September is Animal Pain Awareness Month. My Lab, Sanchez, is 13-years-old. I still sometimes have a hard time identifying the difference between a behavior problem and a physical ailment. Our dogs are so adaptable and want to please us so much, it’s sometimes challenging to detect their pain.
These often subtle signs will help you determine when your pet may be showing signs of pain. Some require a veterinary visit, but other times there are simple things you can do to help. When Sanchez had a slipped neck disc at age 9, I thought he was in so much pain that he’d never recover. A few acupuncture sessions later, and he turned into a puppy!
1. Mouth Fluttering
It wasn’t until I made a video with Sanchez in it that I noticed he was making all sorts of mouth movements. (He starts the mouth movement at :28 seconds.) I knew he wasn’t stressed and his lip licking was not a calming signal. It sparked enough curiosity that I had my vet look at this mouth. Sure enough, he needed his molars pulled. As hesitant as I was to have this operation on a 13-year-old dog, he came through it just fine and started acting much younger post-surgery. I didn’t realize he was in pain for months.
2. Decreased Appetite
A change in desire to eat is not always a sign of illness. It sometimes can also be about mouth pain. If you give Fido or Fluffy hard food, try some soft food and see if they want to eat. Experiment with different textures. Decreased appetite is a good reason to visit your vet.
3. Reluctance to Get In The Car
While this might happen throughout a cat’s entire life, dogs may show hesitancy getting in a car when it causes them pain to jump up (or down). Try using a ramp so that they can easily get in and out without adding any pressure to their joints.
4. Difficulty Standing Up
Older pets tend to sleep a lot and they can be slow at getting up. Give them plenty of time to stretch as they know how to listen to their own bodies. But, if Fido or Fluffy is hesitant to stand up, they may be feeling pain. Personally with Sanchez, this is one of the areas where it’s hard to tell the difference between behavior and pain. But, I can usually find out the answer quickly when I entice him with a yummy treat.
5. Decreased Activity and Engagement
When pets are in pain, they often want to be left alone. Watch for any signs of social behavior changes. Is Fido engaging with his dog buddies? Is Fluffy getting in more cat fights? Senior pets have a taxed nervous system in general and aren’t as curious as their puppy or kitty playmates. But notice if there has been any drastic change in their activity level. It may be a reason for a vet call.
The International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management also offers this downloadable chart that helps you determine when you’ll need to make a vet visit.
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