5 February 2015
As a veterinarian I often hear the phrase “Fluffy is not in pain, he is still eating and active“. Judging pain in an animal is difficult because they don’t talk and often they don’t show typical signs of pain that we humans show and if they do they are very subtle. There are two reasons for this behavior;
The first is that cats, dogs, small mammals, birds and even lizards don’t know that they can live without pain. They do not know that they can go to the veterinary clinic and receive medication or treatments to make them feel better. In the wild these animals are required to live with chronic pain and survive harsh conditions and sparse food. So for them acute or chronic pain is just simply a way of life.
Secondly animals need to look tough. All animals even if they are a predator can become someone’s prey. A predator will look for a weak or sick animal to attack. For that reason every animal from a pet bird to a pet dog will often hide any discomfort they are experiencing as a survival instinct.
So far we know that animals will not obviously exhibit pain as survival mechanism. That means when they do exhibit pain it must be something that is VERY painful and requires a visit to the veterinarian. Signs of pain can be as subtle as grinding teeth to limping to crying out in pain when touched. I sometimes have a client that are so in tune with their pets that they will come in and say “fluffy is just not herself“. Not “being yourself“ is definitely a sign that some kind of issue is going on and requires a physical exam and possible some diagnostic tests to determine the cause.
When judging an animals’ pain it is very important to have empathy. If during a physical exam we find that Fluffy has dental disease but is still eating and seems happy we must put ourselves in Fluffys shoes. When I was 18 my wisdom teeth got infected and it was so painful! I could still eat, go to school, walk and talk but I was grumpy and had very little patience. It was only once the antibiotics started having an effect and I felt better that I realized my grumpiness was related to my discomfort. My family couldn’t tell by looking at me how uncomfortable I was, they only knew because I told them (all the time).
Since becoming a veterinarian I have seen animals live with painful conditions with no obvious outward signs of pain. The most amazing thing is when these animals start pain medication or treatment and the owner will call me to tell me that Fluffy has become himself again. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that they are now pain free!
If you think your animal is in pain or uncomfortable please do not hesitate to call us we can help you better understand your pet.