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What a Pain in the . . .

By Sarah A. Santiago


Recognizing pain in our furry companions can be quite a daunting task. We will try and describe various clinical signs to watch for in your pets that may be an indication of pain. Although this list is not all inclusive, it will hopefully help you to decide if your pet needs to see their doctor soon.

Starting with the front end, painful corneal scratches, pressure changes, hidden foreign objects, or an infection of the eyes can lead to excessive squinting, tearing, or rubbing of the eyes. Pets will often tilt their head, whimper or shy away when petted on the top of their head when their ears are infected and tender. Oral pain can be exhibited by anorexia, excessive licking or drooling, or rubbing of the face on objects or with their paws. Hesitation to jump up on high surfaces, restlessness, stiffened posture, arched stance or gait, tail tucking, yelping when petted, tense abdomen, hesitation to urinate or defecate, and hesitation to drink or eat out of bowls flat on the floor are all common signs of neck and or back pain.

Limping is a common sign of pain that can occur for various reasons on any of their four limbs. Front limbs can have arthritis in any joint (including digits), a traumatic fracture, bone tumors, an infection, or even autoimmune disease (where multiple joints and or limbs may be affected). Hind limbs can have congenital or degenerative abnormalities of the knees, hips or ankles that may cause a dog to skip a step or hold up a leg or even bunny hop while running. These types of conditions often are not recognized early on by pet owners because dogs and cats are excellent at masking the pain. Once the diseases become more progressive, often the animals begin to show chronic problems that are deemed by pet owners as something new because the animal is too painful to hide it any longer.

Abdominal pain can be recognized as a tense or tender abdomen on palpation. Anorexia, a bloated appearance, lethargy, flank watching, hesitancy to rise or lie down, or even repeated stretching in the play bow pose can all be signs of abdominal discomfort. Urinary or rear end discomfort can be shown by scooting, excessive grooming of the area, and frequent posturing to urinate or defecate without appropriate production.

We hope this article has helped to clarify a few areas where there is common confusion over if an animal is exhibiting signs of pain. If you simply are not certain, it is best to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible as the successful resolution of certain painful conditions is extremely important and could save your pet’s life.