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How to Recognize Pain in Your Pets

Acute pain can be from a single injury, from surgery, inflammation or infection. Chronic pain may be due to ongoing disease or the aging process. Cats and dogs tend to hide injury and pain as a survival instinct thus making it difficult for you as their owner to detect that your pet is in pain.  Some pets simply tolerate ongoing pain which makes it even more difficult for owners to detect. However, with pets living longer and experiencing types of pain similar to that of aging humans, ongoing research is developing new techniques and safer medications to treat animal pain. The critical first step in pet pain management is pet owner awareness of pet pain signals. There is NO REASON for your pet to suffer from disability and pain. Your Veterinarians at Ada Hospital for Animals are members of IVAPM (International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management) and ascribe to the latest pain management techniques.

Pain signals:

Signs of dental disease, gingivitis or mouth tumors can be: odd chewing habits, bad breath, or facial rubbing. Joint pain may manifest as weight gain or reduced activity due to lack of mobility and pain. Behavior changes, difficulty or reluctance getting into the car, apprehension about walking on wood floors or going up and down stairs are all signals that your pet is experiencing pain.  In more severe cases, sore joints may also lead to elimination accidents in the home. 

Other changes indicating possible pain include, whining, constantly meowing, nipping at owners, constantly licking or biting a particular spot (ex. on legs over a joint), personality changes, restless sleeping, decreased grooming in cats, altered posture, dilated pupils, rapid heart rate, panting and trembling.

If you feel that your pet may be painful, please see your Veterinarian for appropriate pet- safe pain medications. It is important to discuss your concerns with your Veterinarian quickly. Your Veterinarian may recommend different medications depending on their assessment of pain in your pet. These may include dog safe NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory), nerve pain medications, opioid or opioid like drugs and/or muscle relaxants.

Human painkillers can be toxic even in small doses (ex. Tylenol* and ibuprofen**). Aspirin*** is NOT a safe medication in dogs or cats and there is a very high likelihood of stomach or intestinal ulceration and perforation if used. Other possible effects of aspirin use or overdose include increased bleeding time, liver necrosis (death of liver cells), seizures, metabolic derangements (changes in blood laboratory values), coma and death.  There are much safer and newer medications for pets and what may have been used in the past is no longer recommended. Furthermore, if you have given your dog aspirin, your Veterinarian cannot prescribe another NSAID pain medication as a washout period (the body needs to completely get rid of the aspirin and its metabolites) of 3-5 days is needed after your pet has had aspirin. Your pet would also need to be placed on gastric (stomach) protectants as well for at least 5-7 days following administration of aspirin.

*Tylenol (acetaminophen) >100mg/kg is toxic in dogs and ANY ingestion of acetaminophen in cats can be fatal within 24 hours of ingestion. Treatment may be possible if the poisoning is caught early.

**Toxic dose of ibuprofen >50mg/kg. If >300mg/kg is ingested the pet may develop acute renal failure in 12 hours to 5 days after ingestion

***Toxic dose of aspirin is reported at 100-300mg/kg/day


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