Pets in Pain–Don’t let them Suffer

December 11, 2012
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We are honored to have a wonderful guest blogger today, Dr. Shelley Brown of Harmony Veterinary Center, Arvada, CO. Dr. Brown practices integrative veterinary medicine, including acupuncture, cold laser, and homotoxicology. She is a member of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management. 


I hear it all the time–“My pet’s limping, but she’s not in pain” or “Surely he’d cry out if something hurt”.

How many times have we ourselves suffered our pains in silence?  Do we scream and moan every time something hurts?  And why do we limp, unless something hurts?  Its easy to fall into the trap of believing our pets don’t experience pain simply because they don’t tell us about it.  However, a recent study showed  that 90% of cats over the age of 12 have significant arthritis on x-rays,  yet most of their owners reported their cat is “fine”.  This level of arthritis on a human x-ray is associated with moderate to severe levels of pain, requiring medications and other treatments for relief.  Most animals are wired to hide their pain so they are not perceived as “weak” by other animals, but that doesn’t mean they don’t experience pain.

The physiology of pain production, transmission, and perception is nearly identical between people and animals.  A cascade of hormones and other substances are involved in translating a painful stimulus into a nervous impulse that is ultimately perceived by the brain as painful  So we can make the general assumption that if something is painful to a person, it will likely be painful to an animal as well.  You might ask the question “Is it really that bad that our pets experience some pain, especially if they don’t complain about it?”  Numerous studies have shown that the consequences of untreated pain in pets include:

  • increased risk of infection
  • suppressed immune system
  • delayed wound healing
  • decreased food and water intake (which have further consequences)
  • decreased mobility
  • altered sleep patterns
  • behavioral changes such as irritability, hiding, guarding postures, restlessness, etc.
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased heart rate
  • increased respiration rate
  • changes in white blood cell counts
  • increased catabolism (protein breakdown)
  • hair loss
  • weight loss
  • accelerated aging
  • shortened lifespan

Untreated pain can also lead to wind-up, where the nervous system becomes hypersensitive to pain stimuli.  In cases of chronic or severe pain, the nervous system can become sensitive to non-painful stimuli , meaning a gentle touch can be perceived as painful.   We wouldn’t appreciate experiencing this ourselves, so why put our pets at risk for this?

Next time, we’ll talk about how to recognize when our pets are in pain.


 This is an extremely important subject that deserves far more attention than it usually gets. When Dr. Brown and I attended vet school, pain management was just starting to gain traction. Even now, most pets are inadequately treated for pain, and this has serious consequences for their quality of life as well as longevity. Stay tuned for the next installment in Dr. Brown’s series!

3 Responses to Pets in Pain–Don’t let them Suffer

  1. CatAdvocat on August 2, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Is there a follow-up article for this post? I noticed another site recently posting about chronic pain but not how to treat it – they just say “see your vet”, especially if your cat needs to lose weight. I know that’s not good advice since the cat we rescued was made sick when his former owner fed him prescription weight loss kibble. (He’s mostly recovered now but it wasn’t due to help from any local vets!)

    • jhofve77 on August 6, 2013 at 10:24 am

      Not sure what you mean by “follow-up.” If you suspect your cat is sick or in pain, and you are not satisfied with your vet, then you need to get a second opinion. It’s illegal and unethical for a veterinarian to give individual advice without actually seeing the animal, so it’s not something you can get online!

  2. Parkcat on January 6, 2013 at 11:23 am

    I want to thank Dr. Jean and Dr. Brown for sharing this important topic.

    How can people say, my pet’s limping but he’s not in pain? If you are limping, are you not in pain? Stop believing these Vets who tell you there’s nothing wrong with your pet. How many times have I heard and personally experienced the issue of going to the dentist with a hurting tooth and him/her telling me, well, I don’t find anything so there’s nothing wrong?! Get on this side of the pain and tell me there’s nothing wrong. I went to 4 dentists before one with a brain agreed with me there was a problem. I had a top tooth that was way longer than those around it and it was banging on the bottom tooth, creating pain in both. Know what happens when that goes on for very long? You loose both teeth because the nerve becomes irritated and eventually dies. And no, I do not believe in root canals.

    My latest stupid episode with a vet involved my 13 year old kitty Bailey, when some service men came into the house and startled him. He tried to take off running and sprained his left rear leg and couldn’t put any weight on it at all. We immediately took him to the vet, who did do a thorough examination, but deemed there nothing wrong. Bailey continued to not be able to walk on it and I resorted to the internet and a girlfriend who had similar problems with her cats. Her 2 cats were diabetic and found to be low in B12. They had no control at all with their back legs and could no longer jump. I determined this was wrong with Bailey and immediately began giving him high doses of B12 for a short time, along with Homeopathy. He has improved greatly and is walking again. I found a video on the internet of a kitty who walked exactly like him and the cure was also B12. Please don’t always accept a vet’s answer if there is clearly something wrong with your pet. Thanks! Lisa Parker

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