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no pain, no gain? petplan pet insurance takes a look at pain in pets

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

As recently as two decades ago pain in our pets was largely overlooked. In fact, some veterinarians considered pain to be a good thing, as they thought it would limit a post-operative pet from having too much activity. My, how our outlook has changed. As our pets become more and more a part of the family, when they hurt, we hurt.


If you’ve had a pet in the clinic recently for a surgical procedure, you know how much pain management protocols have changed. Veterinarians, now more than ever, are acutely aware of managing pain both during and after surgeries, and your pet will probably be sent home with one or more medications to give post-operatively for pain.


Obviously, when your pet has had surgery, you assume there will be some discomfort. But what about pain from illness or injury? Signs of pain in pets can be easy to miss. Because animals still rely heavily on the “survival of the fittest” lifestyle, it benefits them greatly to hide signs of pain to ensure that they do not fall victim to predators. This is especially true in cats and other smaller pets such as rabbits and hamsters.


Pay careful attention to your pet and look for classic signs of pain, such as:

  • Limping or abnormal gait
  • Listlessness or restlessness. Often pets shift and seem to have a hard time getting comfortable
  • Whining, whimpering, or meowing
  • Licking specific joints
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Antisocial behavior.  Painful pets will often retreat away from the family.
  • Nipping or biting when touched.  Pets often are protective of the painful areas.


Some of these signs are attributed to “old age” but often pain is an underlying cause.  Older dogs are more prone to pain from osteoarthritis, so pay attention to the way your dog gets up from lying down. Is she having a difficult time rising from a sleeping position, or trouble on the steps? Arthritis can be to blame, and your veterinarian can prescribe pain relievers to alleviate some of her discomfort.


Cats can get arthritis, too, so these warning signs also apply to our feline friends. Cats are also prone to dental disease, and oral pain can certainly arise from tooth and gum infections. Inappetence, weight loss and chattering teeth can all be symptoms of mouth pain. Your veterinarian can easily tell if your pets have dental disease during their routine exams.


Studies have proven that effective pain management improves the recovery process (whether it is from surgery or illness) and reduces stress, allowing the immune system to function more effectively. If you think your pet may be in pain, either from illness or injury, please seek the advice of your veterinarian. Never give over-the-counter human pain relievers to your pets without first checking with your vet. Several of them are toxic to our pets, even at low doses. 

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Dr. Ernie Ward, Jr.Veterinary Advisory Board of Petplan
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