Is your pet in pain?

Editor’s note: Do you have a question about your pet you’d like to ask Dr. Edwards? Send it to

Is your pet in pain? The answer to this very important question can be difficult to determine.

Animals feel pain in many of the same ways that people do but are masters at hiding it. Pain can result from trauma, surgery, arthritis or disease, such as Lyme disease.

The best way to assess pain is to closely watch your pet. Is she moving slower, limping or moving differently than normal? Does she lie in a different position or does she get tense when you touch certain areas of the body? Is she acting grumpy, agitated or maybe even biting when she never used to?

Pain can be expressed through vocalizations, facial expressions, body postures, panting, restlessness or other behavioral changes.

Sometimes the only sign of arthritis pain in a cat will be not jumping as high. Signs may be subtle or not present at all, so it is important to observe your pet regularly and try to notice any changes from the norm.

In thinking about pain in pets, we should think of ourselves. If something is likely to cause you pain, it is almost certain to cause your pet pain as well. Just because an animal acts “normal” after a traumatic episode, injury or surgery, does not mean she is not in pain.

Animals are programmed in nature to hide pain, especially cats and small mammals. Treating pain it is still very important in these animals.

During our snowy New Hampshire winter, keep in mind that the cold weather may have an effect on your pet.

Pets with arthritis may have more pain in colder months and may have difficulty walking on ice. Slipping on ice can strain joints and muscles so arthritic dogs may have higher pain management needs in the winter.

It is very important never to medicate your pet with human medications without first consulting with your veterinarian. Although some human drugs are used for animals, many are very dangerous, especially when used in combination with other drugs or with certain disease states. Be particularly careful with pain medications, such as Advil or Tylenol, as these can be deadly for pets.

There are many treatment options for animal pain today. Ask your veterinarian to help you determine whether or not your pet is in pain and what can be done about it.

Often, the best results come from using multi-modal therapy, which utilizes a combination of different medications, supplements and techniques.

Options include a variety of medications, acupuncture and physical therapy.

Laser therapy is a newer option and this can be very effective for reducing pain and inflammation and for speeding healing. Often, laser therapy can decrease the need for medications in chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis.

It is important not to make assumptions as to the cause of any altered behavior in your pet. These assumptions are often incorrect leading to untreated problems.

In older pets, remember, age is not a disease. With age comes more problems but many of these problems can be well managed to provide your pet with a higher quality of life.

Dr. Jennifer Edwards in a veterinarian at Ponemah Veterinary Hospital in Amherst.