It can be the easiest thing to notice at the extreme. Whimpering, screaming, howling. Or it can be the opposite. Silent, depressed, guarded, aggressive. And because it is so out of character, it stands out, writes Dr Michael Baer of Te Are Manu Vet Clinic.
Cat or dog, agony is agony but pain is a spectrum. We know that. The pain of a splinter in your finger is not the same as a broken leg. And there is nothing worse than a paper cut, except just about everything. And for most of the spectrum friends, neighbours, and passersby have no clue that you are in any discomfort, unless you tell them.
And we often do – “My
foot/hip/back/hand/head/ear/tooth/neck/shoulder hurts”. We receive sympathy and consideration in
response, and treatment. But first we have to tell them.
Dogs and cats can’t tell us.
And for most of the pain spectrum we struggle to notice the subtle cues. Bobby sits
with both legs straight out in front of him, not with his feet tucked up. Kuri
sits on one side, with her right leg straight, always. Aren’t they funny the way they get into that
position? No. They have painful knees. Ginger takes a couple of false jumps
before getting up on your lap, and will avoid coming in the back door up the
stairs. He much prefers to walk around the house up the gentle slope of the
garden. His back hurts. Taki is drooling. Toothache.
Arthritis is common in older
animals and as the joints get damaged, pets exercise less, and gain weight.
Obesity is as much a problem for dog and cat health as for human health. And
for joint health. As old, arthritic, fat dogs and cats move around, their
damaged joints carry more and more weight and deteriorate more and more. The
arthritis gets worse. So, they move less and get fatter. The hips, knees and
shoulders suffer, and the elbows and wrists. Cats struggle to keep their coats
groomed. Dogs get grumpy. They are slow to stand, and seem stiff when they do.
These are all signs of pain, constant and gnawing. But these signs of pain can develop
gradually, and so we think of them as “normal”.
They aren’t. Just as we would take pain killers, so can our pets.
Teeth are amazing tools, the
hardest structure in the body. But they are also a common cause of discomfort.
Broken teeth hurt; they feel like they are on fire with every breath. Plaque
and tartar build up causing swollen and bleeding gums. The gums scar and the
bone around the teeth dissolves, never to be replaced. Cavities and root
abscesses follow. Toothache is horrible. Dental pain in dogs and cats is just
as intense, but the signs we see often are not.
Pets usually eat normally,
until the pain is extreme. They might not like having their mouth opened, but
how often do we do that anyway? They may drool a bit, or they may not. They may eat on one side only. It is hard to
know, but easy to believe that they will be sensitive to hot and cold food.
Pain killers, and cleaning teeth help, and sometimes broken and infected teeth
need to be removed.
We all know when pain is
obvious, but sudden, severe pain is only one part of the spectrum. Lower grade,
grumbling pain can be debilitating. Arthritis and dental pain are common, but
pets suffer from all the usual strains and stumbles and aches that afflict us.
Watching closely can let you know if they need your help to stop the ache.