It is now accepted that animals are able to experience pain in a similar way to humans. Recognizing pain in pets can be difficult for owners as animals are unable to tell us what hurts and most animal species will instinctively mask pain and weakness.
Dental pain is often the most overlooked source of pain for dogs and cats. Companion animals will almost always continue to eat even when there is significant dental disease and discomfort. Animals will often chew on one side of their mouth, swallow food without chewing or take longer when trying to eat their meals.
Orthopedic (bone) pain, usually in the form of arthritis, is often missed in the early stages. If your dog prefers sitting on one hip vs the other, has difficulty rising and/or jumping onto their favourite chair/bed or stops doing a normal behaviour (lifting their leg to urinate), check with your veterinarian. Clients with the best of intentions will often reach for human medications (Advil, Tylenol) to alleviate their pet’s discomfort. Even small doses of some drugs can be toxic so once again check with you veterinarian if you are concerned.
Cats are masters at masking/hiding pain. One recent study indicated that 85% of cats over age 12 will experience significant degenerative joint disease. This often shows up as reluctance to jump, difficulty using their litter box or grooming their hind quarters.
The veterinary profession has come a long way in the past few years. There was a time (not that long ago) when we thought it was acceptable to let an animal be in pain as it allowed time to recover. Thankfully that way of thinking has passed. Veterinarians are now able to recognise, diagnose and treat pain much more quickly which ultimately leads to our pets living a happier, healthier and pain-free life.
Written by Dr. Terri Chotowetz