Animals are experts at masking their pain, an evolutionary adaptation that protects them from appearing weak and vulnerable in the wild. This trait can make it difficult for pet guardians to pick up on their pet's comfort level. Since pets cannot or won't tell us when they are in pain, as their animal caretakers, it is our duty to work together as a team--a joint effort between guardians and veterinary staff--to recognize, evaluate, and properly manage pet discomfort.
Some signs of pain are obvious while others are more subtle. If you notice any of the following changes in your pet's behavior, it could be an indication of pain:
- Decreased activity
- Lethargy or sluggishness
- Decreased appetite
- Changes in drinking pattern
- Whining or increased vocalization
- Hesitancy or refusal to jump, exercise, or play
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
- Bad breath, flatulence, or other offensive body odors
- Decreased socialization
- Cloudiness of mentation or eyes
- Purple or lavender tongue color, scalloped tongue, pulsing veins or teeth marks in the tongue
- Muscle spasms or tightness
- Digestive upset: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation
- Increased dream activity
- Changes in grooming pattern or chewing fur
- Tail ducking or sinking in the rear end posture
Rating the level of pain is important to properly gauge quality of life. Remember that no two animals showcase pain in the same manner. Some pets, for example, can be quite vocal and dramatic for minor pain while other pets masterly hide major pain.
When evaluating your pet's discomfort, keep in mind that you know their personality best. A veterinarian might point out changes he or she noticed since the last appointment that indicate pain, but pet parents are the ones who will be able to see daily changes. By monitoring your pet at home, you can assess the degree of discomfort. Ask us about our quality of life assessment and pain management checklists to help you objectively determine what your pet needs.
Semi-annual exams are vital to a pet's overall well-being because sometimes it takes the trained eye and knowledge of a veterinarian to pick up on pain cues. If your pet is exhibiting any significant behavioral changes, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Timely intervention is key to successful pain management.
Together with the veterinary staff, you will develop a practical treatment plan to best manage your pet's pain. This might include acupuncture, herbs, supplements, dietary changes, grounding exercises, massage, LASER treatment, physical therapy, altered exercise routine, prescription medications, or more.