Dogs, Cats and Pain

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

Kelly Serfas, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Bethlehem, PA, contributed to this article.

Recognizing when your cat or dog is in pain is quite a difficult task. In fact, it is one of the greatest challenges veterinarians and veterinary technicians face on a daily basis.

We believe that wild animals are genetically programmed to hide pain, sickness or weakness in order to avoid getting eaten by a predator. Unfortunately for us, our pets seem to have kept that ability—which makes our lives harder.

Therefore, we must look at our pets very closely, and try to pick up on subtle displays of discomfort or pain in order to help them. Sure, some pets will actually vocalize (crying, whimpering or howling when they‘re in pain), but most often it is much subtler than that. Worse, they may have been in pain for a while before we become aware of it.

Symptoms of dog pain
Dogs may express pain by limping, eating less, being less active, hunching their backs, becoming head shy or aggressive, being reluctant to allow touch, or being restless.

Symptoms of cat pain
Cats may show pain in many of the same ways as dogs but may also hide to avoid grooming or turn away from human contact.

Eye pain
Eye pain can occur for multiple reasons:

  • A scratch on the cornea
  • Glaucoma
  • A foreign body in the eye

You may notice that your pet is scratching at or trying to rub their eye. You may also notice redness, tearing or squinting.

If you ever suspect that your pet might be in pain, please take him to your family or emergency vet as soon as possible. The vet will perform a full physical exam on your pet, and possibly recommend doing further testing depending on the source of the pain.

Diagnosing pain
Some tests may help confirm your vet’s impressions:

  • X-rays may confirm the suspicion of a torn ligament
  • Blood work can reveal irritation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), a notoriously painful condition
  • Ultrasound can show masses in the belly and can confirm the suspicion of pancreatitis

Pain treatment
There are countless ways to treat pain. If your pet has a broken tooth, a dentistry procedure can fix it. If your dog has a broken leg, orthopedic surgery can fix it. If your cat has an ulcer in the eye, medications or surgery can help.

There are many pain medications available to us including anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids (morphine-like drugs). Some are made specifically for pets, whereas some are borrowed from the human field. Please don’t take it upon yourself to give human medications to your pets without veterinary advice. Just this weekend, I saw a dog who was hospitalized because of a bleeding ulcer after receiving Aleve. His owner was trying to avoid the cost of a veterinary visit, but ended up spending a fortune in emergency care and blood transfusions!

There are countless scenarios and your family or emergency vet can help you come up with options and solutions. Generally speaking, this involves treating the pain itself, and addressing its cause.

I feel very strongly that pain is not acceptable in 2014. Sometimes, we cannot entirely get rid of the discomfort, but in the vast majority of cases, we can treat pain.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Because each pet experiences pain differently, what works for one may not work for another. Fortunately, there are a number of options to effectively treat or manage pain in pets, including medication, nutraceutical products, laser therapy, acupuncture, physical therapy, and weight management.


Oral and injectable medications, including opioids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help decrease chronic pain and reduce swelling and stiffness. Use caution, however. Well-meaning pet owners often give their pets drugs intended for human use with the reasoning that what works for one works for all, but this is not true. While many human medications are also used in animals, the dosages, metabolization, and effects of these drugs vary greatly from species to species. Never give your pet any medication without consulting your veterinarian first.

Nutraceutical products

Supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids can effectively limit pain caused by arthritis and other joint issues. These products may also potentially slow progression of the disease.

Laser therapy

Laser therapy uses deep-penetrating light to relieve pain through the release of endorphins and stimulates injured cells to heal at a faster rate without the use of pharmaceuticals or surgery.


Acupuncture is the art and science of placing thin, metallic needles in specific areas to reduce pain and inflammation to restore balance and encourage the body’s own healing.

Physical therapy

Rehabilitation and hydrotherapy (water therapy) can improve your dog’s range of motion and slow the progression painful conditions like arthritis.

Weight management

Excess weight puts stress on your pet’s joints. Managing your pet’s weight effectively through nutrition and exercise can help relieve pain without the use of medication.

If you think your dog or cat may be in pain, don’t let him suffer silently. Contact us or schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians.

Laser Therapy for Dogs and Cats

Laser therapy for dogs and cats is a non-invasive, drug-free pain relief option. It involves holding a handheld device that emits concentrated light energy over the affected area. The light energy increases blood circulation and cellular activity which reduces pain and inflammation and speeds healing. It is useful as a pet pain management option for just about any condition or injury that causes pain. However, pets who have cancer will not benefit because the laser light could cause cancer cells to reproduce more quickly.

Common conditions we treat with laser therapy include:

  • Wound healing
  • Arthritis
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Ear infections
  • Gingivitis
  • Hot spots
  • Dermatitis
  • Sprains and fractures
  • Acute injuries

Pain Medications for Dogs

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If you notice your dog isn't quite themselves lately, it could be because they are in pain. They could have an injury, an infection, or a disease. Or maybe they are starting to feel the aches of aging.

When your pet hurts, you want to help them feel better. But don’t try to guess what their problem may be. Visit your veterinarian to find out what's wrong.

There are different ways to help ease their pain. Your vet will recommend medication based on what's going on and your dog's health history.

Cat and dog arthritis symptoms usually progress gradually. Instead of beginning as obvious pain, you’ll see much more subtle signs of arthritis. These symptoms include moving slower, difficulty moving or hesitating to perform their normal physical activities. As the arthritis in dogs and cats progresses, you’ll see more obvious signs of pain and lameness such as holding a limb up or holding a leg strangely. You might also notice fatigue, stiffness and swelling of the joints.

There are many, many possible cat and dog arthritis treatments. What your vet will recommend depends on your animal and the severity of their joint issues. Here are some potential treatments:

  • Arthroscopic cleaning
  • Joint replacement
  • Weight loss
  • Physical therapy
  • Change in food
  • Supplements
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Analgesics
  • Pain relievers
  • Homeopathic solutions
  • CBD

Watch the video: Mating Cats (October 2021).

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