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Pet Pain Signs and Therapies

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

by Crystal Coffie, RVT

While it was once widely believed that animals could not feel pain the same way humans do, studies have provided proof that animals and humans feel pain in the very same way. The mistaken belief arose because animals are experts in masking/hiding signs of pain, illness, and weakness. This instinct is present in every animal, and in the wild, functions as a life-saving skill. Even domesticated pets are not exempt from becoming food while unattended outdoors. Therefore, the masking instinct still serves them well. However, it also creates a challenge for the pet owner and veterinarian to determine when pets are in pain or hiding illness.

Many pet owners believe that if their pet is in pain, he/she will “vocalize” or cry out. While this may be true of some animals, many pets will vocalize only if he/she is in severe pain. Another popular belief is that the pet is not in pain, he/she is just “getting old.” Years of research  on pain and pain management, including extensive studies at Purdue University and the University of Colorado, have revealed many ways our pets show signs of pain and illness. More times than not, these symptoms would be things that are either new or unusual for your pet’s personality. They may come suddenly, or be a result of gradual decline.

Signs that your pet is in pain:

  1. Change in posture/gait (walking rigidly, limping, hunched posture, hanging head, tucked abdomen, moving awkwardly when attempting to sit or lie down, tail flicking in cats).

  2. Change in personality (more grouchy or clingy/cuddly than usual. Cats can also purr a lot when they are  in pain or stressed).

  3. Decreased activity/lethargy/reluctance to get up/go outside.

  4. Guarding/protecting a specific area of their body (acting startled or jumping when you touch/pet a specific area of the body).

  5. Hiding/isolating themselves from family members, attempts to escape.

  6. Decrease in appetite.

  7. Licking/biting/hair pulling from specific area of body, especially at joints or site of previous or current injury/illness.

  8. Restlessness (changing position often, unable to get comfortable, weight shifting while standing or sitting, sudden tendency to sit or lie only on one side of the body, reluctant to sit/lie down, pacing).

  9. Inappropriate elimination (painful to go outside or posture to urinate/defecate).Alteration in facial expressions (glazed appearance, furrowed brow, squinted eyes), unkempt appearance/decrease in grooming habits.

  10. Vocalization, hissing, grunting, growling, grinding teeth, trembling/shaking.

  11. Weight loss/loss of muscle mass.

  12. Increase or abnormality in respiration rate, body temperature and/or blood pressure.

Our pets cannot tell us where it hurts, so veterinarians must perform comprehensive examinations and diagnostics to determine the reason for their pain. To ensure the comfort and best possible quality of life for our patients, veterinarians have developed many different modalities for pet pain management.

Modern Pain Management Methodologies

  1. Physical Rehabilitation

  2. Chiropractic Care

  3. Acupuncture

  4. Cryotherapy/Thermotherapy

  5. Massage Therapy

  6. Aquatic Therapy

  7. Laser Therapy

  8. Ultrasound Therapy

  9. Stem-Cell Therapy

  10. Electrical Stimulation (E-Stim and NMES)

  11. Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (Assist PEMF loop)

  12. NSAID (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) medications

  13. Narcotic and non-narcotic medications

  14. Joint/mobility preservation supplements

All the above treatments are available at Charlotte Street Animal Hospital, where BethRhyne, DVM, manages the Physical Rehabilitation program. She is a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner and a member of the International Veterinary Academy for Pain Management. Under her leadership, the entire staff is committed to the highest level of pain management.

To learn more, visit, or call 828-232-0440.

Crystal Coffie is a lifelong animal lover who has been with Charlotte Street Animal Hospital since 2006.  She is both the Client Education Coordinator and a veterinary technician who completed her RVT education at AB Tech in 2010.

Caption: Dr. Rhyne leads patient, ItzTzi, through cavaletti rails to work on her balance, range of motion and weight shifting.

#painmanagementforpets #petpainsigns #signsofpetpain


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