Dr. Sydney Routley: Recognizing pain in pets


Pain recognition in animals has come a long way recently. Animals show pain in many different ways. No one wants their animal to be in pain, so it is important to recognize some signs that might not be obvious to us, especially since they can’t talk to us.

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For dogs, clear signs of pain include crying out and limping, but some less-apparent signs of pain can be reluctance to jump or move in a normal way. Moving slowly or stiffly are common signs that dogs are painful. Another thing they may do is not eat or drink well, or not go to the bathroom. Shaking, panting, and hiding can be more symptoms of pain as well.

Cats tend to hide signs of discomfort better than dogs and may show pain by hiding, being hunched up, and they may stop grooming themselves. Sometimes, cats and dogs can become aggressive when they are painful, and resent being held or moved. They are just trying to tell us that it hurts and would like to be left alone. This is an important sign that they should see a veterinarian.

Livestock like cows and sheep may grind their teeth and not eat as well when they are in pain. These animals can appear very stoic, and it’s important to recognize painful conditions such as castrating, dehorning, and lameness can be addressed with medications.

Reptiles do not show pain the way that mammals do, and it can be very difficult to appreciate pain in this species; even with things like broken bones that are painful.

Small mammals like rabbits, guinea pigs, and rats will often stop eating, be reluctant to move, and may appear very unkempt and ungroomed. When these animals stop eating, they can get into trouble quickly with their whole body, so any changes should be addressed immediately.

Horses can be dramatic when it comes to pain, and may shake, tremble, and sweat a lot. They will often limp on a leg if it is bothering them, and kick at their belly or roll if their abdomen is painful.

For every species, there are different options for pain management. Some options include ice packing, Epsom salt soaking, and wraps that may be appropriate for injuries on the surface.

Other options are different types of medications or acupuncture. Some medications are given by mouth, and other types are best given by injection or by IV catheter. Often, chronic low-grade pain such as a tooth infection or arthritis are harder to recognize than acute pain such as a broken leg.

It’s important to recognize signs of pain to help your animals, and if there are any suspicions that your animal may be in pain, contact your veterinarian to get more information.

Dr. Sydney Routley is a 2012 graduate of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. She was raised in Fort St. John and first started working at the North Peace Veterinary Clinic as a student back in 2004.

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