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Recognizing & Managing Pain

In order to treat an animal’s pain, we must first be able to recognize it. Your pets can’t tell you when they hurt, but if you know what to look for the signs of pain can be easy to spot. Pets feel pain for many of the same reasons as humans: infections, dental problems, arthritis, bone disease, and cancer. They also feel discomfort following surgical procedures. A pet owner is in the best position to look for the subtle changes in behavior that may indicate a pet is suffering. It’s important to stay alert to these signs, because the sooner a pet’s pain is diagnosed and treated, the sooner he or she can heal and resume a normal, happy life. These signs will vary between species and sources of pain, and even between individual animals, so it’s important as a pet owner to understand the range of signs your pet could display.

Signs of Pain

  • Vocalization - is your pet making more noise than usual?
  • Activity Level - has their level of energy or activity noticeably changed?
  • Self-Protection - are they acting withdrawn or timid?
  • Daily Habits - has their appetite, routine, or level of activity changed?
  • Facial Expression - do their eyes, ears, and mood seem normal?
  • Aggression - have they become more aggressive or docile?
  • Self-Mutilation - is your pet licking, scratching, or biting part of its body?
  • Grooming - does their hair lack shine or stand up in places?
  • Posture - are they spending more time hunched or lying down? 

For more information, consult the American Animal Hospital Association’s resources that further discuss the most common signs of pain in cats and dogs. If you recognize any combination of these signs in your pets, be sure to contact your veterinarian and request an examination.

Grimace Scale

Ever wonder how your vet screens for pain? A new tool, known as a “Grimace Scale” has been developed to aid in the identification of pain, and the level of pain in a number of animals where identification may prove challenging. A key area of research in grimace scales is in cats, where assessing the pain is especially difficult. The University of Montreal has performed research on this topic, visit their site to learn more. Grimace scales for other species, such as sheep, have also been researched.