The only thing worse than seeing our fur babies suffering in pain is knowing they were suffering, and we didn’t realize it.
Instinctually, dogs and cats will try to hide their pain in order not to appear weak to a predator. But there are subtle signs you may notice if they’re suffering.
1) Excessive grooming
When a dog or cat is in pain, they will often groom the area that’s causing them pain to clean and care for the wound. Even if there is no wound but the pain is internal, they may lick the spot.
2) Heavy panting
When your dog pants, you probably think nothing of it. But excessive panting warrants attention. It’s a sign of stress and that stress can be caused by pain.
One of my labs panted like crazy towards the end. I live in a warm place, so I assumed she was just cooling herself. But when I look back, I realize she was panting all the time… not just after activity.
I took too long to realize the panting was a sign of her pain.
Besides panting, you may also find that their breathing is faster or shallower. This can be a sign it hurts to breathe but it can also be a sign of general pain.
Your pet may be subtler. If they lick their lips when you touch a part of their body, they may be telling you it hurts.
Lack of appetite, particularly if your pet is a good eater, should be a red flag. Their pain may make it difficult to stand or to lean over the bowl. But when you’re in pain, you sometimes just don’t feel like eating.
Inappetence can be a sign of many ailments, some serious. So this definitely warrants a trip to the vet.
4) Shyness and aggression
An animal in pain can act out. They may try to bite or scratch if you try to touch them. If your always-sweet dog growls or snaps, or your mellow cat tries to bite or scratch you, they’re trying to tell you something. They’re going into protection mode so you don’t hurt them.
Have your vet evaluate your pet so you don’t get hurt.
If your friendly pet is suddenly hiding or doesn’t greet you at the door like usual, check for pain. They may avoid you so you don’t hurt them.
Some pets will seek constant affection when they’re suffering. But if the pet that typically likes to be held won’t let you pick them up or cries when you do, this is a warning sign.
Any noticeable change in attention seeking should cause you to question if something’s up.
5) General behavior changes
Is your pet depressed, lethargic, or mentally dull? Any extreme changes in behavior should cause the light bulb to go on.
If your pet suddenly won’t walk steps, jump, climb, or chase a ball something’s wrong. Everyone knows what it’s like to be in pain. You don’t want to do anything that’ll increase the pain.
You may also notice limping or stiffness when they stand.
A general disinterest in the things your pet used to love is a signal that something’s amiss.
6) Unexplained accidents
When a pet is in extreme pain, they may have accidents in the house. When the pain is too much to get up, a dog may not make it outside to do their business and a cat may not get to the litter box.
And if squatting is painful, they may just do their business in their bed.
7) Excessive vocalizations
If your dog is vocal, they may become less vocal. If they’re typically quiet, they may start whining, whimpering, yelping, growling, snarling, or howling. Do you find they’re vocalizing more than usual? Check it out with your vet.
Cats may purr more. Purring is not always a sign of pleasure, so take note if your cat is purring more than is typical for them.
8) Changes in sleep
Sleep is important for healing. As a result, your pet may sleep more than usual. Sometimes though, they’re sleeping more because it hurts to move.
If your pet is pacing and not sleeping, they may be too uncomfortable to stay in one place and rest.
9) Postural changes
Your pet that normally curls up in a ball to sleep may lay flat on their side when they’re in pain.
They’re back may be arched or sunken, while some may get down in a prayer position with their rear-end up in the air and their abdomen stretched.
Your pet may take a rigid stance or their usually perky tail may be tucked.
10) Eye changes
This one may not be immediately obvious to you. Pain can cause your pet’s eyes to become dilated. Conversely, animals with eye pain often squint and their pupils may become smaller.
If you’ve ever been in severe pain, you know you can feel agitated and restless. It’s difficult to sit or lie down. The same goes for your pet.
If you see they’re pacing— or sit or lie down and then immediately get up— they’re uncomfortable.
Sometimes your pet will sit or lie in an unusual position to minimize their pain.
Anything out of the ordinary should alert you to a problem. If you sense something’s up, reach out to your vet at once.
The sooner you identify your pet’s pain, the sooner you can treat it. But never, ever give your pet a human pain med without talking to your vet first.
As our pets age, things will hurt. They’ll get sick. And our young pets will have those inevitable accidents and illnesses. But minimizing their pain and keeping them happy is our job as a pet parent.
Knowing what to look for will help you spot a problem quickly so you can manage your pet’s pain and keep them comfortable.
Has your pet ever been in severe pain? How did you know? Tell us in the comment section at the top of the page.