Animal Care & Welfare • Pain
The other night, Rex was restless and reluctant to climb up on the couch. The next morning, he was sitting hunched over, tucked under and shaking with his eyes closed.
I’m pretty sure we can all recognize obvious signs of pain in our pets, but what about those not-so-obvious behavior changes that might indicate pain?
In my last article, I talked about knowing your pet's 'normals'- vital signs, behaviors and routines. A cat that suddenly urinates outside the litter box could possibly have a urinary tract infection- thinking ‘Ouch- it hurts when I pee in my box, maybe it won’t hurt if I pee outside the box…’.
A horse that bobs his head and drops food while eating might not be saying ‘Ew- I don’t like this food’, but could be saying ‘It hurts when I chew’, and your horse needs his teeth floated.
Does your dog suddenly snap at you when you reach to rub behind his ear? Did your cat used to love a good muzzle and chin scratch, but now she won't let you touch her mouth? Does your geriatric horse rock his weight back onto his hind end more and more throughout the day?
Could there be a foreign body deep in your dog's ear? Does your cat need dental attention due to an infected tooth? Could your horse be reluctant to bear a lot of weight on his front end due to a short hoof trim or the navicular bone rotating?
When you notice an abnormal behavior, ask ‘Is this an isolated behavior?’ (happened only once, maybe twice) or has this behavior become a regular part of your pet’s routine (possibly indicating chronic pain)?
Try to think like your animal and understand what their particular behavior might indicate- is your donkey being ‘stubborn’ by freezing in his tracks or is he telling you, in the only way a donkey knows how to tell a human, that a particular movement/situation causes him pain?
Recognize the species behavior- a dog in pain might become needy while a cat (like herd animals) will tend to isolate.
Turns out, Rex had a bad case of ‘swimmer’s tail’— a condition that hunting breeds (including Labs) can get from swimming in cold water— causing cramping, swelling and pain. By telling me, in his Rex way, that he was in pain, I was able to help him.