Animals evolved to hide pain. It is advantageous for animals to try not to appear wounded or injured even when they are so as to protect themselves from predators in the wild.

For our pets, it is not always obvious, and they don’t always communicate pain or discomfort in our language. Sometimes they may be silent sufferers without outward signs for us to realize they are in pain.

For this reason, in veterinary medicine, it is important to recognize and treat pain EARLY.

Dr. Lily and Dr. Eve are two veterinary acupuncturists, colleagues, and friends who started talking about this subject.

One of the most common scenarios is a pet who is limping but does not otherwise cry out or act differently with their day-to-day routine. Or it may be a pet who is just more hesitant to jump on couches or go up and down the stairs.

They may be in pain. Even if they aren’t saying so.

Please know that animals can be in pain without screaming, crying, or whimpering.

Dr. Lily once saw a dog who was holding up a back leg but came into the clinic wagging his tail and wanted nothing else but to be petted and loved. He seemed to still be in good spirits and did not cry out or whimper. Except on x-ray, we found out he had broken hip bones! Can you imagine if you or I had broken our hip? We would for sure be complaining (maybe crying and screaming) in pain. Animals can have an incredible tolerance for pain and be so stoic that we don’t know the extent of the pain.

Dr. Eve has seen numerous patients who have had vague symptoms that were hard to put a finger on… such as hiding, having a picky appetite, or just “slowing down.” After treating these animals for potential pain, even if we couldn’t figure out where it was coming from…. so many of these animals were happy and “like new” again!

Pain is one of the most common conditions that we treat as veterinary acupuncturists, and we want to share a few tips for recognizing subtle signs of pain so we can mitigate and treat them early before they get out of hand. This will have a lasting impact on the health and quality of life of our companion animals in the long run!

Here are some behaviors to look out for:

Change in an animal’s gait or stance:

  • Walking or standing differently
  • Sitting or resting differently
  • Seeming uncomfortable when lying down, changing positions often
  • Limping or holding up a leg while walking or standing
  • Crouching or arching the back
  • Seeming tentative or reluctant to go up/downstairs or get into the car

General behavior changes:

  • Vocalizing (crying or whining)
  • Excess time or frequent trips to the litter box
  • Hiding or being more quiet than usual (especially for cats)
  • Urinating or defecating in the wrong place
  • Seeming tired, lethargic, or not wanting to do his or her normal routines
  • Irritability or biting

Other specific symptoms:

  • Appetite changes (eating less or becoming more “picky” )
  • Licking joints or licking wounds
  • Pawing at an eye or an ear, holding an eye closed

What about itching?

  • Itching is a low-grade form of pain and needs to be treated too. Scratching is the most easily recognizable symptom.
  • Less commonly recognized symptoms of itching also include over-grooming, excessive licking, and even trembling at times. Stay on the lookout for these signs of itching in your pet!

We can also give animals the benefit of the doubt— We KNOW certain conditions hurt or cause discomfort (arthritis, wounds, pancreatitis, eye injuries, urinary tract infections, etc.), so it is best to treat animals preemptively for pain before they need to show us how much they are hurting.

It is also important to note that all of the above are potential symptoms of pain but could be symptoms of other conditions too. So it is very important to speak with your veterinarian if you notice any of these changes.

Yes, pets are good at hiding pain. That’s why staying vigilant can really help them get better quickly. If you think something is off, talk to your veterinarian early to see if diagnostics or treatment may be needed for pain or discomfort.

Stay tuned for our next blog on how we can help pets who may be experiencing pain.

Cheers to the comfort of our furry loved ones,
Dr. Lily & Dr. Eve