Recognizing Pain

**Work in Progress**

Unlike other medications, pain medication is always as needed. You don’t have to finish it all. You just use it until the pain subsides and you are done. I was always a little shocked when I’d explain this to pet owners and they would ask, “Well how do I know he’s in pain?” I never got used to the question. It always astounded me since recognizing pain is easy for me but maybe that is why I chose to be a veterinary technician. It isn’t always easy to see pain.

Signs of pain: Ears low and head low, eyes partially closed.

Humans are a strange animal. We get a paper cut and we cry for an hour. You can afford to do that when you are the top predator on the planet. Many dogs have learned this trait from us and will cry over the littlest of things. The gorgeous husky may turn into a baby at the first hint pain is coming but most animals are not like this.



The wild is a harsh place. If you show signs of injury, you have become prey. Pain can not stop them from hunting or evading predators. They have to just carry on. Domestication has taught our animal friends many new tricks, but displaying pain is still hard wired as dangerous. Unless the pain is truly unbearable, most animals will not advertise it, so we must watch for it. The best thing you can do is know what is normal for your furry friend. Then when little things change, you notice. Even if you don’t know what the trouble is, extended bouts of irregular behavior signal it’s time for a vet visit.

Signs of Pain:

Cats and dogs have a nictitating membrane we call a third eyelid. It is a whitish or translucent membrane they can use to protect from dust and wet the eye. It is usually hidden and something you don’t see. If you can see it for a protracted amount of time, please set up a veterinary appointment.

Tabby cat with visible nictitating membrane


Stances like this can be easily ignored as a cat sitting in the sun, but if your pet has this face even in low light or wobbles a little. They are in deep pain. I’m pretty sure I’ve made this face while suffering through a migraine at work.



Limping is a sign of pain. Even not eating can be a sign of pain but facial expressions really do it for me. This is one sad fellow. It could be just fear, or the big cone he is wearing but if your pet is doing this at home while you’re are watching TV, it’s time to start paying a whole lot more attention to them.





Other signs of pain (more info coming):

Lameness, Difficulty jumping, Abnormal gait, Reluctance to move, Reaction to palpation [applying light pressure with the hands], Withdrawn or hiding, Absence of grooming, Playing less, Appetite decrease, Overall activity decrease, Less rubbing toward people, General mood, Temperament, Hunched-up posture, Shifting of weight, Licking a particular body region excessively or exclusively, Lower head posture, Blepharospasm [squinting], Change in form of feeding behavior, Avoiding bright areas, Growling, Groaning, Straining to urinate, Tail flicking