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Health & Wellness

How to know when your pet’s in pain

If your pet’s been injured or shows signs of pain, you should contact your vet right away.

No one likes to see their pet hurt — ith careful attention and your vet’s expertise, you can help spot when your dog or cat’s in pain, and learn how to best care for them.

Of course, after your pet injures themself or begins showing new signs of pain, you should contact your vet right away. 

“If you suspect your dog has fractured any bones, dislocated any joints or appears to be in severe pain, they should be taken in right away,” Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, veterinary consultant for Fetch, says. “You should also take your dog to the vet if you’re treating them for pain and they don’t seem to be improving.”  

Signs your pet’s in pain

A sure sign that your pet’s in pain is if they start lashing out. When your sweet dog or cat starts acting aggressively, avoiding social interaction or even hiding from people and other dogs, they’re likely in pain. Any dog or cat that suddenly passes the day under a bed or in a closet when they normally would spend time with the family, they may be in pain or discomfort.

You may also notice your pet’s lack of appetite. When a dog or cat stops eating, it’s a sign something is wrong and a strong signal to get to the vet.

Cats, who are known for immaculate grooming, may stop cleaning themselves if they’re in pain or sick — it’s likely they’re restricting movement to avoid triggering the pain.

How dogs and cat cry for help

Although more rare than other signs, some pets can actually cry out when in pain. If your cat or dog voices a complaint, don’t wait. Take them to the vet right away for treatment. 

Some dogs will also pant more when they’re in pain — and both dogs and cats can have rapid or labored breathing.

RELATED: What can I give my dog for pain?

Body language of a dog in pain

Sometimes moving as little as possible helps pets manage their pain. So if you notice your cat or dog sitting or lying down most of the day, take note. 

Limping or putting less weight on a leg is almost always a sign of pain, even if your pet is otherwise active and acting normally. Cats will often jump less when they’re in pain to avoid the unnecessary movement.

Your pet may also be hesitant to get up or lie down when they’re in pain. Sometimes, they’re restless and pace and circle around instead of lying down because they’re trying to avoid the pain they feel while lying down. 

Similarly, if your pet starts arching their back, drooping their head or tucking in their abdomen more than usual, they may be trying to avoid the pain. Dogs with pain in their belly will also sometimes adopt a “prayer pose,” where they bow down to the floor with the front part of their body and keep their hind end standing up.

How to comfort a dog or cat in pain

Nobody knows your cat or dog like you do. So you’ll likely be the first one to notice when they’re in pain. You’ll want to make them as comfortable as possible as you wait to see the vet. You should make sure your dog or cat has a quiet and safe space to themselves with access to food and water. 

“Depending on the cause and the seriousness of the pain, this may mean going in as an emergency to your regular vet or to an emergency clinic,” Dr. Singler says. “Until you can get to your vet, plan to restrict your pet’s activity, keep them comfortable and avoid touching them or handling them in areas that are painful if possible.” 

If you have other animals or small children in the house, you should make sure they don’t approach or touch the pet so your pet and the kids aren’t at risk of getting hurt.

Remember, there are very few over-the-counter medications that are safe to give your dog or cat. You should only give your pet medicine under a vet’s supervision. 

Tylenol (acetaminophen) and ibuprofen are very toxic to animals and should never be used. If pain medication has been specifically prescribed for your pet by your veterinarian in the past, you can consider giving a dose until you can get them in to be seen by the vet, but should still call ahead for confirmation. 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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