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Knowing When Your Pet is in Pain

The International Association for the Study of Pain states that “the inability to communicate verbally does not negate the possibility that an individual is experiencing pain.” In other words, your pet is often unable to tell you that he or she is hurting in a language humans can easily understand. Instead, dogs and cats communicate suffering in their own nonverbal ways, and it is important to recognize the signs.

Some of these signs include:


Decrease in appetite



Hiding (particularly in cats)

Tenderness upon palpation

Panting or heavy breathing not associated with physical exertion

In veterinary medicine, the countless sources of pain can be broken down into four main categories:

Surgical– Soft tissue pain from surgical incisions

Orthopedic– Arthritis, tendon/ligament injury, bone fractures, orthopedic surgery, etc.

Chronic Illness– Auto-immune diseases, cancer, organ diseases, etc.

Traumatic– Lacerations, bone fractures, patients hit by car, etc.

Animals can be stoic and not outwardly show signs of pain, but all of these instances can induce suffering and it is imperative to keep this in consideration. For example, some owners may think, “My pet is getting old and so is naturally having a harder time walking,” when in fact their pet may be developing arthritis. Arthritis can be incredibly painful and discussing pain management with your veterinarian may be a wonderful thing for your older friend.

At Westside, we use two types of Western pain management: non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), and opioids/opioid-like drugs. NSAIDs, such as Meloxicam, Rimadyl and Deramaxx, decrease inflammation; thus, decreasing pain. These are well-suited for the treatment of arthritis and post-surgical inflammation. However, NSAIDs can eventually cause kidney and liver damage, so when a pet is on them long-term, it is important to routinely check bloodwork. While NSAIDs target inflammation, opioids only target pain without decreasing inflammation. Opioids such as Butorphanol or Buprenex and Tramadol (an opioid-like drug) may safely be given independently or in addition to NSAIDs, depending on the pet’s circumstance.
    Supplementing the traditional Western medications for pain, Westside also offers the option of Chinese herbs and acupuncture (components of which have recently been backed up by Western science and are now offered at some veterinary schools). Two of the four veterinarians here are Certified Veterinary Acupuncturists versed in cutting-edge research and can advise you on the best way to treat your pet with these methods. There are some stigmas associated with acupuncture; however, there is a growing field of peer-reviewed medical research that indicates that when done correctly, it can aid in wellness and help reduce pain and inflammation.

No matter what you opt to do, developing good communication between you and your pet is critical. The more you understand the way your pet communicates pain, the better your relationship can be. If you feel like your friend may be showing signs of suffering, the best thing you can do is bring him or her in to see a veterinarian at Westside Veterinary Clinic. We can help you determine the best course of pain treatment for your pet, your preferences and lifestyle. Together, we can work toward making life more enjoyable for all. FBN

By Dr. Chelsey Rae Calhoun

Dr. Chelsey Rae Calhoun was born in Cottonwood, Arizona and earned her veterinary degree at Colorado State University. She enjoys working with small animals and exotic animals, and is a certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. She is happily married with two beautiful twin baby girls and a small zoo of animals at home.

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