Being able to recognize signs of when your pet is in pain is important. Pets, unlike other members of our family, can’t communicate when they are experiencing pain. Dogs and cats tend to be more resilient than people. In most cases they cope with pain and continue with their normal daily activities. It isn’t until the level of pain is high that it becomes obvious.

Just like with people, dogs and cats are individuals. Some dogs are more resilient than others. This individuality isn’t breed specific. I have seen smaller breeds that people would assume to be more “sensitive” exhibit a higher pain tolerance and be more resilient than larger breeds that one would assume is “tough”. Cats are more resilient than dogs, and for this reason it is harder to recognize signs of pain in cats.

Assessing pain in pets can be difficult, sometimes even for a veterinary professional. However, there is a basic formula that you can use to help evaluate your pet at home. The “Three A’s”; Attitude, Activity and Appetite can give you a lot insight into your pet’s health.

Attitude is basically how your pet is acting. Though easier to evaluate in dogs, it can be applied to cats as well. Bright, Alert and Responsive (B.A.R) is a term we use in Veterinary medicine. It means your pet is happy, energetic and displaying its normal behavior. It’s happy to see you, is responsive when you address it, ask it to go on walk or play with a toy. You know your pet best, and you know what is normal for your family member. Once we use “normal” as the baseline, it makes it easier to recognize abnormal behavior. More subdued, quiet or depressed are abnormal behaviors. Not as responsive or energetic. Not eager to go on a walk or play. For some pets, especially cats, hiding or avoiding behavior is seen. Increased anxiety, restlessness, increased deep breathing or panting especially at night. All of which are signs that your pet could be ill or in pain.

Activity can be viewed as the normal activities your pet does in a day or week, and how well or if they are able to accomplish them. The start of your pet’s day is when they awake in the morning. A lot of information can be gained watching your pet “get out of bed in the morning”. Pets sleep more than people, but an increase in the amount of time your pet stays in bed or reluctance to get out of bed in the morning can indicate a problem. How long does it take your pet to physically stand up? Does your pet struggle to stand up? The first few steps getting out of bed are also important. A lot of dogs exhibiting arthritis will show signs, or limp when they first get up. Once they get moving and their joints get lubricated this sign can be missed. Is your pet reluctant to go up stairs, jump on Furniture, or to go on long walks. A lot of information can also be obtained watching your pet “going to the bathroom.” Pets with back and hip can have problems posturing to perform this simple function. Lastly, any change to your pets walking or running, whether it’s as obvious as limp or subtle as “a few missed steps”, is abnormal.

Appetite is a very important tool in monitoring your pet. A decrease in your pets appetite or reluctance to eat or drink are signs that your pet is ill or in pain. Just like activity, a lot of information can be gained from your pet’s mealtime. How interested in eating is your pet? Did it finish all it’s food? Does it appear that your pet is interested in eating, but it doesn’t eat it’s food? Is it avoiding hard food or treats? Does it look like it’s having difficulty chewing? These signs could indicate pain in your pet’s mouth or with it’s teeth. Also pets with neck or back pain will sometimes avoid eating because it hurts to lean down and approach the food dish. It is for these reasons that it’s important to;

  1. Monitor your pets food and water consumption
  2. Take a few minutes to watch them eat
  3. Measure out their food , rather than “topping up” the bowl (esp. for cats)
  4. Train your dog to eat in 30 minutes or less, rather than letting it graze throughout the day. Dogs are meant to eat their food in one sitting. Dogs that are grazers are much more difficult to monitor. This means that you have a better chance of finding signs in your dog if it’s not a grazer.

In our practice, we subscribe to the fact that owners know their pet best. We know that owners are often the first one to recognize subtle signs in their pets who can’t communicate themselves. I have seen first-hand numerous occasions where owners were embarrassed that they were over reacting or being paranoid, when in fact they were right that something was in fact medically wrong with their pet. Other clients thought something was wrong but couldn’t pin point exactly what was wrong and delayed an appointment. The purpose of this article is to help guide owners to recognize signs that something is wrong and catch it early. You can then confidently seek Veterinary care to help insure your pet is well and pain free.


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