Brown dog in field

Animal Pain Awareness Month 2023 with FirstVet

Pain isn’t fun for any of us, and our furry friends are no exception! September is Animal Pain Awareness Month; it helps educate and inform pet owners about animal discomfort. The goal is to help pet owners learn about their pet’s health and well-being when it comes to pain management, be it acute or chronic pain. This can greatly improve their quality of life.

Animals are good at hiding pain and sometimes as owners, we need to be detectives and look for subtle changes in their behaviour, personality, and routine. Once we start looking, we can often see these subtle changes and with hindsight, owners often remark that their dog might have started slowing down on walks for the past few weeks/months or their cat has started sleeping more, but we don’t always pick up on it at the time as it can be such a gradual change.

Vets commonly get appointments saying they their dog is limping, but they are not in pain, as owners often expect animals to show pain by crying out or whimpering, but this doesn’t happen very often. An animal limping is a sign they are in pain, to complicate it further; if a dog or cat has pain in both front legs or both back legs, they may not limp at all!

Signs that your dog is in pain

Dogs are highly sociable animals and don’t usually hide how their feeling. They have lots of communication signals they use to let us know if they’re feeling happy or sad, or just want to be on their own. But however expressive your dog is, they can’t easily tell you when they’re in discomfort. That’s why is important to know the signs that mean you dog might be in pain, so your able to act as quickly as possible to get them happy and comfortable again.

  1. Abnormal movement- One of the first things to look for is changes to your dog’s usual way of moving, if your normally energetic dog is limping or walking strangely, or shows reduced movement, there may be something causing them discomfort. Some dogs tremor when in pain, while other dogs paint- or they might paw at their eyes or rub sore ears on the ground. Watch out for any restlessness or reluctance when they’re trying to lie down, as this can mean something is hurting.
  2. Changes in appetite- Does your dog usually both their food down, or are they a slow restrained eater? Any significant changes to your dogs feeding habits, from refusing their food or showing little interest in treats to a sudden increase in appetite, can be a sign they’re unwell. Watch how your dog eats too: if they’re chewing in an odd way, they may have painful teeth or gums. If you notice any significant changes to your dogs eating or drinking habits, or they’re losing or putting on weight unexpectantly, mention it to your vet.
  3. Excessive grooming- Inspect any areas on your dog’s body that they are persistently licking or chewing- it may be due to a cut or wound, which might be hidden under their fur. Persistent biting or nibbling at one area can sometimes be an indication of pain an injury elsewhere in the body. Older dogs sometimes lick the skin of joints in which they’re experiencing arthritic pain, while other causes of excessive grooming include infected or blocked anal glands, or a worm infestation.
  4. Toileting troubles- If your fully house-trained dog suddenly starts to have accidents in the house, this could be due to pain within the urinary tract or a gastrointestinal problem that makes it difficult or uncomfortable for them to ‘hold on’ until they are able to go outside. Any changes to your dogs’ regular habits can be an indication they might be in pain. Key things to look out for include more frequent urination, or significant changes to your dog’s stools, whether that’s diarrhoea or very dry, hard-to-pass stools.
  5. Vocalisation- Most dog owners know their dog’s usual repertoire of noises, including when and why they might respond with a bark, yelp, or whine. But anything out of the ordinary can be a sign of pain. Pay attention to excessive barking, whining or any other unusual noise your dog never normally makes, and try to work to whether they’re making these sounds at random, or in response to a certain movement or activity. Your dog might also become more vocal if you’re inadvertently stroking or touching a painful area.
  6. Aggression- When your normally friendly and loving dog is in pain, they probably won’t feel up to their usual routine of fun and games, whether that’s with you or other dogs. Growling and snapping can be your dog’s way of telling you to stay away. If your dog starts showing signs of uncharacteristic aggression, try to keep a note of when this happens and what was going on at the time. This can help your vet build a clearer picture of what may be triggering it, including potential causes of pain.
  7. Social interaction- You’re more tuned into your dog’s personality than anyone, so if they start to show a change in their usual behaviour, you’ll be the first to notice. This might include a lack of interest in activities they usually enjoy, instead seeming lethargic, or they might become less enthusiastic about how they interact with you and other members of your household. Dogs in pain sometimes prefer to be alone, and some may sleep more of the time, often seeking out quieter spots in the house where they won’t be disturbed. At other times, they might become clingier, and seek reassurance from their owners. Every animal is different- the key thing is to be alert to what represents unusual behaviour for your dog.

You know your dog best. If you’re ever concerned, they might be in pain, even if you don’t spot any of the signs we’ve outlined above, it’s always a good idea to ask your vet for advice.

Source: FirstVet