Like people, pets can experience pain from a variety of medical problems. However, most pets are skilled at masking signs of illness or discomfort, and it can be challenging for pet owners to know when their four-legged companions need help. September is Animal Pain Awareness Month and the perfect time to bring your pet in for a veterinary examination to determine if they are experiencing any pain. Recognizing pain signs in your pet may be easier for obvious injuries such as a broken leg. However, pets can suffer from many painful conditions that may not be immediately apparent. Our Animal Emergency Care team describes five common painful conditions in pets and ways to recognize the signs. 

#1: Osteoarthritis in pets

Age is not a disease, but your pet’s organs and body may begin to show signs of wear and tear as they approach their grey muzzle years. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint and bone condition that is common in middle-aged and senior pets. However, any pet may develop osteoarthritis or degenerative joint problems. Pets who previously have experienced dislocated joints, or bone, ligament, or tendon trauma have an increased risk for osteoarthritis. In fact, more than 20% of dogs may experience joint problems in their life and more than 40% of cats may suffer from degenerative joint disease. Like human joints, your pet’s joints are protected by cartilage which provides a smooth surface for their bones to glide over during movement. Erosion of the cartilage over time can lead to chronic inflammation and pain. Recognizing osteoarthritis signs in pets may be challenging because they may mimic other disease signs or problems. Bring your pet in for a veterinary examination if they show the following:

  • Limping
  • Hunched posture
  • Urinating or defecating outside of the litter box in cats
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Difficulty moving, getting up, or lying down
  • Irritability when touched or picked up

#2: Intervertebral disc disease in pets

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) occurs when the cushioning disc between the spinal column bones, or vertebrae, bulges or slips out of its normal location. Bulging discs can lead to neuropathic pain in pets because of pressure or damage to the surrounding nerves. IVDD also can cause paralysis in severe cases and requires immediate veterinary care. Additionally, activities such as running or jumping can cause a ruptured disc. Small breed dogs such as dachshunds have an increased risk of IVDD because of their body shape, but pets of any breed can experience the disease, especially those who are obese. Bring your pet in for a veterinary examination if they have any of the following IVDD signs:

  • Abnormal walking or knuckling over of the paws 
  • Reluctance to jump or climb stairs
  • Weakness in the rear limbs 
  • Vocalization
  • Anxious behavior
  • Tense muscles or hunched posture
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty posturing to eliminate

#3: Pancreatitis in pets

It can be hard to resist your pet’s drooling stares at your dinner plate, and it may be tempting to give them the last bite of steak. However, feeding your pet fatty, rich treats can lead to pancreatitis. The painful, potentially deadly inflammatory condition is often caused by the sudden release of pancreatic digestive enzymes. Pancreatitis is more common in dogs, but cats also can be affected. Pets who have pancreatitis are at risk for dehydration and organ damage and should receive immediate veterinary care. Pancreatitis severity and signs are variable and pets with mild signs may not require hospitalization. Signs of pancreatitis may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain

#4: Periodontal disease in pets

Many pet owners dislike their pet’s smelly “dog breath” and may mistake the odor as normal. However, bad breath is often the first clue that your pet is suffering from painful periodontal disease. Dental disease is a common problem in pets, and more than 80% of dogs and cats will have dental problems by the time they are 3 years old. Dental disease is a progressive condition and over time dangerous oral bacteria can lead to loose teeth, gum inflammation, or painful tooth abscesses which may require surgery. Oral bacteria also can travel through the bloodstream and cause life-threatening kidney, liver, or heart infections. Pets who have dental disease often will continue to eat, which can make it challenging for pet owners to recognize their pet is in pain. Bring your pet in for a veterinary examination if they have bad breath or exhibit the following signs:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Decreased appetite
  • Swollen or red gums
  • Irritability or increased hiding in cats
  • Abnormal or difficulty chewing
  • Dropping food from the mouth while eating
  • Refusal or reluctance to take hard treats
  • Swelling around the mouth
  • Nasal discharge
  • Bleeding from the mouth or blood on chew toys
  • Pain when touching the mouth or face

#5: Traumatic injuries in pets

Traumatic injuries in pets can range from a mild skin abrasion to a more severe injury such as a broken leg. Pets who have suffered a severe trauma, such as being struck by a car or falling from any height, often have multiple injuries, including internal injuries that may not be immediately obvious. Do not wait to bring your pet in for a veterinary examination if they have experienced any trauma, even if they are not showing obvious signs of pain. Common trauma signs may include:

  • Limping or inability to walk or stand up on all four legs
  • Puncture wounds from another animal
  • Swelling on any part of the body
  • Active bleeding anywhere that does not stop after five minutes
  • Bleeding from the mouth, nose, ears, or rectum, or when urinating
  • Exposed tissue, bones, or muscles
  • Yelping, meowing, or barking when touched or moved

Call your family veterinarian if you suspect your pet has been injured or is experiencing any of the conditions described here. However, if they are showing signs of pain after hours, call Animal Emergency Care. #AECprevents

Sources:

https://www.petmd.com/dog/centers/nutrition/evr_multi_how-to-recognize-arthritis-signs-in-pets

https://www.aaha.org/your-pet/pet-owner-education/ask-aaha/Pancreatitis-in-Pets/

https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/neurological/c_dg_intervertebral_disc_disease

https://www.aaha.org/globalassets/05-pet-health-resources/mobilitymatters.pdf

https://www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system/the-exocrine-pancreas/pancreatitis-in-dogs-and-cats