Knowledge is power when it comes to managing pets’ pain. Be sure you know the right answers to these common concerns.

How can I tell if my dog is in pain?

  • Dogs that are in pain behave differently.
  • Dogs may withdraw, become listless or overly affectionate.
  • They may bark, whine or act unusually aggressive.
  • Often, dogs in pain lick, bite or protect a certain part of their body.
  • Their appetite may change, or they might soil in the house.
  • Dogs with arthritis may walk stiffly or have trouble getting to their feet.
  • Look for these and other signs of unusual behavior.

How can I tell if my cat is in pain?

  • Cats often hide the fact they are in pain, so identifying pain in cats can be difficult.
  • Cats in pain may hide or become unsociable.
  • They might hiss, meow or act unusually aggressive.
  • Often they lick, bite or protect a certain part of their body or lose their appetite.
  • Cats with arthritis, may walk stiffly, have trouble getting to their feet, or may urinate or defecate outside the litter box (because it may be too painful to get in and out).
  • Fail to groom themselves.
  • Look for these and other signs of unusual behavior.

You are in the best position to look for the subtle changes in behavior that may indicate your pet is suffering. It is important to stay alert to these signs, because the sooner your pet’s pain is diagnosed and treated, the sooner he or she can heal and resume a normal, happy life.

If I sense my cat or dog is in pain, can I use painkillers, like aspirin or Tylenol, that I have around the house?

No! Always contact your veterinarian before you give a pain medication to your pet. Common human pain medicines can be harmful and sometimes fatal to animals. For example, aspirin can cause stomach bleeding in dogs, and Tylenol can kill cats.

Would it be okay for me to increase the dosage of the pain medicine my veterinarian prescribed if my pet isn’t getting better? 

Please call your veterinarian before you change the dosage of any medicine. Some pets take longer to respond to a medication, and often the benefits aren’t realized until the drug is no longer administered. Over time, your veterinarian may choose to increase the dosage or try a different approach if the pain persists.

How will my pet heal if we give her a painkiller? She’ll run around like normal. Wouldn’t it be better for her to just lie in her bed and get well?

Your pet will heal better and faster if her pain is under control. If you’re concerned about her activity, you might consider confining her in a crate, cage or small room until she gets better.

I’ve never used painkillers with my pets before. Why do veterinarians prescribe them now?

Pain medications for pets are relatively new. It’s only been in the last decade we’ve learned that pets that take painkillers heal better than those that don’t. We’ve also learned that unchecked pain can lead to chronic, long-term pain that can be harder and more expensive to treat later.

Are these pain medications safe?

Medications undergo extensive testing. But, like all drugs, they have the potential to cause side effects in a small percentage of animals.

What are these side effects?

Side effects are rare with the medications we use, but those side effects to watch for include vomiting, diarrhea, blood in stools (they appear black and tarry, as if they contain coffee grounds), change in drinking or urinating, changes in behavior (such as depression), restlessness or appetite loss, yellowing of gums, skin or whites of eyes, and changes in skin (redness, scabs or scratching). If your pet experiences any of these symptoms, stop medicating immediately and contact your veterinarian.

Isn’t it natural for older dogs to have pain from arthritis? Is pain medication really necessary?

Old age is not a disease, but arthritis is. Fortunately we now have medications, nutraceuticals, and physical modalities that can alleviate much, if not all, of your dog’s discomfort, just as we do with people who suffer from arthritis.

Can changing my dog or cat’s diet help relieve her pain?

Yes, it can! It is especially useful to alleviate pain from arthritis. Some very specific aspects of diet or dietary supplements can help affect orthopedic and musculoskeletal pain. Our veterinarian can explain these to you.

How will I know when it’s time to stop treating the pain? When will I know that my pet has suffered long enough?

That’s a difficult question that varies from animal to animal and pet owner to pet owner. To help you know when the time is right, it may help to consider several quality of life factors and measure them daily on a scale of one to ten. Quality of life factors include such things as your pet’s appetite, hydration, hygiene, mobility, happiness and whether he’s having more good days than bad ones.

Read Dr. Eric Barchas’ Blog on Dogster: Veterinary Pain Management Makes Great Strides.