Vail Pet Talk column: How to tell if your pet is in pain | VailDaily.com

Vail Pet Talk column: How to tell if your pet is in pain

Liz Foster, DVM
Pet Talk

Veterinarians see this often — by the time an owner may notice that a dog or cat is sick or not feeling well, the animal tends to be very sick. This is especially common in cats.

Animals are masters at hiding their illnesses so it's important as a pet owner that you understand how to detect signs of pain or discomfort in your pets.

Know the Signs

In cats, the most common way they show pain, discomfort or sickness is by hiding or spending time in an abnormal place. Cats that don't feel well often neglect grooming themselves and lay in a hunched over position. Most of the time, cats purr because they are happy but sometimes, they purr because they don't feel well.

A dog that doesn't feel well may have behavioral changes such as biting or growling. If your dog doesn't normally do this, then it is cause for concern. In addition, some dogs will have changes in their sleeping habits or become restless. Small changes such as these are important to take notice of; don't ever think that they mean nothing.

It's easy to feel that vomiting and diarrhea in dogs and cats can be "normal" as long as it doesn't happen a lot. Veterinarians consider any amount of these things to be cause for concern. Vomiting and diarrhea can indicate a bacterial infection, parasites or a food sensitivity. They can also indicate a much more serious problem. If these things are accompanied by lethargy or not eating, then that is even a greater cause for concern and should be followed by a visit to your veterinarian.

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Eating or drinking more or less often than normal may also be signs that something is wrong. These signs may indicate diseases such as diabetes, thyroid problems and kidney disease or other organ dysfunction.

In addition, frequent trips to go to the bathroom (asking to go outside or visiting the litter box more than normal) may indicate problems such as urinary tract infections.

Ways to Assess

There are ways at home to assess your pet's condition.

One of the easiest is to lift up their lips and assess their gum color and hydration status. A dog and cat's gums should be pink and moist. In addition, when you press on the gums, they should blanch pale then immediately become pink again — this is an indication of good circulation. A blue, yellow or white color to the gums indicates a serious problem and warrants a visit to your veterinarian immediately.

While you are assessing your pet's mouth, check out their teeth, too. Discharge or blood can indicate an infected tooth. In addition, swelling or sensitivity around the mouth can indicate an oral problem. Sometimes, animals will drool excessively, paw at their mouth and drop food — these are all signs of a problem with the mouth.

We love our animals so much, it's important to understand how to tell when something is wrong. When in doubt, call your veterinarian. We would rather tell you that it's no big deal than have you worry.

Elizabeth Foster is an associate of Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, owner of Mountain Mobile Vet and The Animal Hospital Center. You can reach Fitzpatrick at 970-328-7085.