How Do We Know If Our Pet Is in Pain?

Animals can suffer from pain just like we do but they can’t tell us when they hurt. Also pets often have a natural self-preservation instinct to hide their pain. This leaves it to their pet parents to observe that something may be wrong and get them to a veterinarian for a professional assessment.

September is Animal Pain Awareness month. We would like every pet parent to know how to recognize the signs of pain in their pet and how they can help. 

Recognizing When a Pet is in Pain

Even though our pets cannot tell us when they are in pain, there are signs you can look for that indicate your pet is experiencing some distress.

Here are several common signs when a pet may be in pain:

  • Decrease or loss of appetite
  • Being off by themselves — not joining the family
  • Aggression
  • Lameness (limping)
  • Crying or whining
  • Excessive licking or scratching

Then there are more specific signs of pain depending on the type of animal. For example,


  • Tight or twitching muscles
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Arched back
  • Holding their head below their shoulders
  • Panting


  • Hiding
  • Vocalization, e.g., frequent unpleasant or urgent sounding meowing, groaning, hissing, growling.
  • Decreased grooming or increased grooming but to a particular area (potentially leading to bald patches and sore skin).
  • Panting is not usual for a cat. If your cat is panting, it can indicate extreme fear, pain, or difficulty breathing.
  • Aggression when you touch them in some regions of their body. 

Pain Management for Pet Pain

If you visit us at College Hills Veterinary Hospital, we will assess your pet to find the root cause of the pain. Once we have pinpointed that, we begin treatment. Part of the treatment includes managing their pain. The pain could stem from a disease, an injury, surgery, or be age-related such as arthritis. In any case, it is essential to understand why pain management is vital. Of course, no one wants to see their pet suffer. But there are also physiological benefits to treating and managing pain in pets.

When we do not control their pain, they can experience an increase in the production of stress hormones, such as cortisol. This increase in hormones can cause:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Slower wound healing
  • Increased length of hospital stay (after surgery)
  • A decrease in gastrointestinal motility

Pain Medication

When possible, we try to manage a pet’s pain without drugs. However, there are instances when we need to administer pain medication for the pet to heal from whatever it is experiencing. For example, a pet needs to be kept calm and comfortable after an injury or surgery so its body can heal quickly.

MLS Laser Therapy

Laser therapy is a non-invasive, drug-free alternative for managing pain.  MLS Laser therapy has been cleared by the FDA for use in both the Veterinary and Medical fields.  It is proven safe and effective for treating many debilitating pain conditions. And there are no known side-effects! 

You can read more about our laser therapy on our website blog entitled MLS® Veterinary Therapeutic Laser Therapy.


Our mission at College Hills is to provide excellent medical and surgical care to our animal patients through all stages of their lives by offering health care based on each pet’s individual needs. Our mission includes educating our clients in caring for their pets.

Knowing when your pet is in pain is a vital responsibility of being a pet parent. Together we can give your pet the quality of life they deserve and give you many long happy years together.

If you have any concerns about your pet being in pain, please contact us so we can set up an appointment and get them on the road to recovery and free of pain as soon as possible.


Dr. Kim Stewart 

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