Pain Management

How Do You Say “It Hurts” If You Can’t Talk?

Molly was a beautiful Yellow Lab that loved to run and play with her family. But when her owner brought her into the clinic, she was barely able to move. Every step, every movement hurt and she coped by refusing to move. Her veterinarian diagnosed severe arthritis. Molly’s joints were so inflamed that she felt nothing but hurt.

In spite of the best medical care, Molly’s spirit was declining. She had stopped eating and would lie in her kennel looking at me with the saddest eyes. She appeared ready to give up, but her medical team was not. We knew that if Molly was to recover, we had to break her pain cycle.

Veterinary medicine has a legal and ethical obligation to err on the side of the safest treatment, but sometimes the best medicine is not found in books but in a clinician’s heart. Molly’s doctor listened to his patient and put her on a course of the strongest pain medication available to veterinary medicine.

I left our hospital that night broken hearted, not knowing how I would find Molly in the morning. You can imagine the joy I felt when I walked into the hospital and saw Molly prancing in her kennel, eager to go for a walk after eating a good breakfast. She had finally stopped hurting and the spark had returned to her eyes. She went home the next day on a new pain management protocol and continued to improve. While she will never be as active as before, she loves life again and that’s the best result ever!

Animals suffer from pain just like we do, but they say “Ouch” in very different ways. The sooner that pain is recognized and treated, the more likely our pets can return to a good quality of life. As loving caretakers of our family pets, we can learn animals’ unique language of pain and trust our instincts when we see behavior that says our pet is in pain. All pain damages your pet’s quality of life and can be hazardous to its health. Pain causes release of stress hormones, delaying healing and possibly damaging your pet’s internal organs, especially in cases of long-term chronic pain.

Common Signs of Pain in Dogs

  • Decreased social interaction
  • Anxious expression
  • Refusal to move; difficulty rising from a sitting or lying down position
  • Whimpering
  • Howling
  • Growling
  • Guarding behavior
  • Aggression; biting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Self-mutilation (chewing)


Common Signs of Pain in Cats

  • Hiding
  • Reduced activity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Quiet/loss of curiosity
  • Changes in urination/defecation habits
  • Hissing or spitting
  • Lack of agility/jumping
  • Excessive licking/grooming
  • Stiff posture/gait
  • Stops grooming/matted fur
  • Weight loss

The good news is that veterinary medicine has many ways to alleviate your pet’s pain.

Once your doctor has diagnosed what’s causing the pain, he or she can prescribe the best medication and the best treatment to reduce that pain. Your pet also may benefit from physical modalities such as acupuncture, laser treatment, medical massage and therapeutic exercise.

Early and aggressive treatment of a pet’s pain can return your furry family member to a great quality of life.

Read Dr. Kraabel's blog to learn more about Gwen: And, Not To Be OutDone

Gwen Francisco, Licensed Veterinary Technician, Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner