The Silent Signs of Pain

Well! As anyone in Ontario can attest, March came in like a lion! Last week saw ferocious winter storms and significant snow accumulation!! Did that stop our fearless LilyCat from her weekly trek to O’Sullivan Animal Hospital you ask? Never! I bundled up and made the trip in for my underwater treadmill session with my very own Dr. Watson.


When Lily start rehab and weight loss with the O’Sullivan Animal Hospital she was too weak to use her back legs in the treadmill effectively. Now she walks like a pro!

As much as I may hesitate to tell my other cat friends, I am enjoying my hydrotherapy much more than I did earlier on. I’m currently walking upwards of 20 minutes at a time and during my  last session I walked a total distance of 0.4 km! After all that work a fit feline like myself is entitled to a sPAW treatment complete with blow out and comb through. I’m a pretty fancy cat if I do say so myself! (There’s also the added bonus of continued healthy weight loss, and I am Purrroud to say I’m only a slightly padded 5.3kg!)

As much as I like to prattle on about myself, I’m not the only feline member of the O’Sullivan Animal Hospital Rehabilitation Department! I am joined by two other fantastic felines, Puffy and Binnie. Puffy is currently returning to function following a knee injury and corrective surgery, and Binnie is working on building strength, muscle mass and weight loss following a procedure called a femoral head ostectomy.

I’ve been told there are also lots of dogs working hard to lose weight, improve mobility and recover following injuries, but I’ll leave their stories up to Dr. Watson, I think I’ll keep my distance from the dogs!

This does however, bring up an important topic and similarity between many of the patients of the rehabilitation department – with all of our challenges (obesity, arthritis, injury) – many of experience some degree of discomfort. Did you know that pets show pain in different ways then people? Here are some very important, but subtle, signs that your pet may be in pain.

Has your pet experienced changes in their:

  • Vocalization Patterns – Whining, whimpering, yelping, hissing, growling and yes, even purring can indicate pain.
  • Daily Habits – Changes in appetite/thirst, withdrawing from social interactions, changes in sleep patterns, accidents in the house/elimination outside of the litterbox and decreased grooming behaviours can all be subtle signs that we’re hurting.
  • Self Mutilation – Excessive chewing, licking or scratching can all indicate an area of pain, especially over an arthritic joint – ouch!
  • Activity Levels – Restlessness, reluctance to move, difficulties changing positions, shaking/trembling, limping in both dogs and cats can indicate pain. Cats especially may be more “clumsy” where they are unable to jump to locations they were previously able to. Some of us are more inclined to hide while others seek out attention. Changes in normal behaviours may indicate that something is amiss.
  • Facial Expressions – as a pet owner you know your pet best and changes in their expression can indicate discomfort – dilated pupils, vacant stares, flattened ears and panting while at rest can all indicate underlying pain.
  • Self Protection/Aggression – this may be the most obvious sign of pain in our dogs and cats, guarding or protecting a painful area. These pets may change their posture, avoid placing weight on a painful limb or even lash out at their loved ones (humans or other pets in the home) to avoid a potentially painful interaction.

Veterinarians are trained to pickup on these signs and to localize them on physical exam, but they need your help to pickup on changes at home. Should you notice any of these signs and if you think your pet is painful, please contact your veterinarian right away so that the appropriate steps can be taken to ensure that their pain is well managed and that steps are taken to prevent it from recurring in the future!

If you’d like further resources, the American Animal Hospital Association has checklists for picking up on pain in both cats and dogs.

For me, my level of comfort is well managed even after a tough workout through joint supplements and pain medications as needed. There are many different options that your veterinarian may elect to use, especially for those of us with arthritis. I’d like to talk more about it, but for now, I think it’s the dinner hour!

Purrs and Cuddles,



Before Lily began her weight loss and mobility support program she was inflexible and lethargic. Last week was the first time she was caught cat-stretching like a happy, comfortable kitty!

2 thoughts on “The Silent Signs of Pain

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