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15 Ways Cats and Dogs Tell Us They Are In Pain

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Photo Credit: Ben Miller Photo, image used with permission

Our pets are communicating with us all the time, we just need to know what to listen for.


1. LIMPING – Let’s think about this one for a moment. Say you’re a cat a thousand years ago, and you’re living in the wild somewhere. You know, instinctively, that if you are visibly injured, some giant creature somewhere will probably chase you down and eat you. So you do your best to NEVER. SHOW. PAIN. Fast-forward to that little furball sitting beside you on the couch. Do you REALLY think your cat understands that if she shows you pain, you’ll do something to fix it? Nope, cats and dogs have no concept of hospitals, and in their long history, showing pain usually gets you beat up or worse. WHICH MEANS… if your cat or dog is VISIBLY limping, they’re in greater pain than their self-preservation instinct to hide pain, can cover up.

2. INVISIBLY LICKING – On the other hand, that same self-preservation instinct also forces your pet to clean their wounds, at least in private. I can’t even tell you how many times a day I hear a dog or cat owner say “but I never see him licking at that spot!” Well no, you won’t. She’s going to pretend everything is fine while you’re watching her, wait until everybody is asleep, or at work, or at least in the next room, then she’s gonna go to town on that spot until it’s healed. Bottom line, if your veterinarian tells you that your pet has been licking at something, believe us.

3. VISIBLY LICKING – The wound is so bad, the itch so constant, that your pet makes it their life’s work to lick it until it goes away. This is what makes allergies so frustrating, because our bizarre human instinct is to tell our pets to “quit licking yourself!” like they’re doing something wrong, when in reality, they’re doing exactly what they’re programmed to do. Again, since pets have no concept of medicine, the ONLY TIME you’re allowed to put a pet in an Elizabethan Collar is when your veterinarian has prescribed something that will heal the hurt better than saliva will.

4. FAILING TO JUMP – Remember when she was a kitten, and Fluffy would jump up on the top of your fridge? Notice how she hasn’t done that for the last few years? It’s not because she’s lazy, it’s because she physically can’t. Failing to do the things that she once did is the most common sign of chronic pain in pets.

5. GETTING UP SLOWER – You’re noticing Fido takes a second or two to raise his butt up to standing, when he used to pop up like a spring. That’s because it hurts to stand up quickly. This is a very common sign of hip arthritis in dogs.

6. ABNORMAL POSTURE – You’ve noticed that your dog sits crooked now, with the same leg sticking out all the time. This is because that leg hurts, either from injury or from arthritis.

7. CRYING OUT (or meowing!) – The most obvious sign of pain, but notice there’s 12 other things on this list. Just because your pet isn’t screaming every time she moves doesn’t mean she’s free of pain.

8. ROUGH LOOKING HAIR COAT – Cats are meticulously clean animals. When your cat becomes less meticulous, it’s not because she’s lazy, it’s because it hurts to clean herself. This could be from the reduced flexibility associated with arthritis, or pain in the mouth.

9. CHANGE IN PERSONALITY – Dog suddenly snapping at people? Cat pushing vases off shelves? Many abrupt behavioral changes can be explained by physical discomfort.

10. PEEING ON YOUR STUFf – This one is counter-intuitive. If a person pees on something, it’s often a sign of disrespect. If your cat pees on something, it’s because he hurts or he’s scared.

11. RELUCTANCE TO MOVE – Here’s the funny thing about dogs. I think most dog brains stop developing when they’re about two years old, and they honestly think they’re two for the rest of their little lives. Which means, if that two year old brain is driving a ten year old body and that body isn’t playing along, it’s not because the dog is lazy, but because the brain can’t make the body do what the brain wants.

12. LOSS OF APPETITE – Dogs and cats are programmed to pack on pounds in case food becomes scarce. When your pet stops eating, it’s not because they’ve suddenly decided to go on a holiday diet, it’s because something inside them is preventing them from preserving themselves. Your pet knows very well not eating will lead to death. They’re trying to eat, they want to eat, they just can’t.

13. PANTING – Dogs and cats pant for one of three reasons – either they’re hot, they’re scared, or they’re hurt.

14. SHIVERING – Usually just a sign of nerves (or a totally normal little dog that just shivers because it’s little) sometimes shivering can indicate pain.

15. DROOLING – Can mean either abdominal pain and nausea, or mouth pain.


Pretty much any time your pet does something unusual, or differently than in years past, you should connect with your family veterinarian and discuss the change. Thanks for sharing this article with your friends, and on Facebook!

This Post Has One Comment
  1. This is really helpful! Thanks! Particularly, points 1 and 2. While it’s common sense that pets wouldn’t want to display vulnerability to predators, it isn’t at the top of MY mind anyway.

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