Is your pet in pain? How do you know?

Pain assessment in animals can be challenging to diagnose because they do not talk to us, at least in a way we can understand.

Statistics show greater than 80 percent of dogs older than 9 and cats older than 11 have some degree of osteoarthritis. That means these animals are living in pain. Osteoarthritis is not the only cause of pain. There has been enough research to determine there are some obvious and other not so obvious signs an animal is in pain.

In dogs, certainly, decreased activity might represent a response to pain. Of course there are many other possibilities but pain must be high on the list. Bone pain in the limbs can cause lameness, another rather obvious sign. Dogs that change their posture when urinating or defecating might be doing so because of pain in their backs, especially near the pelvis. Some of these dogs might move along as they defecate to alleviate pain. Some of these dogs might leak urine and drop stool as well, depending on the severity of their back problem. These symptoms should be addressed.

Cats can sometimes be more subtle in their pain responses and sometimes not.

A cat that becomes more aggressive toward a caretaker may be dealing with pain. You might pet your cat only to have it turn toward you and hiss or even bite when you pet it in a particular location.

The feline is likely responding to a painful stimulus.

Cats will at times excessively lick or bite at themselves in response to an area in their body where they feel pain. They might lick excessively at the air; this is especially true with pain in the mouth. Cats that start urinating outside the litter box or spraying when they had not done so in the past may be dealing with pain in their urinary tract, especially their bladder. They might stop jumping to places they had in the past or not climb stairs as readily as in the past. More subtle signs of pain might include spending time in unusual locations or sometimes hiding.

The key to making a pain diagnosis is knowing your pet's routines and habits. Don't assume your dog is slowing down just because it is older. Old age is not a disease. If something changes in your pet's routine, it is up to you to figure out why. If they are in pain, they need relief.

If you suspect your pet is in pain, whether acute or chronic, bring it to the veterinarian for assessment. Pain management is an important quality-of-life issue. Veterinarians have many treatments to help alleviate pain in pets and, as a result, improve their lives.