By Arden Moore
You hear your cat's cry of pain or see your aging dog limp to the food dish, and your heart hurts. Witnessing pets in pain can leave owners feeling frustrated and powerless. But recent medical advances are giving vets more insight into the detection and treatment of animal pain, affording owners more control over their pets' comfort and health. Even better news? You can ease your pets’ pain by following our expert tips. (First rule—take preventative measures to reduce the number of vet visits with these Tips That Keep Your Pet From Getting Sick.)
Recognizing the Problem
Take an active role in your pet's health by keeping a log of behavioral changes that might indicate she's in pain. Some are obvious; a sudden limp or a flinch when you touch a tender spot is a clear sign that your pet is experiencing discomfort—and a cue to see a vet immediately. But some stoic pets don't give outward signs, says Sandee Hartsfield, DVM, a professor of small-animal medicine and surgery at Texas A&M University. "A pet with an acute injury like a broken leg is more likely to respond to you by moving away or biting or pawing you, while a pet suffering from chronic pain such as arthritis tends to be quieter than usual."
If you know your pet's discomfort is related to too much exercise or to age-related aches and pains, try these soothing techniques at home:
--Give therapeutic massages or take warm, moist towels from the dryer and apply them to sore muscles or joints once or twice a day.
--Adjust food portions to trim excess pounds, which will lessen the burden on legs and feet.
--Make sure your pet has a soft, warm bed in a dry area of your home away from cold drafts. If she's recovering from surgery, keep her in a quiet, cozy room, so she can rest and mend without being disturbed.
When to See the Vet
Here are the most common indications your dog or cat is hurting. See your vet if your pet:
--Alters behavior dramatically or suddenly seeks isolation or constant affection
--Winces, pulls back, or cries out when the body or limbs are touched
--Hesitates when getting up after lying down
--Acts grouchy, less playful, or more submissive
--Licks constantly at a particular body part
--Seems unresponsive or restless
--Has difficulty eating or sleeping
--Does less self-grooming (especially true of cats)
What to Do at the Vet
If your pet doesn't get progressively better, see your vet, and bring along the log of the behavioral changes you've noticed. This can help in case "white coat syndrome" occurs—symptoms disappear during the exam, only to return when the pet gets back home. Of utmost importance, experts say, is what not to do with a sick pet. Never give any over-the-counter medication, such as baby aspirin, without first consulting your veterinarian, because reactions can be toxic (You should absolutely avoid the Top 10 Pills That Poison Pets).
Know Your Pet's Pain Meds
By developing a basic understanding of pain medications, you can advocate for your pet. If you go to a large clinic, for instance, you may not always see the same doctor. A new vet may prescribe a drug that could irritate the digestive tract, and only you will know to tell him that your pet has a sensitive stomach. Pain medications for dogs and cats fall into three main categories: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, and corticosteroids. Check out our chart of the Pain Medications Your Pet Needs to make sure you know what is being prescribed. animal.
Next: 12 Amazing Home Remedies for Pets
Seek a Second Opinion
Remember, when consulting with your vet, be specific: Ask when your pet's pain should subside. If you feel that your veterinarian is not adequately addressing the pain, get a second opinion. Your local veterinary hospital is a good starting place for referrals to vets who have completed courses in pain management.