When your pet begins acting old before their time, you may worry they have a health issue. Pets who act old and cranky are often experiencing discomfort. They may become lethargic, sleep more than usual, refuse to participate in their favorite activities, and avoid spending time with family. However, once our Westerville Veterinary Clinic team identifies your pet’s pain source—such as dental disease, osteoarthritis, or another condition—and provides treatment, your furry friend’s joie de vivre will return. By managing your pet’s pain, you can improve their quality of life, effectively putting more life back in their years. To help your pet feel better, learn to recognize their pain signs, and—with your veterinary professional—help pinpoint the source of their discomfort, and relieve their distress.

How to recognize your pet is in pain

Your pet cannot tell you when they are experiencing discomfort, but you can learn to recognize when they are not feeling up to par. Be on the lookout for the following subtle pain signs:

  • Decreased activity
  • Refusal to jump on furniture or use stairs
  • Decreased appetite
  • Disinterest in favorite activities
  • Avoiding interaction
  • Lethargy
  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Unusual aggressive behavior
  • Panting while at rest
  • Excessive licking at a certain body area
  • Increased vocalization
  • Inappropriate elimination

While you may think your pet would immediately stop eating if they developed dental disease, or would limp excessively as a result of osteoarthritis, dogs and cats are excellent at compensating for discomfort. For example, to minimize their discomfort, pets who have dental disease may chew on one side of their mouth, or only eat soft canned food. In addition, arthritic pets often shift their weight to the least-affected limb, and continue maintaining a relatively normal-looking gait. The only indication you recognize that your pet is in pain may be when they display abnormal behavior, so pay close attention for subtle signs.

Causes of pain in pets

Recognizing your pet’s acute source of pain is much easier than pain that results from a chronic condition. For example, you are more likely to recognize your pet’s pain as a result of a fractured leg than pain caused by osteoarthritis, which gradually develops and increases. Monitor your pet for pain signs to spot chronic conditions in their earliest stages, when treatment is more effective, and discomfort can be eliminated. Pets’ most common chronic painful conditions include:

  • Arthritis and joint disease
  • Dental disease
  • Skin infections
  • Ear infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Gastrointestinal conditions
  • Cancer

While skin, ear, and urinary tract infections should not become chronic, they may be improperly treated initially, and become a chronic source of discomfort. Discovering pain’s underlying cause—and treating the condition appropriately—is essential for preventing a skin allergy or urinary tract infection from becoming chronic.

How pain is diagnosed in pets

To diagnose your pet’s pain, your veterinarian will begin by asking about your furry pal’s home behavior history. Are they eating or playing less? Do they avoid interacting with the family? Are they unable to use the litter box or squat to eliminate? Your responses provide subtle clues that help your Westerville Veterinary Clinic veterinarian determine whether your pet is experiencing discomfort. Your veterinarian will also perform a physical exam to try to pinpoint your pet’s body area that is painful, and can often determine the painful spot by observing your dog’s or cat’s reaction to palpation. For example, a dachshund with intervertebral disc disease winces in pain, growls, or tenses their body when a veterinarian palpates the painful portion of their spine. In addition, if your pet has a painful tooth-root abscess, they may refuse to allow your veterinarian to examine their mouth thoroughly.  

In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend your pet be sedated or anesthetized to enable them to make an accurate diagnosis. Pets try to protect painful areas, and your veterinarian may have difficulty fully examining your furry pal without administering pain-alleviating medication. By administering a cocktail of pain medication and a sedative, or by placing your pet fully under anesthesia, your veterinarian can take X-rays of a painful limb, examine a diseased mouth, or flush out an infected ear—all without causing your beloved furry friend unnecessary discomfort and stress. 

How pain is managed in pets

Your pet’s pain source will determine the recommended treatment. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can ease your pet’s discomfort, but pain-relieving medication does not treat the pain’s underlying cause. For some chronic painful conditions, your veterinarian may recommend the following treatment plans:

  • Dental disease — If dental disease has been left to progress without regular cleanings, your veterinarian can extract your pet’s diseased teeth. Pets who have had all their teeth extracted do surprisingly well eating hard food, and once your veterinarian has removed their pain source, your furry friend may behave years younger. If your pet has been suffering from dental disease, you will likely see a massive improvement in their happiness within a few days after oral surgery.
  • Osteoarthritis — In addition to NSAIDs, arthritic pets can benefit from weight loss, prescription diets, alternative therapies (e.g., laser therapy, acupuncture, hydrotherapy), and surgery.

In general, chronic pain is best managed through a multimodal treatment plan. Keep in mind that if one treatment does not seem to be working well for your pet, another therapy can likely help.

Pets are excellent at hiding their pain, which makes regular veterinary exams important for identifying their discomfort source. Call our Westerville Veterinary Clinic team to schedule your pet’s appointment, so we can pinpoint the underlying cause of their pain.