How to Tell If Your Dog or Cat Is in Pain

Pets that are limping or experience lameness can potentially be a sign of an injury In recent years there has been increasing awareness of the need for pain management in our animals.  From routine surgical procedures to every day medical cases, pain management has become an increasing part of veterinary practice and now considered to be an important standard of care.  Sometimes pets may show no signs of pain. Particularly cats are great maskers of illness symptoms and discomfort. Other pets may show signs of excessive crying or vocalization when handled or upon moving.  Other pets may have stiffness or lameness, particularly with acute injuries and/or with arthritis or back problems in older pets.

Some pets may be restless, while others are reluctant to move at all, often laying in one place for hours. Whenever soft tissue and/or orthopedic surgical procedures are performed on our pets, it can be presumed that there will be some element of pain involved, and pain management should be considered.  Amongst the many medications available include anti-inflammatory medications such as Rimadyl or Previcox in dogs, as well as opiate type medications such as  Buprenex and Tramadol in both dogs and cats.

Joint supplements such as Super Joint Enhancer, Yucca Intensive and Glyco-Flex can often be helpful for chronic arthritis in pets. Finally holistic medical treatment options such as acupuncture, chiropractic and homeopathy, as well as physical rehabilitation can often help chronically painful pets, or to help with post-operative recovery, particularly in orthopedic cases or back surgeries.

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  1. I’m quite surprised you left out two very common indicators of pain: panting, and especially for arthritis, licking the area (e.g., at the hip joint). I have a 14 y/o “mostly” Shepherd (that I adopted at 7 y/o) who’s been taking Dasuquin with MSM (the high MSM seemed to make the difference) for two years and it was miraculous. He also takes Omega 3 (krill oil). Only recently have I decided that he needed a Rx pain reliever. Had I not started the Dasuquin w/MSM he would have been taking the Rx then.

  2. My dog died of kidney failure & how do i get through this? I had her for 16 yrs. Black Lab

  3. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 19, 2012 at 12:23 am

    It is very hard. Surrounding yourself with family and friends is always helpful, especially this time of year. Consider flower essence known as rescue remedy from health food store which is excellent for emotional stress in people or animals.

  4. We have a 6 years old Cocker spaniel. Last Monday I noticed that he was favoring his what it seemed right front paw and was walking very slow. By Wednesday it became his left rear leg and he would cry out in pain when turning to get up from laying down. The Vet gave him Previcox and suggested neurological evaluation. After reading all of your articles it clearly looks as a joint hip problem especially since his back is almost humped.

  5. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMay 20, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    I would not assume hip problem. Sounds like could be spinal or back problem as well as spinal problem in neck. Best to have proper vet exam again and possibly x rays to evaluate. Try yucca intensive from 1800petmeds for natural pain relief, as well as dog gone pain which you can find on line

  6. Thank you for a response however my question was not answered previously as stated.
    We did go to see a neurological specialist and it is not neurological. Orthopedic specialist had determined that hi has a torn ligament. He gave him carprofen and told us to put him on a diet. What happens to a torn ligament ??? The medication can effect the kidneys if used for a prolonged time. What about his pain and difficulty in walking. I have to carry him up and down the stairs. He weights now 43 lbs and is pretty long for a Cocker Spaniel.
    Thank you in advance for your prompt answer.

  7. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMay 23, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Torn ligament may slowly heal on its own over time but there may be increased arthritis in the joint. Arthritis may even occur with surgical correction as well. If carprofen used over long period of time, it is good idea to monitor blood liver, kidney function, etc. Carprofen is good for pain, but other meds may be need to be added like tramadol or gabapentin. I would also put him on good joint supplements like super joint enhancer, as well as yucca intensive from 1800petmeds. Proanthozone antioxidant also may help at same time as well.

  8. Hi,

    I have a 2 year old, 93 pound lab mix who has completely \blown out\ his back left knee. The local vet says orthopedic vet specialist surgery is needed to fix the ligaments, etc. We have him on a pain/inflammatory pill 2X daily. We’ve restricted his activity and only walk him on a leash now. We are in the process of getting him on a joint supplement but I’m having trouble finding the correct kind and balance of amounts. The local vet suggests Dasuquin but there are two kinds; one with MSM and one without. What’s the difference? Which one would be best? And is there anything else besides surgery for options? The surgery alone is over $3,000. Any other suggestions/recommendations?

  9. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMay 31, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Dasuquin with MSM is probably best choice. Also consider other joint supplements like proanthozone and yucca intensive from 1800petmeds. IF symptoms persist more than several weeks, may need surgery.

  10. Every time I lose a pet, I fall apart. Two loses ago, I lost my beloved cat, he looked after me. When I was sick, he did not leave my side. It was hard for me to think about throwing out his kitty liter! The best way to move forward is to replace your loss, it will never be the same, but you will have saved a life in a shelter that would have been put down without no one holding his little paw and giving him a final kiss and goodby.

  11. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianNovember 7, 2013 at 1:40 am

    Hi Vicky. thanks for sharing your sensitive thoughts.

  12. I feel it should be noted that nsaids carry special risks for some breeds. I have Samoyeds and nearly lost one of mine due to Rimadyl a few years back. Apparently, it can cause them to bleed out internally. As it turns out, many Samoyeds have had this problem and it is now known among breeders that nsaids are contraindicated in this breed. Vets think I’m crazy but they didn’t spend thousands trying to save their dog after only one pill on Christmas day and a half pill the day after. I’m sure there are other breeds with this sensitivity. Are you aware of other breeds that may be impacted due to breed genetics? I should mention that I’ve had this breed for well over 40 years. Thanks, Judy Bennett

  13. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJuly 10, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    Labrador retrievers are also known to be occasionally sensitive to rimadyl , and may react more frequently than many other breeds.

  14. I have a 13yo Boston Terrier, Otis. He has been with us since he was 2 months! He has a real bond with my wife (his mommy) when he’s in pain he’ll bark at her, almost trying to tell her that he hurts! Obviously animals are smarter than we give em credit for, they’ll tell ya if somethings wrong

  15. My 25# Male 9 yr old Bombay cat Alpha has been waking up all night jerking & licking his joints and constantly grooming. I feel he is experiencing joint pain now as the leg joints and paws seem to be the targets. I just lost my dog and cannot afford to take him to a vet at this time as I am 70 and on a limited income. I do have MSM powder, Glucosimine/Condroitin liquid, Meloxicam (5 mg) left from my aged dog on hand.

    I feel this behavior is joint related. Any suggestions.

  16. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianOctober 18, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    I would recommend cosequin for cats from 1800petmeds, as well as possibly an antioxidant like proanthozone and/or yucca intensive from 1800petmeds which may help. I cant recommend any other drugs i.e meloxicam, etc until your cat is examined by a vet.

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