantly to attempt to soothe themselves.

Barking, yelping, (or meowing) or crying out

Your dog may bark at you (or your cat may meow at you) almost as if they are telling you they are hurting. They may bark, howl, or yelp (or meow, of course) for seemingly no reason, but in fact they are trying to tell you something is up.

What to do

If you think your dog or cat is in pain, it is important to see the veterinarian, and not attempt to administer pain relief medications without advisement. First, there may be deeper underlying problems that you wouldn’t be able to identify on your own, and masking the pain may allow things to become worse without proper treatment.

Second, some over the counter pain medications for humans may actually be harmful to your pet, so while you are trying to help them feel better, you may actually make things worse.

If you feel your pet is in pain, please connect with us at Academy Animal Hospital for an appointment as soon as possible.