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Is My Pet in Pain? Symptoms of Pain in Cats and Dogs

Dog laying in hallway


There’s no question that your pet is like your little furry child. So, if your cat or dog is sick or hurt, you want to help them any way you can and as soon as possible. The best way to help your furry friend is to know how to identify a pet in pain.

When you know the pain signs to look for, it can help you identify potential problems quickly. And the sooner you know your pet needs help, the sooner you can get them aid.

Pets can show pain in obvious ways, such as whining and whimpering, limping, or pawing at a specific spot. However, sometimes your pet’s clues are more subtle, like staying still, not wanting to move, or not wanting to eat or drink.  A pet in pain might also show aggressive behavior because they don’t want you to touch them.

If you think your pet is in pain, the root cause could be obvious. For example, a thorn stuck in your pup’s paw or your cat refusing to eat hard food because of dental pain. You can sometimes take care of the problem yourself with basic pet first aid. However, other situations demand a visit to the vet. Therefore, get to know your pet’s clues for signaling that they're in pain and understand when a trip to the vet is necessary.

Cat sitting on chair

Is Your Pet in Pain?

If your dog or cat isn’t acting quite like themselves, something might be bothering them. It could be due to an injury, illness, or the environment, such as heat stroke. Personality, appearance, or behavior changes can signal that your pet is in pain.

9 Signs Your Dog Is in Pain

A dog in pain can give a combination of clues, from obvious to very subtle. Here are some things that could alert you to your pup’s pain.

  1. Your dog’s behavior changes. Dogs in pain can become antisocial, hide, or leave the room when you enter.
  2. Another change in behavior to watch for is if your pup acts aggressively when someone approaches or tries to touch them. If this is unlike your dog’s typical behavior, it’s a sign that something might be hurting them.
  3. Your dog’s appetite wanes, and they don’t want to eat as much. Or, your dog might start drinking more than usual.
  4. You notice your dog self-grooming more than normal. Dogs lick to calm themselves, so a sudden increase in licking their paws or elsewhere could be their way of trying to self-soothe.
  5. Increased whimpering, whining, howling, snarling, or any other vocal sounds.
  6. Any change in their usual breathing habits, whether increased panting or more shallow breathing.
  7. A change in mobility, such as limping, not moving as much, or walking stiffly. For example, stiffness could be a sign of arthritis in the joints. Also, if your dog is moving more than usual, like pacing or restlessness, they could be feeling anxious due to pain.
  8. Likewise, changing their body posture could signal something is bothering them. For example, if your dog is hunched or shaking, it could be a reaction to something they’re feeling.
  9. Your dog is sleeping more than usual. This extra sleep could be a way for your dog to try and heal. Or, it could be that they don’t feel like doing anything.

9 Signs Your Cat Is in Pain

Some of the signs that cats give when they’re in pain (and the reasons they do them) are similar to the ones dogs show. Again, look for changes in your pet’s physical appearance, behavior, and personality. Changes in any of these areas can signal potential pain issues.

Things to keep an eye out for to tell if your cat is in pain are:

  1. Limping or favoring a specific part of their body or walking unusually.
  2. Your cat can’t jump like they usually do, perhaps avoiding their usual high places.
  3. Your kitty won’t move as much. If your cat normally runs off when you have company, but now they simply stay put, they could be in pain.
  4. Your cat doesn’t want to self-groom as much as they usually do, or maybe not at all.
  5. Your cat hides a lot, doesn’t want to play, or generally acts unlike their usual self.
  6. They have a reduced appetite or don’t seem to be sticking with their regular feeding schedule.
  7. They start to groan or whine more.
  8. They are squinting or keeping their eyes closed.
  9. Your cat flinches or ducks away when you touch them.
Dog at vet

When to Call the Vet

If you suspect your pet is hurt or not feeling well, give them a quick examination. You might be able to tell what the problem is. For example, check their paw if you notice them whimpering when they walk or favoring one foot. 

You might notice a thorn or burr stuck between the paw pads. If your dog is a willing patient, you can carefully remove the thorn and apply some doggy wound-care ointment to the area.

But, if the condition is more serious, you can’t identify it, or your pet won’t let you help, call the vet. Don’t panic, though. Just because you must bring your pet to the vet doesn’t automatically mean it’s serious. 

What’s important is that you get your pet the attention and care they need as soon as possible. If you are unsure whether you can provide the proper treatment, then the best thing to do is call the vet. Your veterinarian can perform a full examination, offer a care plan, and give your pet medication if necessary.

What to Bring to the Vet if Your Pet Is in Pain

You’ll need to bring your pet, of course. But you also want to have details ready. Be prepared to answer questions about your pet’s symptoms, when they started, and other things you’ve noticed.

It’s a good idea to write this information down, so you don’t forget it when you’re at the vet. Also, if your pet started taking any new medicine or supplements recently, bring those with you too.

Depending on your pet's symptoms, your vet may also ask you to bring a stool sample. Changes in bathroom habits or the appearance of your pet’s feces or urine can provide important clues. 

If you think your cat is in pain, make sure to examine their waste when you scoop their litter. If you notice an odd smell, blood, or an unusual consistency, these could all be clues to a potential issue. For your dog, use a doggy waste bag to gather a poop sample you can bring to your vet.

Taking Care of Your Pet Means Looking for Clues

Remember, one of the most important ways to take care of your pet is to always look for clues for potential issues. You know your pet the best, so when something seems off, it’s the first alert that something’s wrong. Trust your gut in these situations and act quickly. 

When you get your pet help as soon as possible, you significantly increase the odds that they'll be okay. For more helpful resources and tips on caring for your fur babies, check out the rest of our blog. You'll find all sorts of valuable advice on being a fantastic pet parent.


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