Here’s the tricky thing - mostly, we humans associate pain with a vocal response - a cry, whimper, or grunt (expletives in my case!), and we are generally very good at letting everyone around us know when we are in pain. However, when a pet is in pain or discomfort, they communicate in very different ways - it may not be what you think!
Many times, I have had my clients tell me that although their pet has started limping, ‘she never cried or complained and she still wanted to come with me for a walk, so I know she’s not in pain’. Unfortunately, this is not true. When I examine the pet, they will rarely cry when I touch the uncomfortable areas, not even a whimper. But, if I watch closely, they will often tell me in other ways that it hurts: licking lips, changing from open mouth breathing to closed mouth, looking at me or the area I’m touching. It is looking for these subtle behaviours that help you and your vet care team determine if your pet is in pain or discomfort.
What is pain and what causes it?
Pain is a messenger: It tells us that there's a problem and that we need to take care of it. Pain is the body’s response which warns the animal of danger. NOCICEPTION is the term we use to describe the normal response to a nasty stimulus which could be damaging to normal tissue, such as inflammation, infection, trauma (cuts or abrasions).
Pain itself can be caused by many different things - disease, trauma, surgery, infection, inflammation, or be secondary to an illness or debilitating condition, all of which affects the body.
We classify pain as either acute or chronic – Acute pain is the sharp and distressing sensation you feel, like when you cut your finger or drop something on your toes; whereas chronic pain usually lasts a long time, causing constant dull ache or discomfort, like an aching back. Because of its nature, chronic pain maybe incorrectly accepted as part of the normal process of aging - when the pet is ‘slowing down’.