Caring daily for our pets puts us in a great position to observe our pets & look out for signs they may be in pain or discomfort. But, it can be a challenge as our pets are often great at masking pain!
From an evolutionary perspective, showing pain risks putting an animal in danger. So, signs of pain & discomfort may not be as obvious as you might think.
Looking out for behaviour indicators of pain or discomfort during exciting, overwhelming or times of stress may not give an accurate picture of whether your pet is in pain or feeling under the weather. This is because these experiences trigger the fight or flight response and the release of adrenaline, which can mask pain.
So, even if your pet is still keen to play with other pets, or chase after a ball, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re free from discomfort. The motivation for the activity which they enjoy may outweigh the pain or discomfort.
Taking videos & keeping a diary of your pet’s everyday behaviour, when both relaxed and stimulated, can be a great way to notice any small changes in their behaviour.
Behaviour signs which might indicate pain or discomfort in pets include:
● House soiling in cats & not wanting to use the litter tray.
● Toileting inside in toilet trained dogs.
● Compulsive behaviours, such as, fly snapping, shadow or tail chasing.
● Self-mutilation and overgrooming.
● Eating inedible items, such as stones, or frequently eating poo.
● Becoming clingy and wanting lots of attention.
● Signs of aggression, including growling, hissing, snarling or snapping upon approach or touch.
● Struggling to settle down.
● Sleep disturbance.
● An increase in reactivity, or a sudden onset of reactivity.
● Difficulty with training, or a disinterest in a previously enjoyable activity.
● A change in your pet’s personality and temperament.
(not an exhaustive list!)
It’s important to note that your pet’s experience of pain may not be the same all the time & may be different to another pet. It’s individual, so hard to compare with others. Just like us, pets may have days of feeling worse than others. So, it’s really important to respect your pet’s individual tolerance levels at any particular time. That’s where being able to recognise & understand what their body language is trying to tell you is so useful!
Growls, hisses and snaps are forms of communication and often a pet’s way of asking you to give them space. If these warnings are ignored, then the behaviour may be progressed to a bite.
It’s always important to consider that pain & emotions are connected. Not only can pain decrease your pet’s usual tolerance levels, it can also cause increases in anxiety, fear and aggression.
Ultimately, if you suspect pain or discomfort, seek veterinary advice.
Your vet can check for any signs of pain & discomfort & rule out medical causes for behaviour change. Then, they can refer you on to a qualified behaviourist for support!
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