Pet Talk: Is my pet in pain? |

Pet Talk: Is my pet in pain?

Dr. Elizabeth Dooher, MS, DVM Pet Talk
Special to the Daily

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is: “Is my pet in pain?” Even when our pets can’t be as active as they used to be, as loving owners, we want their “retirement” years to be pain-free.

Take, for example, Riley, an 11-year-old Labrador retriever. On my first visit to his home, his owners thought he was a little grouchy and was just “off.” He was not crying out or limping, so they had ruled out pain as a cause for his behavior changes.

As I was listening to Riley’s story, I was watching him move around the house. His back was slightly arched, his tail was clamped down, his stride was short and he was carrying his head in a low position. The owners said he used to beg for dinner, but now they have to encourage him to eat. He no longer faithfully follows them from room to room, and he doesn’t always greet them at the door when they come home. Sometimes when they reach down to pet him, he snaps. He never used to do this. He’ll still chase the ball, but not with the vigor his 7-year-old sister has.

Recognize Signs

While these signs could be symptoms of sickness, they are all also signs of pain. Many people associate pain with whimpering or crying. If their pet is not crying out, they believe he or she is not in pain. Dogs and cats, however, often don’t vocalize to express chronic discomfort. Our pets’ signs of pain tend to be subtler, but they do tell us if we can learn to recognize the clues.

Signs of pain in our pets


Changes in posture (head, back and tail carriage)

Stiff gait

Licking joints

Trouble getting up

Stiffness after rising

Decreased appetite

Decreased vocalization (have they stopped barking when the doorbell rings?)

Increased panting when the temperature is cool

Pacing and restlessness

Avoiding touch or seeking extra touch

Abnormal aggression

Changes in behavior or activity level (decreased interaction with people or surroundings)

Worried face, droopy ears or shifting eyes

As with most medical diagnoses, identifying pain is not black and white, yes or no. Pain is a spectrum with many shades of gray. Some of these symptoms can often fit into multiple categories: pain, sickness, allergies, disease, aging or dementia. As veterinarians, we try to put together the puzzle pieces to determine which category accounts for the majority of the signs.

Quality of Life

Riley had several treatments with acupuncture, chiropractic, laser therapy and soft tissue work. We upgraded his nutrition and started him on a supplement and a natural anti-inflammatory. We also put him on a gradual rehabilitation exercise program. While we will never make Riley a puppy again, his owners are happy when they see him perk is ears, beg for dinner, wag his tail and lean into their touch.

By recognizing and treating his pain, the improvement in his quality of life is undeniable. I now only need to see Riley about once every six weeks for an integrative therapy session — and he greets me at the door.

Dr. Elizabeth Dooher, MS, DVM, of Integrative C.A.R.E. Ltd., is a mobile veterinarian specializing in chiropractic, acupuncture, rehabilitation and laser therapy. She can be reached at or 970-331-9625.

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