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Animal Pain Awareness Month Seeks to Educate Pet Owners on Pain Management

2:52 pm

pain-management-petsLike humans, animals can experience immense pain, but unlike humans, they can’t tell you about it in words. While some animals may experience acute pain from time to time, others may be dealing with chronic issues that you aren’t even aware of.

In the past, not all veterinarians believed that pain management was important, but research shows that uncontrolled pain can lead to other health issues including impaired immune function, delayed wound healing, increased risk of sepsis, and cardiovascular stress. Acute pain can also indicate a chronic problem that is undiagnosed.

To help educate the public, the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management dubbed September Animal Pain Awareness Month, which coincides with human medicine’s Pain Awareness Month. The IVAPM’s goal is to educate pet parents about their pet’s health when it comes to pain management treatments, whether the pet deals with acute or chronic pain.

AERA wants to share with pet parents the different types of pain and what signs to look out for so your pet can get the care he or she needs, faster. AERA’s board-certified anesthesiologist, Dr. Lydia Love, knows these signs well, as she provides acute pain management and anesthesia monitoring before, during, and after surgical procedures at our hospital.

Symptoms of Pain in Pets

When animals are in pain, they start to act differently. If you start to notice odd behaviors, you may want to take notes to bring with you to your family veterinarian. It is important to be educated on the signs of pain, as well as how best to communicate them with a vet to ensure your pet gets the proper care. Always be on the lookout for common pain symptoms.

Cats and dogs respond differently to pain, and these lists don’t cover everything. If you are worried about your pet, be sure to call your family vet for more information on the steps you should take.


You know how your dog normally behaves. If you start to notice unusual behavior, your pet could be in pain. The following behaviors are good indicators that your pooch is experiencing pain and should be brought into the vet.

  1. Less interaction with family
  2. Sleeping more
  3. Lameness/limping
  4. Disinterest in favorite activities
  5. “Grimacing” with ears back and eyes partially closed
  6. Hiding
  7. Loss of appetite
  8. Weakness
  9. Trouble going to the bathroom
  10. Vocalization when handled or touched

One day of these symptoms may not be much to worry about, but if it persists, your dog may be experiencing some sort of pain that needs to be treated. Call your vet to see if your concerns warrant a visit to the vet.


Cats exhibit many of the same symptoms as dogs when in pain, with a few extra to look out for. Some additional signs include:

  1. Hissing or biting when touched
  2. Tense body posture
  3. Flicking tail
  4. Decreased jumping

Many of these symptoms are very hard to detect, and some of them don’t have any meaning on their own. If you are worried about your cat, be sure to call your vet and share your concerns.

Diagnosing and Treating Pain in Pets

Pain in pets can often go unnoticed, and while some pain is due to obvious injury, other times, it can be hard to determine a cause. In some cases, pain can even be a symptom of another larger problem. Cancer and arthritis are two of the most common conditions that can cause your pet a significant amount of pain, and many times, these conditions aren’t diagnosed immediately because it is difficult for our pets to tell us what is bothering them.

Acute Pain

Acute pain can be caused by a variety of factors. If your pet has recently had surgery, an infection, or a traumatic injury, your pet is probably experiencing acute pain. This type of pain usually starts abruptly, can be intense, and can lead to the development of chronic pain.

Treatment for acute pain will require a trip to the vet. If your pet just had a surgical procedure, your pet’s surgeon and anesthesiologist will already be prepared to safely manage his or her pain during and after the procedure, but if the pain is the result of an accident or medical illness that your pet hasn’t already been treated for, you need to bring him or her to a veterinarian.

A vet will be able to come up with a treatment plan that uses pain medication responsibly for cats and dogs. While you may think that you can give your pet human pain medication out of your medicine cabinet, that is a very bad idea. Not only will the dosage not be correct, but some human medications are deadly for pets.

It is very important to follow the instructions given to you by your vet. In some cases, what appears to be acute pain can actually be a precursor to a chronic pain condition. If the treatment doesn’t seem to be helping, give your vet a call to see what the next steps should be.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is most commonly associated with diseases that can be debilitating for cats and dogs. These diseases cause pain that needs to be constantly managed to keep your pet comfortable. In some cases, there may only be treatments for the painful symptoms, while in other cases, your vet may be able to treat the root cause of the pain.

Some pet parents attribute common behaviors of dogs with chronic pain to aging or “slowing down,” but these behaviors may signal something much worse than typical aging. Chronic pain isn’t normal, and a further investigation into the cause should be conducted.

While there are many different chronic conditions that can cause pain, some of the most common are osteoarthritis, arthritis, cancer, and other degenerative diseases. It is estimated that 25% of dogs and 90% of cats have pain associated with arthritis. Cats and dogs with these conditions will be experiencing a lot of pain and may start displaying some of the behavioral changes listed above. Be sure to make an appointment with your family veterinarian if you suspect your pet may be experiencing chronic pain.

If you ever feel your pet needs medical care immediately and you live in the Fairfield or Little Falls, NJ area, you can contact Animal Emergency & Referral Associates, AERA's 24/7 emergency veterinary hospital, at (973) 788-0500. Animal Emergency & Referral Associates is open 365 days a year, including holidays, for emergency pet care. AERA also has a full-time, board-certified veterinary anesthesiologist on staff that is available for pre-surgical consultation appointments as well as perioperative anesthesia and post-surgical pain management, should your pet be at a higher risk for anesthetic complications, have an issue with acute pain following surgery, and for safe monitoring of pet’s undergoing and recovering from anesthesia at our hospital.