September is animal pain awareness month. Why? Because animals don’t express pain the same way humans do. This month is an opportunity to learn more about how to recognize the signs of pain in our fur-babies, and what to do to help them feel better. This observance was started by the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management, an organization dedicated to pain management best practices in the veterinary industry. It’s meant for everyone from pet guardians to veterinarians and vet techs, to raise awareness, educate, and advocate for animals about pain and pain management.
Types of Pain
Animals can end up with pain for just as many reasons as humans. They just can’t express it the same way we do. In particular, they can’t always talk about it and tell us what they need, which is particularly frustrating for pet guardians who know their fluff ball is under the weather but can’t do much to help them. Pain can be the result of surgery. They can end up with stiff joints from not getting enough movement or exercise. Or they can end up with soreness and pain from overexertion. Arthritis and cancer are common forms of pain as well. They may experience chronic pain, which can be a long decline that often gets misdiagnosed as “getting old.” Remember, old age is not a disease. Diseases cause pain. Or they can suffer from acute pain, which is typically (though not always) more obvious, such as a hurt paw that makes them limp. Pain can also be the result of everyday problems, such as digestive discomfort and upset from commercial dog foods that are often hard on dog and cat digestive systems because of fillers and by-products. Luckily there are many solutions to try when it comes to pain management. Medications are a common go-to, but there are also physical therapy and rehabilitation, acupuncture, water therapy, laser therapy, acupuncture, massage, and more.
The most important thing to remember is if something causes pain in humans, it causes pain in animals. We know from studying anatomy and physiology that animals have nerves and receptors that carry pain messages, just like humans. They also experience many symptoms humans do, such as an increase in blood pressure, changes in behavior, and reflexes for self-preservation. However, they also react to pain in many ways humans do not. For example, humans may cry or cry out when they feel pain. Animals may do, but they also may withdraw, become irritable, or display other animal-specific signs of pain.
Common Pain Symptoms
A noticeable decrease in activity. If Mr. Socks or Fido don’t want to play as much as they used to, it’s unlikely it’s just a sign of getting older. The more likely answer is they aren’t feeling well. It’s up to us, as their guardians and advocates, to learn what we can and find ways to help.
Not going up or down stairs. This may be because they have an injury, muscle pain, or arthritis. If it starts suddenly, it’s probably an injury. If it’s longer lasting, it’s important that we make an appointment and see what can be done to diagnose and help our cat- and canine-companions.
Difficulty standing up after lying down for a few minutes. Mr. Whiskers and Garfield shouldn’t have to suffer trying to do simple everyday activities like getting up and moving around. If it seems like it’s difficult, or becoming difficult, this is the time to take them in for a check-up. There are even some diseases that cause joint and muscle pain, the treatment of which, can provide near immediate relief.
Becoming withdrawn or irritable. Being in pain can get on top of anyone, especially when it’s ongoing. If our kitties or pups become more and more reclusive or uninterested in being at with the family, it may be a sign of pain. Similarly, if they become irritable, nip at family, or growl when approached, recognize that behavioral changes are not normal. Luckily, changes like these are also not permanent if you can discover the problem.
A decrease in appetite. Animals have a natural instinct for self-preservation. This includes eating and being healthy. When there is a decline in appetite, it could be because the food is bad, it’s causing digestive discomfort, or because they are experiencing pain unrelated to the diet. This would be something to address at a vet appointment.
Licking, scratching, or overgrooming a particular area. Too much attention on a particular area can be boredom, but it can also mean they are trying to self-soothe and relieve pain in the only way they know how. Examining the area and getting it checked for injury or disease is important if there are no other obvious causes of the extra attention they are paying to a sensitive area.
Pain has many causes, many treatments, and can show up in many different ways. The best way to care for our fur-babies is to watch for the signs of pain. Take them for vet checks as needed, and apply one or more of the many options for pain management. There’s no reason for an animal to live in pain. Be aware and compassionate throughout all life stages.
Also, consider prevention. Adding supplements to their diet throughout their life is a meaningful way to lengthen life and ensure they go pain-free for as long as possible. For example, EcoMobility™ Joint & Hip Complex for Dogs is highly-absorbed joint relief and support for dogs who are older, heavy, or genetically predisposed to joint problems. It’s an inexpensive and easy-to-use option that will ensure our pups get the hip and joint support they need to stay in optimal agile health.
Also, EcoDigestive™ Probiotic & Enzyme Support Formula for Dogs & Cats improves canine and feline digestion and the absorption of nutrients in their diet. It can help eliminate pain due to digestive discomfort, such as upset stomach, flatulence, and constipation or diarrhea. Whether we have a dog or a cat, there’s plenty we can do to prevent, identify, and manage pain throughout their lifetime to ensure a comfortable, dignified life.