Signs Your Pet May Be Painful

When we talk with clients at the front desk, on the phone, or in an exam room one of the common things we hear is that pet owners are concerned that their pet is painful, but they aren’t sure.  Often times they should trust their suspicious, because they are often correct.  If you think your pet may be painful, but aren’t sure here are some things to consider.


This is a pretty obvious sign that your pet is painful.  Any time they are limping or seem to be favoring a particular part of their anatomy, it generally means there is an issue and you should schedule an appointment with the vet.  Sometimes owners hesitate to schedule their pet to be seen because the limping seems to come and go.  Pets can be pretty good at hiding symptoms so if the limping goes away, but comes back then it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with the vet.


An increase or decrease in grooming behavior could indicate that your pet is painful.  Dogs and cats will lick more at areas that are painful and sometimes this licking is so frequent or aggressive that it can lead to hair loss.  A decrease in grooming behavior, especially in hard to reach places, can mean that your pet is having a hard time flexing to get to those places.  We see quite a few older cats that have matting or an unkempt look to the back half of their body and this generally is due to arthritis in their owner back.

Decrease in Appetite

When your pet stops eating, or doesn’t eat as much it can be a signal that they don’t feel well and pain can certainly be one reason.  Broken teeth or dental disease can make eating painful, but pain in other areas can also lead to loss of appetite.  Pain isn’t the only cause though and an exam with the vet can help determine what’s going on.

General Behavior Changes

Some changes in behavior can be difficult to spot while others are more obvious.  Slowness to get up and around, especially in the mornings, can indicate pain.  Hiding, fidgeting, hesitation about going up/down stairs, lying around more or a decrease in playfulness can also be signals that your pet is painful.

Changes in Attitude

Changes in your pet’s attitude can indicate that they may be painful.  If your usually happy go lucky dog suddenly starts being grumpy, that could mean they are painful.  If your usually cuddly cat suddenly doesn’t want to be touched, that could mean they are painful.  If you have multiple pets and they usually get along great, but there suddenly seems to be a shift in how they get along with one another…you guessed it, this may be a sign that something hurts.

Respiratory Rate

Shallow, rapid breathing is an indication that your pet is painful.  Likewise excessive panting could also indicate pain.  Any time your pet is experiencing either of these symptoms, you should get them into the vet as soon as you can as they can also be symptoms of other serious health problems.

What To Do

If you see any of these symptoms or behaviors in your pet, the first thing to do is to contact the vet and schedule an appointment.  A full physical exam and possibly some diagnostic testing to figure out the source of your pet’s pain are needed.  You should never give your pet any over the counter medications intended for people.  These medications aren’t safe for pets and can cause serious problems.


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