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Tips for dog and cat owners: Recognizing signs of pain in pets


Sleeping more, eating less, not using the litter box. These behaviors might not signal pain to the owners of your veterinary patientsunless you clue them in first.

CVC educator Janice Huntingford, DVM, DACVSMR, CVA, CVPP, CCRT, CAVCA, wants pet owners and veterinarians to work together to identify pain in dogs and cats. That way treatment can commence earlier-and pets can be comfortable more quickly. Watch the video to learn how Dr. Huntingford describes often-overlooked signs of pain to pet owners, or read the edited transcript below.

Pain management in pets should be a concern to both the veterinarian and the pet owner. The pet owner is likely to be the first to notice that their pet is in pain if they know what to look for. Signs of pain in dogs can include:

  • decreased appetite

  • limping

  • sleeping more

  • interacting less with family members

  • shaky legs

  • difficulty rising or lying down

  • difficulty jumping

  • difficulty going up and down stairs

  • general inability to do the things they like to do.

With cats, it can be tricky for owners to identify pain because cats are masters at hiding signs of weakness. Cat owners should watch for:

  • decreased use of the litter box

  • not jumping up on counters or couches (when they used to do that)

  • not interacting with their family

  • decreased grooming

  • a negative reaction to touch, such as biting.

If pet owners do recognize these signs of pain, they should visit the veterinarian and say, “I've noticed these problems; do you think my animal is in pain?”

For their part, it's a good idea for veterinarians to use a tool such as the canine brief pain inventory during every single visit, which will help their clients realize a pet may be in pain. If you can pinpoint that the animal is in pain, you can start appropriate pain management.

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