Signs of Pain in Pets

by Dr. Annie Forslund – Home Pet Euthanasia of Southern California

Just as there are a wide variety of manifestations of pain in humans, so are there for animals.

Some people tolerate dental work very stoically and honestly don’t mind it that much while the same procedure is unadulterated torture for others. Similarly, we have observed that if you cut a toe nail too short on one dog, he might simply pull his paw away while another dog might shriek so loud that an entire block will wonder what animal abuse has just taken place!

From those and many other observations, we conclude that animals do feel pain in similar ways as humans do, display it in as wide a variety of emotions and expressions as people do, and that there are variations in individual sensations and expressions.

There are two big differences between humans and pets: pets don’t express their pain with words and pets “hide” their pain. They also communicate in a different way and we just don’t understand it because we rely on words.

As pet owners, pet care givers and veterinarians, we have to learn to “read” those signs of pain. In addition, we have to look very carefully and sometimes surreptitiously at a time when the pet is not aware that we are observing him.

There was a study done with cameras in rooms where dogs were kept post surgically. It was observed that pets displayed known symptoms of pain while they were alone in the room and that when a human entered the room, those expressions of pain disappeared!

A pet will eat just to please you, a pet will wag its tail and do a variety of other activities also just to please you. Or a pet may exhibit “displacement behaviors,” like lip licking, sniffing, snorting or sneezing, when they are confused and simply don’t know what to do.

We must be aware of these facts so that we can help them with pain management and so that we can make the right decision of euthanasia when their pain becomes unmanageable.

Check my web site for a list of 60 symptoms of pain in pets that I’ve compiled from many sources. My goal is to raise awareness in pet owners and help them observe their ailing/aging pet with a more critical eye.

We should not simply rely on one or two extreme and evident signs before resorting to pain management, but we should look for the more subtle signs that arise earlier on. Doing this may avoid considerable unnecessary pain. Click here for more details.