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Vet Talks: Discomfort Awareness in Pets

Vet Talks 3 min read
Vet Talks: Pain Awareness in Pets

One of the most important things to know as a pet owner is how to tell when your dog or cat is in discomfort. Discomfort can be a signal of a life-threatening issue.  Signs of discomfort (even the subtle signs) will be more obvious to you if you have a good idea of what your pet’s “normal” is. This includes getting to know the normal attitude, energy level, gait, appetite, thirst, sleep patterns, and other physical and behavioral patterns in pets.  

If you feel that your pet may be in discomfort, please be cautious as both dogs and cats may exhibit more defensive and protective behavior due to the discomfort.

Signs of discomfort in pets include:

Dogs and cats in discomfort are more likely to bite, and often more likely to vocalize when in discomfort.

  • Biting: Dogs and cats in discomfort are more likely to bite, and often more likely to vocalize when in discomfort. Your pet is not doing this intentionally to lash out at you, it is a natural behavior in some dogs and cats to bite in response to discomfort, so take care in evaluating and working with your pet during these times.
  • Posture change: Some dogs exhibit a rigid or hunched body stance when in discomfort. If experiencing abdominal discomfort, dogs will stretch like a “downward dog pose”. An uncomfortable abdomen can also come out as difficulty getting comfortable – getting up and down frequently, feeling restless. Cats may growl or hiss when stroked, touched, or moved. Cats can even exhibit non-stop purring or excessive licking when in discomfort.
  • Heart and lung changes: Discomfort in dogs and cats often causes an increased heart/pulse rate; a faster breathing pattern and panting may be seen.
  • Eye changes: Dilated pupils in both dogs and cats can sometimes mean discomfort in the body. Enlarged, squinting, bloodshot, or cloudy eyes can mean discomfort from glaucoma or other ocular diseases.  
  • Mobility changes—Cats in discomfort do not move as well and may even cry in discomfort when moving about. Cats tend to not want to jump on furniture or high places; dogs may not want to go up or downstairs. In addition, not moving around at all can mean your dog or cat is in discomfort.
  • Eating and drinking: Decreased appetite and drinking. If your dog or cat seems like they want to eat, but stop, it could mean dental discomfort or stomach discomfort.

Other signs include:

  • Straining to urinate or defecate, which may mean bladder problems, kidney problems, prostate problems, or intestinal blockages.
  • Swellings on their body, which may mean infection, inflammation, or cancer.
  • General irritability or crankiness
  • Behavioral changes – not wanting to socialize with family, hiding, or isolating oneself

It is important to speak with or see your veterinarian anytime your dog or cat exhibits any sign of discomfort. Remember that some signs of discomfort may be much more subtle than any I’ve listed above.  

If your pet has been diagnosed with a chronic condition, it is important to know if the condition has an uncomfortable aspect, what signs to look for, as well as discomfort-relieving treatment options. Your veterinarian will be able to inform you of any specific signs of discomfort for a particular chronic condition.

Remember, animals suffer discomfort just like we do. There are many options to treat cats and dogs suffering from discomofrt, including medication, physical rehabilitation, and holistic treatments like acupuncture, laser therapy, massage, and herbal supplement.

If you would like to know more about a holistic option for your pet, please contact us for an online vet consult — We are always happy to help.

Dr. Hillary Cook DVM

Dr. Hillary Cook DVM

Dr. Hillary Cook is a graduate of Virginia Maryland Regional Veterinary Medical school. She has been practicing holistic and integrative veterinary medicine for over 20 years. She certified in Veterinary acupuncture and is fully qualified in Western and Chinese herbalism. She is the owner of Animal Wellness Center, an integrative veterinary clinic in Crozet, VA. She enjoys spending time with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of pets including dogs, cats, and chickens. When time allows, you can find her in the garden or on the tennis court!

Published: September 16, 2016

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