As pet parents, our hearts break when we notice that something is just not right with our animal friends. We may suspect a pet is in pain, but because our furry friend can’t complain or describe the discomfort, it’s a struggle to understand what’s going on. Until the problem is diagnosed and treated, a pet’s pain is a mysterious source of worry and concern.
Fortunately, veterinary science has identified behaviors that signal a pet’s physical distress and offers tools to support pet parents in providing the loving care their animals need. To this end, the pet health industry has designated September as National Animal Pain Awareness Month. Leslie Fleuranges, founder of Topeka’s Tender Loving Care Pet Nursing Hotel, cares for senior pets every day and knows the value of this month’s purpose. “By sharing information about safe and responsible pain management, caring animal health professionals ensure that pet owners can best nurture hurting pets to feel better and live their happiest, most comfortable lives,” she says.
Leslie explains that cats and dogs reveal their pain in much different ways. Because cats are particularly good at masking signs of pain, the signs are easy to miss. They may hide and act more withdrawn and private. Here are a few other signs to watch for in cats:
- Agitation. Restless, unsettled behavior and trembling are clues that a cat is in distress.
- Crying, growling, hissing. Vocalizing in this way sometimes signals feline pain.
- Limping or difficulty jumping. Cats are known for landing on their feet, but pain limits their usual agility.
- Avoiding being petted or handled. Even the cuddliest cats may be standoffish when they’re feeling pain.
- Playing less. Just like humans, cats may act out of sorts and lethargic when they’re hurting.
- Licking a particular body region. Take note of where your cat is licking. This information will c help your vet diagnose and treat the pain.
Any of these changes in behavior can be a sign of distress in a cat, and warrants a trip to the vet for a closer look.
Dogs also have a repertoire of distress signals. Pay close attention and contact your vet if you observe any of the following behaviors:
- Agitation. Increased pacing, neediness, and other nervous behavior may be a signal of physical pain.
- Vocalization. Unexplained yelps or barks can occur when a dog irritates an injured paw or limb.
- Trembling. Pain can be a fearful experience for dogs, and involuntary shaking may be a sign that something is physically wrong.
- Increased breathing rates. If your dog is routinely panting without physical exertion, it may be a sign of pain.
Leslie says that changes in a dog’s everyday behaviors and routines can also be signs of pain or discomfort. If a normally protective or gregarious pup doesn’t rise to see who’s at the door or greet a visitor, pain may be the culprit.
If a typically athletic dog is suddenly is unable to jump up into the car or onto the couch, they may also be experiencing new discomfort or distress.
When you notice unusual behaviors and suspect your dog or cat is hurting, schedule a trip to the vet for a thorough exam. Once the medical team has identified the source of the problem, you’ll be advised how to keep your pet comfortable and potentially heal the injury that’s causing their pain. Some strategies for addressing your pet’s discomfort may include:
- Prescription medications. Your vet may prescribe a specially formulated anti-inflammatory drug or pain reliever for your pet. Unless specifically directed by your vet, never give your pet human medicines. These may cause permanent damage to the health of both dogs and cats.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin. Vets may recommend these natural supplements as an alternative or add-on to prescription medications to treat arthritis. Although the clinical benefit of these supplements is still being studied, they have few negative side effects and many pet owners and vets report positive results with their use.
- Weight loss. Your vet may recommend that you limit the calories your pet consumes daily to alleviate pain. As with humans, excess weight puts extra strain on joints and limbs, and losing a few pounds can make a big difference in a pet’s quality of life.
- Specialty pet foods. Carefully formulated pet foods including Science Diet’s Healthy Mobility™ for dogs and Joint Care j/d™ for cats contain nutrients proven to improve mobility and manage pain. For a dog’s severe joint pain, a vet may recommend a prescription food such as Prescription Diet Metabolic Mobility™ formula. A nutritious diet is an essential component of mobility and a way to improve your pet’s quality of life every day. A former marketing and innovation executive at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Leslie recommends these products and offers them at her facility.
- Sleep hygiene. Getting good rest is another essential aspect of managing a pets’ pain and mobility issues. Large dogs are particularly susceptible to arthritis and joint and limb injuries. Big Barker™ Orthopedic Beds, also available at TLC Pet Nursing Hotel, are clinically proven to enhance the lives of big dogs with better rest, less pain, and improved mobility.
Contact your veterinarian whenever you notice a significant change in your pet’s behavior or mood. Early intervention can make all the difference in a pet’s long-term mobility and quality of life and in the happy, rewarding connection you share.
Because Leslie’s facility specializes in caring for senior pets dealing with a range of painful conditions, she is a passionate advocate for helping them when they’re hurting.
“Our pets are not just pets. They’re cherished members of the family who are with us every day of their lives,” she says. “They nurture and protect us, and we want to do the same for them, too.
“Even though they can’t talk and tell us what’s wrong, we can learn to watch, listen and understand the cues they give us, providing them with the best possible care their whole lives through.”