How to Recognise Signs of Pain or Illness in Your Pet

Spotting the Signs: Why do Pets Hide Pain?

Throughout the domestication process, many wild animal traits have been lost or replaced. However, some, such as the concealment of pain, remain in today’s beloved furry friends. Domesticated animals, dogs in particular, often choose to hide their pain to prevent them from being seen as weak, which would make them a natural target in the wild. This can make diagnosis difficult for professionals and make noticing an illness or injury even harder for owners at home. Luckily, having a keen eye for certain behaviour can help owners notice the first signs that something isn’t quite right. 

The signs of pain in animals can be separated into two distinct groups: General behaviour and behaviour that occurs upon examination. It is important to remember that these behaviours are not always visible, and in cases where pain is chronic or part of a long-term condition, the signs can be even more subtle than usual, or completely invisible. Animals get used to their pain, and can quickly become accustomed to hiding it, so it is vital that close attention is paid to a pet as soon as an instance of concern crops up. 

General Behaviours

Should your pet show any immediate signs, these are examples of the types of behaviour they are likely to show. 

  • Shaking and twitching. These are involuntary actions that your pet may not have any control over, and therefore are the most likely to show. Areas of injury or illness may stand out with local shaking, or your pet may shake all over. 
  • Irritable temperament. If your pet is naturally prone to mood swings or generally acts in a grumpy manner, this might be less obvious, but for happy pets, a sudden change in mood or aggression levels should always be inspected more closely. Pets are more likely to snap at their owners if they are in pain, much like humans are. 
  • Crying or panting. It is more likely that a suffering pet will pant excessively, as making a crying sound would naturally alert others to their weakened state in the wild. However, a pet looking for reassurance will sometimes cry when they put pressure on an injured area. If your pet is open to affection at this time, you can provide some support with the usual methods to help ease their anxiety. If your pet is likely to snap when in pain, don’t increase their chances of becoming irritable by responding too intensely to their painting or crying. 
  • Reluctance to play or take part in physical activities. No matter what breed you have, your pet is likely to have at least one activity in their daily routine that is guaranteed to get them moving. Whether this is the promise of a walk or something as simple as running to the treat cupboard, any refusal to take part in something they usually can’t wait to do should be examined more closely. This is linked to lameness, stiffness, and any loss of appetite. Changes in enthusiasm can say a lot about your pet’s overall well-being. 

Behaviour on Closer Inspection

These are traits you might notice more once you have begun physically observing your pet and are commonly experienced when you take your pet to the vet for a professional examination. 

  • Flinching and moving away from touch. Affected areas irritate pets just as much as humans, and as much as we aim to rest and avoid touching painful areas, animals often do the same. It can be quite jarring to see your pet react in this manner, but you must not take it personally. 
  • Vocally reacting. From growling to yelping, many domesticated animals have a wide range of vocal responses to pain. These can differ depending on your pet’s personal temperament but generally take place when someone interacts with a painful area. 
  • From a medical point of view, some bodily reactions are exactly the same as you would find in humans. This can include warmth, redness and swelling in affected areas. 

When do These Changes Occur?

It is imperative that owners take note of when their pet’s behaviour changes. This could be immediately after a traumatic event, or they could form periodically or on a cycle. Your pet may act more unusually in the morning and evening, or immediately after exercising. Once you begin to recognise a pattern, you should communicate this to your vet in order to help them build a picture of what is affecting your pet. 

When it comes to treatment, it is always best to approach a veterinary professional first. Contacting the team at Animal Tracks Vet Clinic can help you put your mind at ease while you deal with illness or injury in your beloved family pet. Make sure to address the issue quickly and your pet will be on the road to recovery as soon as possible. 


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