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How to tell if your pet is in pain

Written by Dr. Colleen Fisher  | Published on: 11/16/2020


Most pet parents expect cats and dogs to cry when they are in pain. The exact opposite is true.  It might not be obvious to you that your pet is in pain, but there are some telltale signs that you should watch for - let’s explore some clues that might mean your pet is in pain. 

Sign that might indicate pain in pets

Cats and dogs may show these signs when they are in pain:
  • Lose interest in their favourite games
  • Sleep longer or be slower to wake up
  • Change their eating habits like chewing more slowly or laying down to eat
  • Hide from busy family activity
  • Growl, hiss, or snap when approached, especially around unpredictable young children

Read your pet’s body language for signs of pain

  1. Flat ears when approached or touched. Your pet anticipates that their pain may be increased with petting or picking up. If your pet’s ears move like satellite dishes away from each other or flatten against the head, they are anxious about something.
  2. Eyes may become squinty or open wide in surprise. When pets anticipate that movement or interaction is painful, they will squeeze their eyes closed just like we do. If they don’t realize that something was going to hurt, their pupils will dilate, and you may see the whites of their eyes.
  3. Body postures become tight as they protect a painful body part. Depending on the type of pain experienced, animals tuck in on themselves. Painful limbs may be held out at abnormal angles. If a pet is experiencing pain in their abdomen, their bellies may feel very hard and tense.
  4. Whisker position and facial changes. Cats in pain show whiskers held straight and angled away from the cheeks. Detecting pain dog using their whiskers is challenging because of the huge variation in facial structures among different breeds.
  5. They gulp down their food or only chew on one side of their mouths. Dental disease can be incredibly painful for pets. Watch for changes in how your pet eats, drinks, and licks their lips after finishing breakfast and supper. Pets who become disinterested or bored with previously loved treats and chew toys may have dental, mouth, or throat pain.
  6. Limping and walking stiffly. An animal who limps has pain when walking normally is trying to ease their discomfort by changing the way they move. Just like some aging humans who become stiff and arthritic in the morning, aging pets feel the exact same way.

The most common sign of pain in cats and dogs?  No signs!

Cats are especially well-known as masters of disguise and will do almost anything to pretend everything is fine. You know your pet best. If you notice a change in appetite, behaviour, sleeping pattern, or if your pet experiences an accident – even if they seem fine – contact your local veterinary clinic for a physical examination and pain assessment.

Pet insurance can help with the cost of vet visits

Pain assessments, diagnostics, and treatments can all be eligible for coverage when your pet is insured with Petsecure. Learn what’s covered by Petsecure and get a free quote today.