Recognising Pain

In your pet

How do we recognise Pain in our pets

Sometimes recognising pain in our pets is easy...and sometimes it's not
Any pet that yelps or cries or whimpers or screams is obviously in pain. But what if they are injured and they don't do this? Are they not in pain? Of course not

Animals have a nervous system, they have pain receptors just like us, they have the same responses to analgesics that we do and they have the same avoidance reflexes that we do. The difference is in their behaviour. The signs of pain can be subtle and well hidden

So, what are we looking for

The most obvious sign, as mentioned, is vocalisation - crying, whimpering, screaming, yelping. Other signs include - in no particular order

    reluctance to move- rabbits and cats often exhibit lethargy

    restlessness - an inability to get comfortable

    abnormal gait or posture - avoidance


    increase in heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature

    signs of fear e.g. trembling and anxiety signs

    panting, hiding, urinating or defaecating in inappropriate places

    changes in behaviour e.g. licking, scratching, pacing, pawing at the mouth

    inappetance / anorexia

The list is not exhaustive

Sometimes we notice that our pets are just "not themselves" or "just not quite right" Prey animals, like rabbits, by nature, show very little outward signs of pain because they don't want to be an obvious target for a predator. As a pet owner, you know your pet's normal behaviour best, so you are more likely to know when their behaviour has changed. In the veterinary hospital, fear and adrenaline can mask the behaviour you see at home so we, as vets, rely heavily on a good history to determine the cause of your pet's problem. Little observations can tell us a lot

Not all of these signs indicate pain by themselves so we have to take into account everything else that's going on too. An increased heart rate, panting and raised temperature can be achieved by a run around the doesn't mean they're in pain. (Well, it might for unfit me.) But a pet that's lame, hasn't been for a run around the block and has an increased heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature is in pain

Also, a wagging tail and purring does not mean your pet is not in pain either. I've seen dogs wag their tails and cats purr with horrendous injuries after being hit by a car. You can't tell me that didn't hurt

Painful problems are not always obvious either - high blood pressure can cause headaches, gut problems can be extremely painful, burst anal sacs are painful, hot spots are painful, ear infections can be painful, a tick bite can be painful, arthritis, tonsilitis, toothache etc. Just think, if I had that problem, would I be in pain? If yes, then your pet is probably in pain too. They rely on all of us to help them