Is your pet becoming less active, less playful, or desiring shorter walks? The following
symptoms could be early signs of  arthritis or hip dysplasia.

Many times we hear from our clients “I don’t know what’s wrong with him, he’s just not right”, and your assessment is based on what your pet looks like when he IS “right”.  There are many different
criteria we use to assess pain in dogs and cats, and most have to do with their actions and postures.

For example, a dog with back pain may experience the following symptoms:

  • may not lift his head high and may not wag his tail
  • Doesn't  follow you from room to room like s/he normally does
  • Droopy ears
  • Walking with a hunched  back
  • Taking smaller steps than normal
  • Fearful of being handled or picked up
  • Hiding from children and other pets, or general personality change
  • Facial expressions may not be as “happy” as they normally appears
  • Moving more slowly
  • Difficulty getting up
  • Weight shift to another leg
  • Reluctant to walk, jump or play
  • Refuses using stairs
  • Change in appetite
  • Change in behavior
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Lagging behind
  • Yelping when touched (not as common)
  • Panting
  • Limping

Crying or whining due to pain is actually uncommon.  Many dogs will not whine even when they are in moderate to severe pain. Panting is far more common as a sign of pain than whining, though panting is can also be a sign of anxiety or other disease processes.

As you can see, pain assessment is a combination of observations as well as knowledge of human pain.  While it is not quite as simple as saying “what hurts a person hurts an animal”, there are certain assumptions we can make.  We can certainly say, for instance, a broken leg is likely quite painful, because we know the damage that is created to the tissues with such an injury, and humans with broken legs are in moderate to severe pain.  What we cannot say is that humans and pets experience the same degree of pain or for the same period of time for a given injury or problem.  What may cause only mild pain in one species may be much more painful in another.  Likewise, while one medication may give adequate pain control to a cat, it doesn’t mean that medication will be right for a dog with the same problem, and many human pain medications can be deadly to both cats and dogs.  

Treatment Options

Proper nutrition and weight management.

                                   Being the proper weight avoids abnormal pressure                                                        on the joints of your dog. Giving your dog a balanced                                                    diet and avoiding being overweight can help reduce                                                        osteoarthritis pain.

Regular, low-impact exercise.

Depending on the size and breed of your dog, regular 20- to 40-minute walks are a great way to help improve your dog's mobility. Low-impact exercise helps strengthen the muscles that support joints and maintain joint flexibility. It’s a nice way for you to get a little exercise, too!

Regular examinations.

One of the keys to helping reduce your dog’s arthritis pain is early detection. Be sure to schedule regular checkups with your veterinarian.

Pain-control medication.

Your veterinarian may prescribe pain control medications. These may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, or opioids.

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Some dogs will stop to "think" about going up stairs or jumping on a bed, if they know it might cause them pain.
Pets can hide their pain so well it might not be obvious until it gets
severe.  This week we are talking about how to read the signs, and
what to do if you think your four legged friend is experiencing pain.
                Assessing Pain in Cats

Cats in pain are often harder to “read”.  Cats in                   pain will often hide or be antisocial, though cats                    who are normally antisocial may seek human                        companionship.  Some cats become quite vocal                     when in pain, though others are quiet.  Posture                     and facial expression are very important in                             assessing cat pain.  A happy cat will have his or                     her eyes completely open, or closed with a                             relaxed facial expression and erect forward-                           pointing ears. A painful cat will often have their                     eyes partially closed, their face appears tense,                      
and their ears are flatter or pointed more to the  sides than the front.  Painful cats will often crouch rather than laying all the way down, and generally don’t stretch out or tuck their feet under their chest like they do when they are happy.  Cats with chronic pain such as arthritis may be very difficult to assess without further diagnostics such as x-rays.  Lack of jumping, less running and playing, and weight gain or loss are often signs of chronic pain in cats.  Lack of appetite or very picky eating are also very common signs of pain and illness in cats. 

Below is a list of the most common signs of pain in cats:

  • Reduced willingness to eat
  • Reduced interest in people or the environment
  • Lethargy
  • Sitting immobilized or hunched up
  • Hiding
  • Poor or absent self-grooming
  • Excess grooming of the sore spot(s)
  • House soiling
  • Aggression
  • Loss of normal social interactions with cats or doggy buddies
  • Vocalizing (growl, hiss, purr)
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Fast, shallow breathing
**Only by combining these observations can overall pain levels be judged**

At the veterinary hospital, the feline patient’s temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate and pattern are monitored, but these do not seem to change in a predictable fashion in painful cats as they do in other species and so are not particularly useful clues.

We are only recently learning just how good cats are at hiding their pain, as advanced diagnostic tools allow us to “look into” our cats more thoroughly. Increased recognition of chronic, ongoing pain due to arthritis and bladder inflammation and other internal problems has thus occurred. A recent report estimates that among geriatric cats, 90% have degenerative joint disease. In spite of that, seeing cats with a lameness is really quite rare!

Uncontrolled pain will reduce healing, leads to weight loss and debility, and increased risk of infections due to faltering immune system protection, and other negative effects. It is important to control pain in the cat. Unexplained changes in cat behavior should not be ignored, since they can be an early warning sign of pain.

Keeping Cats Comfortable: Pain Management

Ouch… Yeow…these are familiar words
we use to describe pain. But do you
know what your cat says when experiencing
discomfort or outright pain? As a matter of
fact, cats are quite disinclined to share their
problems, so knowing when a cat is
uncomfortable is a real challenge. In the wild,
an animal that is ill, lame or crying out in
pain is more vulnerable to attack. Being stoic
favors survival out there! Pain management
is taking a while to come to the forefront in
this species, and this is one reason.

Another reason is that historically, veterinarians shied away from pain killers that we routinely use for dogs because these drugs are particularly toxic, at almost any level, for cats.  Now, extensive research has proved that some of these products can be used cautiously for cats too, either for short periods, at lengthened dosage intervals, or at a lower dosage levels.

Some pain medicines will never be safe or effective because cats are quite peculiar. Their liver lacks a fully functioning enzyme pathway, one that both canines and humans have. It is this missing enzyme in cats that leads to their relative intolerance of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) class of pain killer medications. Acetaminophen, carprofen, and aspirin are some examples of specific drugs with increased toxicity in cats due to this species-specific deficiency.

The painkiller drugs in the opioid group, such as morphine and related drugs must be given in appropriate doses or behavioral and physical side effects can occur. Now that we know what doses are optimal, these drugs are being used with great confidence by veterinarians for pain control in hospital, with excellent results.