With animals and humans not speaking the same language, recognizing a pet in pain is not always obvious—but it is important. With our increasingly busy lives and neverending to-do lists, subtle signs of pain in our furry friends can often go unnoticed. At Billings Animal Family Hospital, we know you love your pet, and we are dedicated to helping you help them live their best life. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions, to help you better understand how pets experience pain, and what you can do to support your beloved companion. 

Is my pet in pain?

This is an extremely common question among pet owners, and the answer is not always obvious. Most people can recognize the unmistakable—a noticeable limp, a reddened, inflamed ear, constant scratching, a large skin wound on the skin—all which can cause pain and discomfort. But, discrete or chronic problems often occur slowly over time, and your pet’s gradual signs can go unnoticed. Look for evidence that your pet may be experiencing some type of pain, whether acute or chronic: 

What are the common sources of pain in pets?

Like their two-legged counterparts, pets can suffer with a number of conditions, including ear infections, allergic skin disease, dental problems, corneal ulcers, and cancer, which cause varying degrees and types of pain. One of the most common causes of chronic pain in aging pets is osteoarthritis, which can sneak up slowly. 

According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, osteoarthritis can be defined as “a chronic joint disease characterized by loss of joint cartilage, thickening of the joint capsule, and new bone formation around the joint.” The chief cause of osteoarthritis in dogs and cats is not fully understood, but the disease is often related to underlying joint problems (e.g., dysplasia, patellar luxation, or osteochondritis dissecans), genetics, or general wear and tear. Osteoarthritis can affect pets large or small, and the signs can be discreet, especially in the early stages. 

If you’ve experienced any of these conditions, you know how uncomfortable they can be. The difference is that while you can easily head to the medicine cabinet for a painkiller, your pet doesn’t have that luxury. Rather, they rely on you to advocate for them and seek treatment. 

How do I know if my pet has osteoarthritis?

While pet owners can monitor for signs of osteoarthritis and pain at home, a definitive diagnosis requires some form of imaging, such as X-rays. If our veterinary team deems your pet a good candidate, we will take a few images of the area of concern and discuss the findings with you. Occasionally, pets will need sedation for accurate, safe positioning. 

How will Billings Animal Family Hospital treat my pet’s pain?

The first step in addressing your pet’s pain is a visit with our veterinary team, where we will examine your pet, and discuss a work-up plan. An accurate diagnosis helps us treat your pet appropriately. Fortunately, veterinary medicine has made great advancements in pain management options for our companion animals, including these options:

  • Pain medications (e.g., non-steroidal antiinflammatories)
  • Diet and supplement recommendations
  • Exercise suggestions
  • Integrative therapies (e.g., acupuncture, laser, massage, or chiropractic care)
  • Referral to a veterinary physical rehabilitation facility

What can I do to help my painful pet at home?

Depending on your pet’s source and type of pain, assistive devices may help them get around easier. The Help ‘Em Up harness is a great option for aging pets with osteoarthritis or other musculoskeletal conditions. Ramps, stairs, orthotics, and carts are other possibilities you may find useful. Keep a close eye on your pet, monitoring for subtle changes that may suggest they are uncomfortable, and consider using pain-scoring tools to help with your assessment, such as this one or this one. Bring your findings to your appointment, so we can discuss them together. 

If you believe your pet is in pain, or are unsure what products to choose for your painful pet, contact Billings Animal Family Hospital for guidance. We are here for all of your pet’s comfort needs!