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The 5 most common mistakes people make in Failing to Identify Pain in their Pets

For many of us, our pets are integral members of our family, and we would hate to think that they may be suffering without our knowledge. Despite this, failure to identify that a pet is in pain is one of the most common situations that vets face when talking to pet owners each day.

Our aim - to assist you in recognizing what signs to look for, so that you can avoid this pitfall and keep your furry family member comfortable and happy for as long as possible.

Mistake # 1 - A pet is limping, but their owner believes that "they’re not in pain" or, they’re “not in pain, they’re just attention seeking"

1. Let’s delve into this a bit- when was the last time you limped? Did you limp because you were trying to get someone’s attention, or was it because putting your full weight through that leg was causing you discomfort?

2. Limping is one of the main indicators of pain in pets. The very fact that they are choosing not to put their full weight through that leg tells you that the leg is painful.

3. Are they trying to get your attention? No…but if they have got your attention, that is good because it means you can get them checked out to address the source of their pain!

4. Limping = pain

Mistake # 2 – My pet doesn’t cry, moan or whine so they can't be in pain

1. Animals have a strong survival instinct, so showing weakness by crying out is not typically a behaviour they exhibit unless the source of the pain is sudden and unexpected

2. What they do instead, is to avoid the actions that cause or exacerbate their pain, such as avoiding jumping up onto the windowsill (cats) or jumping in/out of the car (dogs).

  • If you watch your pet closely, you’ll notice in the early stages of pain that there will be a point of hesitation just before they jump. They are hesitating because they know this action will cause them discomfort and are trying to position themselves in such a way to avoid hurting themselves.

  • This is your indicator that they need a vet check up to locate the source of their pain, and to address the pain before it gets so bad that they can/will no longer jump at all.

3. Crying/ moaning/ whining = unexpected pain

4. Avoidance of certain activities = chronic/ ongoing pain

"Animals suffer from pain just like we do...Acute pain is obvious and distressing. Chronic pain can be subtle, and masked as “getting old” or “slowing down.” Age is not a disease, but pain is." International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM)

Mistake # 3 – My pet is old, or “it’s just old age”

1. Age is not an illness. The ageing process leads to different body systems developing certain issues, but each of these problems can be managed and addressed to make your pet’s ageing years happier and more comfortable

2. Arthritis is a great example. It is a progressive degenerative joint disease that worsens over time, but it can be treated! There are numerous products, services and medications that can assist in delaying your pet’s arthritis as well as reducing their pain to allow them to continue to comfortably participate in family activities

Mistake # 4 – Ignoring that your dog has started to sit differently

1. Many dogs with cruciate disease will start to sit with their sore knee held out to one side because this angle reduces the pain and discomfort to their knee when sitting

2. Any change in the way your pet holds themselves may be an indication that they are in pain and are trying to make themselves more comfortable

3. Holding the leg out to one side when sitting is called a “positive sit test” and is often an early indication of cruciate disease

4. Early intervention can help us in identifying the problem and addressing it to improve your pet’s long-term outcomes

Mistake # 5 – Ignoring that your cat is hiding/sleeping more

1. Many people notice this change in their cat’s behaviour but don’t understand the significance of it

2. Cats are the ultimate survivors and masters in hiding their pain – sometimes by hiding themselves in the back of closets, under the bed, under the sink, or outside in the bushes

3. If your cat suddenly starts to exhibit hiding behaviour, it is quite likely they are in pain and in need of veterinary attention

"As many as 92% of all cats exhibit some clinical signs of arthritis. It is one of the most significant and under-diagnosed diseases in cats." American Association of Feline Practitioners

The Good News - Pain can be treated!

In many cases, the cause of your pet’s pain can be detected in a simple veterinary exam and can often be treated or managed successfully once a diagnosis has been obtained.

In some situations, it may be necessary to run blood tests and/or x-rays to provide additional information so that the correct treatment is instigated, and to protect your pet from unnecessary treatments or medications to avoid causing them harm should they have other underlying health issues.

Since arthritic pain is often worse in cold weather, the lead up to winter is an excellent time to address these issues so that treatment can be commenced before the cold weather really kicks in.

One example of this would be a course of arthritis injections that can help to slow the progression of arthritis and to provide pain relief at the same time. Administering these injections at the start of winter can enable you and your pet to enjoy family activities with as much comfort and enjoyment as possible despite the colder weather.

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"How Do I Know if my Cat is in Pain?" Feline Pain Management Brochure; American Association of Feline Practitioners

"Animal Pain Awareness" International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM)


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