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Dogs, Cats and Pain

Posted April 03, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

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.

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at