Pain Management For Pets – Pain Behaviors Part 2

In part 1 of pain management and pain behaviors of pets we discussed how pain is expressed in body posture and activity levels.

Besides being able to see if your pet is limping or reluctant to move, it’s helpful to be able to recognize in how much pain an animal actually is. This can make it easier to judge, if it is better to see a vet sooner than later.

In some cases pet owners unknowingly and unwillingly would prolong their pet’s suffering simply because they are not able to decide just how severe their pet’s condition actually is.


1. Vocalization

Pets are making noises usually in a mild – severe painful situation. However, the intensity of this behavior depends on the individual animal, some are vocalizing when experiencing very mild pain, some would not start to whine or growl before they feel severe pain.

It is often also associated with an animal’s exhausting ability of protecting itself against its near environment/ other animals around it through escape or avoidance of confrontation.

Increasing anxiety will also lead to vocalization.

How do pets express themselves vocally?

Dogs usually would groan, whimper, whine or start to growl.

Dog Whining

Dog Whimpering

Dog Growl

Cats groan or growl, but often purring is a sign of being un-well and in pain, which is often mistaken as feeling comfortable and well!

  Cat Scream

Angry Cat

 Sound effects used on this page Source 1 (Dog growl, cat scream, 
 angry cat) and Source 2 (whining/whimpering dog).


2. Appearance and Facial Expression

Dogs start to focus and express a fixed glare. with their head down. Their appearance is glazed, they show a depressed expression. Often they may be oblivious towards the environment and they usually appear ungroomed.

Cats show abnormal facial expressions, with squinted eyes, dullness, depression and also poorly groomed fur.

Both, dogs and cats that suffer chronic painful conditions may loose hair and their coat looks scruffy, without a shine. Cats in particular stop grooming themselves, which results in a rough, unkempt hair coat.


3. Response of being Handled

There are two main responses to being handled: purposeful movement or passivity. Sometimes animals start to become aggressive towards anyone who attempts to handle or move them. This happens specially during examinations by a veterinarian or if you give first aid.

This can get as far as trying to bite and scratch the handler, often when we try to palpate a hurting body part. Pets may become also defensive when they try to protect the painful body.

Often they try to move away from a handler, as they want to avoid being touched at all.

Passivity occurs when a pet simply “freezes” during examination, or often you can observe how they look at or into the direction of the part of their body that is painful.


4. Appetite

A lack of appetite (anorexia) does often occur when an animal is suffering from an acute or chronic painful condition.

Sometimes it is quite hard to determine, if anorexia is present because the animal is in pain or if there are other medical problems causing the inappetence. In this case it is always a good idea to let your pet check out by a professional.


5. “Accidents” in the House

Pets in pain may forget they are potty trained and this usually happens more often the more painful they feel.

The reasons could be feeling too weak or uncomfortable to go outside or use the litter box.

In case of an irritation or inflammation of the lower urinary tract (bladder and urethra) pets will most likely urinate very frequently and feel most uncomfortable.



Author: Dr Ellen

Veterinary surgeon. Special interest in Veterinary Acupuncture. Polyglott: German, Hungarian, English, French. Love website creation, working online. Decaf green tea addict. Hungarian-Vizsla-owned mum.

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