Because they can’t tell us, somehow we have to figure out when our pets are in pain. This quest for clear indications of pain is applicable for any animal species, not only dogs and cats, but also reptiles, birds, horses, and any other species with which we share our lives.
By definition, according to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, pain is:
- “localized physical suffering associated with bodily disorder (such as a disease or an injury)…
- acute mental or emotional stress or suffering…
- [something] that irks or annoys or is otherwise troublesome”.
It is usually easy to see when one’s cat or dog has a swollen face due to an infected tooth; or is holding up a leg due to trauma or disease in the joint, thus we normally think “localized physical suffering” is easy to identify. Signs of “emotional stress” depend on the individual – some show stress very clearly, others keep it a secret but may have subtle changes in behavior, such as decreased appetite, to give us a clue.
The third definition of pain is the hardest to assess – “troublesome annoyances.” A troublesome annoyance can be as simple as a cracked foot pad, indigestion, full anal glands, itchiness, and so on. Our pets don’t always display these subtle signs of irritation clearly, either.
From the perspective of the nervous system, evidence of pain can be seen in any change in behavior; what effects the body effects the nervous system so will result in some kind of a change.
Behavior changes that may indicate pain include:
- Excessive licking
- Many circling attempts before laying down
- Seeking soft places to lay
- Reluctance to stand
- Slow to jump on chairs or counters
- Not walking as far as they used to
- In some cases, crying in pain
- Many more
However, some animals are more stoic than others (they keep their pain a secret so that we humans don’t worry about them), therefore, all we notice are subtle changes, like sleeping more or less interest in playtime.
Because these changes come on gradually, people often think it’s simply their pet getting “older.“ If we relate it to our own situation, we know that we slow down as we age for many reasons, and pain is definitely one of the reasons. But we also know from our own experience that much can be done to help with pain.
If you notice any behavior changes in your pet (dog, cat, horse, bird, or other), contact your holistic veterinarian; (s)he may be able to identify the cause of your pet’s pain and do much to alleviate suffering.