Here are a few general indications that your pet is in pain:
- Lethargy or depression.
- Decreased appetite.
- Changes in vocalization, i.e., crying, whimpering, meowing more than usual.
- Increased aggression or irritability.
- Panting or rapid breathing.
- Hiding or withdrawing from social interaction.
- Stiffness or difficulty moving/getting comfortable.
In cats, pain may look like an attempt to become as small as possible, by crouching with the head and tail down or by pressing their abdomen to the ground. They may even hide. You may also see them licking their lips frequently or drooling, which could be a sign of nausea.
In some cases, their pupils will be dilated and they will purr to self-soothe. Purring can also occur when they are incredibly stressed.
Dogs in pain may also try to become as small as possible and tuck their tail between their legs. They may whine, yelp or make other unexpected noises. They can have difficulty getting up, lameness or limping. They may try to hide, become more clingy or have a change in vocalization. They may also pace or circle, become sensitive to touch and become aggressive seemingly “out of nowhere.”
Birds and rabbits
Birds will try to hide their pain as much as possible. In the wild, appearing weak is a death sentence, so they have evolved to mask any sign of injury or illness. However, there are still some tell-tale signs that your bird may be in pain. These include sitting on the bottom of the cage, fluffed feathers, loss of appetite, unusual lethargy, change in vocalizations and aggression.
Rabbits in pain may try to hide, become more aggressive or make changes in their litter box habits. You may also see them grinding their teeth, which is how they self-soothe. Rabbits will also grimace, which is their way of trying to show you that they’re in discomfort.
Like birds, rabbits are prey animals, so they hide when they are in pain or ill because it’s a survival coping mechanism. When birds or rabbits are at the point of overtly showing signs of pain or illness, they need to be taken to the vet immediately. It the pain or illness has progressed to a point that they can no longer hide it, they are in serious need of medical attention.
Cats, dogs, rabbits and birds all have diverse ways of showing us that they’re in pain. Once you know what to look for, you will be able to act quickly and get on the road to recovery faster. If you see any of these signs in your pet, take them to the vet to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Animal behaviorist, Stephanie Zablah-Kruger, 37, has 14 years’ experience in the veterinary field and as a trainer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, (510) 408-7162.