How To Spot Pain In Your Pets

Unfortunately for pet owners, our pets are unable to tell us when they are in pain. It can be very difficult to determine if your pet is in pain or otherwise unwell. This article looks at the main types of pain that can affect our pets and the different symptoms to look out for.

Older Dog Holding Front Paws



Types Of Pain

Acute Pain

Acute pain is typically obvious and distressing in pets and is usually a response to some kind of stimulus such as crushing or twisting or a tissue injury that is the result of a bruise, wound or surgical incision. Acute pain is generally short-lived and typically resolves within 3 days after the event that caused it.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain describes any type of pain that lasts longer than expected or pain that is associated with long-term diseases such as osteoarthritis. Symptoms of chronic pain may be more subtle than acute pain symptoms and can be mistakenly attributed to "getting old" or "slowing down" which often means that the underlying cause of pain is left untreated.

Other Types of Pain

Other types of pain include pain caused from cancerous tumour growths or pain from chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Neuropathic pain is caused by nerve damage or damage to another part of the central nervous system and can be difficult to diagnose.

Signs of pain in dogs

Physical signs:
  • Heavy breathing
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Change in heart rate
Dog lying silently on mat

Behavioural signs:
  • Irritability
  • Unusual restlessness or anxiety
  • Mood or personality changes
  • Withdrawn behaviour
  • Licking, biting or overgrooming the site of pain
  • Reduced activity
  • Reluctance to lie down or difficulty standing after lying down
  • Reduced appetite
  • Whining or barking
Dog lying in blanket sad


Signs of pain in cats

Physical signs:

  • Sitting still and hunched up
  • Faster and more shallow breathing
  • Change in heart rate
  • Enlarged pupils

Sad Cat

Behavioural signs:
  • Irritability
  • Unusual restlessness, anxiety or aggression
  • Mood or personality changes
  • Withdrawn behaviour and hiding
  • Loss of interest in people or other pets or clingy behaviour
  • Licking, biting or over grooming the site of pain or neglecting to groom altogether
  • Inability or reluctance to jump up onto surfaces
  • Reluctance to lie down or difficulty standing after lying down
  • Reduced appetite
  • Excessive meowing, purring, growling or unusual vocalizations 
  • Doing their business outside the litter box
Yowling Cat


If you suspect your pet is in pain you should never attempt to medicate them without first consulting a veterinarian. Many pain medications for humans can be fatal if administered to pets. Together with your veterinarian, you can develop a plan to treat or manage your pets pain ensuring they can maintain a good quality of life.