Pain is a very common question, and an entire book could be written about pain in pets! Instead of a book, here are some general, practical guidelines from Dr. Phil Zeltzman. We specialize in helping relieve your pet’s pain because we believe “pain is not acceptable.”

1. Limping

This is one of the most difficult messages to convey. Yet, it’s simple. LIMPING = PAIN 99% of the time.

2. Decreased activity

If your pet suddenly or progressively doesn’t play as much or as long as usual, it’s important to find out why.

3. Difficulty with stairs

To simplify, going downstairs puts more pressure on the front legs to be the issue. And going upstairs puts more pressure on the back legs to be the source of the problem.

4. Changing habits

If your dog runs like a maniac to greet you when you come back from work every single time and progressively or suddenly doesn’t, why is that? If your cat loves jumping on a window sill to enjoy the sun or the view every single day after breakfast and doesn’t anymore, why is that? If your dog loves going on a walk, run, or bike ride and doesn’t anymore, why is that?

5. Difficulty jumping

If your pet routinely jumps on the couch, or your bed, on in your car, or on a chair, and suddenly or progressively doesn’t as easily, it may be because of pain.

6. Difficulty getting up

Struggling to get up after a nap or in the morning or stiffness in the legs can also signify pain or arthritis.

7. Change in appetite

Painful pets often lose their appetite, even for a favorite treat. It could be a sign of pain in a leg (difficulty walking to you or the bowl), neck pain (reaching the bowl, which may need to be elevated), or pain in the mouth or the teeth.

8. Not wanting to be touched

Pain can lead to “guarding” a leg or the belly or becoming “head shy.” A classic example is a pet with ear pain or an ear infection (e.g., Cockers). Similarly, no longer wanting to be petted or picked up is a sign to take seriously.

9. Hunched position

A hunched position can be a sign of belly pain, neck pain, or back pain. Either way, it can be severe.

Pet pain medication

10. Reluctance to move a body part

This can apply to the legs and also to the neck. If your dog doesn’t like moving the neck up, down, or to the side and tends to look at you without moving the head, it can be a sign of neck pain.

11. Hiding

Cats are notorious for this. Either they hide, or they sleep in unusual places.

12. Grooming changes

Not grooming as much or over-grooming or licking a particular body part can also be a sign of pain or arthritis.

13. Vocalizing

Crying or vocalizing may be a sign of pain, but PLEASE do not count on that to decide your pet is in pain. Many pets, if not most, will not cry when in pain.

14. Aging

Just kidding! As I always say, “age is not a disease.” While slowing down can be normal, like in people, limping or being in pain is not.

We can successfully treat countless conditions we were unable to help with before. You no longer have to accept your pet playing or not wanting to go on walks because they are old. It’s probably because they are painful or have arthritis. Both can and should be treated!

Here are a few more important points to keep in mind:

  • Pets are very good at hiding when something is wrong.
  • Remember, in the Wild, if an animal acts sick, they get eaten. Sadly, our pets have kept this ability. Cats are notorious for that.
  • Pain and its expression can vary dramatically from breed to breed and from pet to pet. We know for a fact that some pets are more stoic, and others are more… “sensitive.”
  • In my world as a surgeon, surgery is a classic way to help patients dealing with pain. Fixing a broken leg, repairing a torn ACL, or removing a cancerous mass are just a few examples.
  • Yet keep in mind that there are many ways to decrease or stop the pain without surgery, including weight loss, cold therapy, heat therapy, joint supplements, environmental changes, improving traction, acupuncture, harnesses, physical therapy, massage, etc.

Please do NOT give any medication over the counter, any human medication, or leftover medication from this or another pet unless directed by your veterinarian. Many human drugs are toxic to our pets, even deadly.

Something as “simple” as aspirin is a huge problem in a pet because 1. We cannot give a better, safer, stronger anti-inflammatory drug for 7 days after stopping the aspirin
2. If surgery is necessary, we cannot perform it safely for 7 days because aspirin thins the blood and increases the risk of bleeding!

ANY source of pain should be a reason to see your family vet or a board-certified surgeon. As I always say, “pain is not acceptable.” Pain should be taken very seriously – and vets are here to help you and help your pet. If necessary, we provide veterinary surgical services that can help them feel their best.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified