Pets 101– How to Tell If Your Pet is Hurting

As a pet parent, it’s only natural not to want your fur baby to feel bad or be in pain. However, since animals are unable to express feelings of pain and discomfort the same way that we do, it can be quite difficult to determine if your pet is in pain. Often, most pet owners don’t immediately realize that their pet is hurting. At least not until it becomes a serious health problem. To help pet owners identify possible health issues earlier, here is some advice from Emi Saito, a vet, MSPH, DACVPM, VMD, and MBA at Banfield Pet Hospital.


Animals like cats and dogs can be quite adept at hiding pain. Pets are unable to express themselves vocally and can’t let their owners know directly if they are experiencing any pain or discomfort. Pets also react to pain differently, much like us. While some pets may visibly react to slight discomfort, some may not express any pain at all until it becomes unbearable. Some causes of mild pain may include skin irritation or mild dental problems. Pets may experience moderate pain from ear infections, tooth abscess or broken tooth, or minor eye injury. More serious problems can cause severe pain such as burns, broken bones, or eye injury. While signs of discomfort in dogs and cats differ depending on the pet and on the cause and degree of pain, here are some of the common signs of pain that pet owners should watch out for.

1)   Trembling

2)   Changes in appetite (decreased appetite)

3)   Changes in personality or mood

4)   Decreased or increased activity

5)   Whimpering

6)   Labored breathing

7)   Increase in heart rate


Signs of Pain in Pet Cats It is not unusual for cats to hide pain and illness. At times, cats will hide under a bed or inside a closet or any other dark place when they are not feeling well. Cats conceal their weakness by hiding in order to avoid pain and to conserve energy. This pattern of behavior can be traced back to cats living in the wild, with hiding as their way to avoid attracting the unwarranted attention of predators. Pet owners may not be immediately alert to physical signs that their pet is hurting, which is why it is necessary to be observant and to know your pet’s normal behavior.  Signs of Pain in Pet Dogs Dogs may act differently when they are experiencing discomfort or pain. Some of these signs include a decrease in physical activity, limping, or even licking/gnawing at a particular spot. Your dog may also show pain by whimpering or displaying a protective stance over a certain area of the body.

These changes may indicate your pet dog is hurting and should be brought to a veterinarian to be checked. Failing to Recognize Pain in Pets A lot of pet owners don’t recognize the signs that their pet is experiencing discomfort. We are used to being able to express our own pain that we fail to recognize the signs in our pets. One example is osteoarthritis in pets, which causes chronic pain. Osteoarthritis has a slow and gradual onset and some pet owners misinterpret this as part of the normal changes brought about by aging, rather than pain in their pet. Prevention is Better Than a C ure Part of preventing any health problems with your pet is giving them a balanced diet, letting them exercise regularly, and of course, bringing them to the veterinarian for a regular checkup. It is also important to pay attention to your pet’s physical state and usual behavior patterns, so any changes can be monitored and assessed accordingly. One of the best times to physically check your pet is while grooming or petting. You can check your pet’s paws or belly for any signs of injury, swelling, or redness. These can indicate that your pet is hurt and is in pain. Your veterinarian can provide medications or supplements in case of pain due to injury or even age-related conditions such as osteoarthritis.


There may also be cases wherein your veterinarian will recommend running a few diagnostic tests on your pet. This can range from blood work to x-rays, or even an ultrasound to determine the cause of pain in your pet.

This is usually done in cases where the cause of the pain cannot be determined through a physical exam. Depending on the cause, your veterinarian may give pain medications and supplements or recommend a change in diet or lifestyle. Pain relief for pets can be given in the form of injections or tablets. Chronic pain from health conditions such as arthritis often needs long term pain relief which can be controlled with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids.

Please take note that human pain relievers such as acetaminophen or aspirin should never be given to pets without consulting your veterinarian first. Our metabolism is different from animals and while common over-the-counter drugs can be safely taken by humans, it can be deadly to pets.