Assessment of a pet’s pain level and its management is appropriate for helping dogs and cats in each of their life stages: youth; adult; but especially, for senior, geriatric and towards the end of a pet’s life, when they are most likely to experience disease and complications.
Assessment of a pet’s level of pain can be difficult, especially if it is chronic and the animal has habituated to some level of discomfort. Pain thresholds can vary between individuals just as people and it is important to recognize the signs of pain in each species.
Acute pain can occur as an isolated incident such as a previously healthy pet slipping and falling and having a soft tissue injury such as a ligament or tendon sprain or fractured leg. Or it can be a sudden worsening of a chronic injury such as an arthritic pet slips and falls and experiences muscle soreness and aggravation of its back or hip joint disease.
Chronic pain comes on slowly and many animals can become accustomed to living in discomfort to the point that it no longer does activities that it used to do such as being able to go up and down stairs readily or jump up on the sofa. Some of these adjustments in its behavior can be attributed to “getting older” without it being attributed to chronic pain arising from musculo-skeletal pain. It is rare that pets will vocalize with pain or show overt signs. Cats, compared to dogs, tend to be even more subtle in manifesting their pain.
Signs of pain that pets can show include:
– The tendency to withdraw from human interaction
– Hiding or reluctance to move; may stay in hunched position (especially for cats)
– Decreased or loss of appetite
– Personality changes (aggressive, anti-social, attention seeking (acting “clingy”)
– Changes in sleeping patterns (sleeping all the time or restless)
– Excessive grooming (licking or chewing) at painful areas
– Reactivity when touched, even lightly, on back or legs
– Guarding painful areas
– Favoring painful areas (limping, shifting weight off painful limbs)
– Reluctance to jump up or down (for cats)
– Problems getting into or out of a lying down or sitting position
– Problems with stairs or flat, smooth (tile, linoleum, hard wood) surfaces
– Getting in and out of the car (for dogs)
– Increased vocalization (crying or growling)
– Changes in areas of elimination (for urination and/or bowel movements)
– Dilation of pupils and/or rapid, shallow breathing, panting (for dogs)