Signs of Pain in Dogs and Cats that Every Owner Should Know and Recognize

Acute vs. Chronic Pain

As pet owners it’s our responsibility to ensure that our pets are not in pain. Unfortunately, pets tend to hide their pain. Before domestication, hiding pain was an important trait for survival as showing signs of weakness made them vulnerable to predators. However, if we look close enough there is usually some slight to large indication that our pets are not feeling well. 

Pets do not show pain the same way humans do, in fact vocalization is the least specific indicator of pain because of their survival instincts.

There are several different types of pain. Physiologic pain is an immediate or acute pain that serves as a protective mechanism to avoid tissue damage and occurs during the reparative or healing phase of an injury. It’s a short-lived pain response with a predictable duration. When pain persists past the point of effectiveness, it becomes maladaptive and is classified as pathologic or chronic pain. It’s an ongoing or intermittent pain with an unpredictable duration. Chronic pain can cause: elevated blood sugar levels, decreased blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract, reduced wound healing, decreased cellular immunity and increased platelet aggregation. 

Common Signs of Pain

Signs of pain in cats and dogs: anxiousness, fear, restlessness, trembling, guarding, reluctance to move, altered posture, immobilization, aggression, anorexia, lethargy, depression, insomnia, loss of ability to care for themselves, grimace, licking a painful area, hiding, agitation, constant movement, lameness, weakness and refusing to urinate/defecate.

Common signs of pain in cats: hiding, crouching, purring, squinting eyes, flattened ears, whiskers pulled back, grimace, inappropriate elimination, self mutilation, lack of grooming, excessive grooming in a painful area and a hunched over posture with head down.

Physiological signs of pain in dogs and cats: increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, abnormal respiratory patterns, increased salivation, tearing, enlarged pupils, elevated blood sugar and cortisol levels.


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