Is My Pet in Pain?

Sep 7, 2022Blog Posting

dog lying on the floor, pet in pain

When a human is in pain, he or she can call a doctor—but an animal cannot. That’s why it’s important for pet owners to watch for signs that their beloved companion is in pain.

How do you recognize when your pet is in pain?

Pain has as many manifestations as there are acute injuries, chronic conditions, and individual diseases. Pain experts define pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.”

Pain is very subjective and difficult to measure. Because dogs and cats instinctively hide their pain to prevent potential predators from targeting them when they are injured, pain assessment in pets can be challenging. The outward demonstrations of pain vary widely from pet to pet. It is important to recognize that just because your pet does not cry, limp, or show other obvious signs of pain, that does not mean it is not in pain.

Even though our pets cannot tell us when they are in pain, there are signs you can look for that indicate your pet is experiencing some distress. There are signs common with any pet, such as:

  • Decrease or loss of appetite
  • Being off by themselves — not joining the family
  • Aggression
  • Lameness (limping)
  • Crying or whining
  • Excessive licking or scratching

Then there are more specific signs of pain depending on the type of animal. For example,


  • Tight or twitching muscles
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Arched back
  • Holding their head below their shoulders
  • Panting


  • Hiding
  • Vocalization, e.g., frequent unpleasant or urgent sounding meowing, groaning, hissing, growling.
  • Decreased grooming or increased grooming but to a particular area (potentially leading to bald patches and sore skin).
  • Panting is not usual for a cat. If your cat is panting, it can indicate extreme fear, pain, or difficulty breathing.
  • Aggression when you touch them in some regions of their body.

Managing Your Pet’s Pain

Once we have assessed your pet and found the root cause of their pain, we begin treatment. Part of the treatment includes managing their pain. The pain could stem from a disease, an injury, or be age-related such as arthritis or recent surgery. In either case, it is essential to understand why pain management is vital. Of course, our pets are part of the family, so we do not want to see them suffer. But there are also physiological benefits to treating and managing pain in pets. When we do not control their pain, they can experience an increase in the production of stress hormones, such as cortisol. This increase in hormones can cause:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Slower wound healing
  • Increased length of hospital stay (after surgery)
  • A decrease in gastrointestinal motility

Pain Medication

When possible, we try to manage a pet’s pain without drugs. However, there are instances when we need to administer pain medication for the pet to heal from whatever physical ailment it is experiencing. For example, a pet needs to be kept calm and comfortable after an injury or surgery so its body can heal quickly.

Companion Laser Therapy

Laser therapy provides a non-invasive, pain-free, surgery-free, drug-free treatment which is used to treat a variety of conditions and can be performed in conjunction with existing treatment protocols. Relief and/or improvement is often noticed within hours depending on the condition and your pet’s response. Whether your pet is rehabilitating from trauma or injury, healing from wounds, or simply aging, your companion can benefit from this innovative approach to treating pain. For more information about our Companion Laser Therapy, please visit our website blog:
Laser Therapy for Companion Animals.

Supplements and herbal guidance

We offer many types of supplements and herbal remedies that can help relieve your pet’s pain. Please feel free to ask us which products we recommend for your pet and visit our on-line pharmacy.

Final Words

Untreated pain is something that no pet should experience. By closely observing your pet for subtle signs of pain and working with your veterinarian, you can help your pet enjoy a pain-free life. There are many veterinary treatments that can eliminate or reduce both acute and chronic pain. Talk with your veterinarian to understand what your pet’s treatment options are.


Dr. Kathryn Moriarty
Aspen Veterinary Clinic


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