Any sudden behavioral changes that are out of the norm for your pet are suspect as signs of pain.
These may include one or more of the following:
- Hiding — under the couch, behind the dresser, in the back of the closet
- Escape attempts — trying to get outside for an inside-only pet
- Pacing or restlessness
- Changes in sleep patterns, insomnia, up at night
- Sitting erect, not lying down
- Staring off into space
- Dilated pupils
- Inappetance — not hungry — turns down food, lack of interest in eating
- Changes to urination behaviors — suddenly peeing in the house when your pet never had accidents before
You might think that an animal in distress would cry, but that’s often not the case. Vocalization such as whining, crying, or whimpering may or may not be present with an animal in pain. Please do not wait for your pet to cry before seeking help! Some pets never do.
IMPORTANT! Do not self-medicate your pets!
Please please please! This is very important! Many human medications are toxic and may KILL YOUR DOG OR CAT! Tylenol (acetaminophen) is particularly dangerous for cats, as just one example.
Please only give your pet drugs that have been prescribed and/or specifically recommended by your veterinarian.
Here are some guidelines to use if your pet is showing any changes in behavior and you’re worried that he or she might be in pain. Again, please seek out help from your veterinarian! Nothing on this website is meant as a diagnostic tool or specific medical advice. You must seek professional assistance for your beloved animal.
As prey animals, cats often do not show their pain much at all. If your kitteh has been experiencing a slow-onset illness, it can be especially tricky to catch the degradation in function or activity. This information is meant to help you assess the condition of your sweet kitty and to provide a guide to monitor any changes. Please seek out the help of your veterinarian if you have any concerns. Cats may be in pain and we don’t even know it, which I’m sure would break your heart if you discovered it later.
This is only a partial list of general symptoms that some cats might show. Every cat would have different signs. Monitor your kitty at different times of the day and over the course of several days to see what changes you observe.
Signs of acute pain in cats
- Holds their head down
- Squints eyes or hides head
- Hunched back
- Hissing when approached
- Stops using litter box
- Doesn’t move
- Doesn’t respond to people
These may be an emergency situation!
Signs of chronic pain in cats
- Less social with owners or aggression
- Urinating outside of box
- Focal pain
- Overgrooming, often leading to self trauma from over-licking
- Licking people, overly attentive
- Neglecting grooming, which is common in the case of dental pain
- Displacement behaviors, which are a response to stress that may include yawning, excessive kneading, sucking or chewing on fabrics, etc.
Some cats actually purr when they are stressed or in pain, so purring is an unreliable indicator of health status.
Pain is easier to notice in some dogs than others, but like cats, many dogs are very stoic and they hide their pain from us humans.
Signs of acute pain in dogs
- Unwillingness to move
- Tensing up, rigidity
- Aggression or even biting you when you try to touch him; warning you with pinned ears
- Extreme vocalization: A sudden cry; growling
- Constant groaning
- Panting heavily when at rest
- Hanging head, hunched over
- Unwillingness to lay down, extreme restlessness, gets up and lays down over and over
These may be an emergency situation!
Signs of chronic pain in dogs
- Looks uncomfortable or distressed: droopy ears, arched eyebrows
- Flinches or whimpers when you feel around the body
- Biting, licking or chewing at himself
- Reluctant to come to you when you call him
- Mobility issues: Won’t run up or down stairs as he used to, doesn’t want to jump up on the bed
- Difficulty getting up or lying down
- Decreased interest in play with you or other pets
- Doesn’t want to be picked up or held
- Sleeping in an unusual place, or change to body position during sleep
- Wanting to go outside to urinate in the middle of the night
The pain caused by many illnesses in animals can be managed. Just because your pet is showing signs of distress does not mean that the end is near. Please seek out the advice and treatment of your trusted veterinarian to help you find solutions to pain for your dog or cat.
When a cat or dog becomes older, behavioral changes that are often ascribed to the “normal aging process” may actually be indications of pain. This may involve many of the symptoms of chronic pain listed above, including increased sleeping, a reluctance to jump, decreased appetite, or a reluctance to be petted. All of these signs are pointing to discomfort in your pet. While these signs alone are not necessarily cause for alarm, they should not be ignored, either. Anything that makes you feel concern for how your dog or cat is feeling could be reason to take her to the vet.
If you’re not sure of what you’re seeing, you may want to take notes on when you first observe these signs, including the date and what was different from your pet’s behavior before. You can bring this information to your vet during the check-up.
Some owners are worriworts over their pets and become alarmist at every little sign. Others are too casual in not catching the signs of a problem before it becomes very advanced. You love your pet dearly but try to maintain perspective and balance as you evaluate their physical condition, so that you’re able to do what’s best for them.
Do you have a dog or cat suffering from an illness or disease? You can use the Quality of Life worksheet as one tool to assess his or her state and evaluate how things are going.