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Your Pet’s Body Language: Signs of Pain


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As discussed in our March newsletter, “Your Pet’s Body Language: Signs of Fear/Aggression”, our staff understands how important body language can be when we are trying to understand and diagnose our patients properly.  From the time our patients enter our office, they are usually already under some amount of stress, and show us signs of such.  We see just as many sick and/or hurt patients as we see healthy ones, but the body language displayed by these pets is quite different and important.  We know that our patients, healthy or hurt, will try to mask the evidence of their pain – this is common in the animal kingdom and something our pets are predisposed to do.  However, sometimes the sickness is too advanced or the pain too great for the pet to still put up a happy show, and we get a good idea of just how much this patient may need our help.   Knowing that our patients don’t act here the way they do at home, and understanding that they can’t tell us what’s wrong with them, we use body language as one of the tools to determine what our patients need.

Pain relief is important for pets because they feel pain.  If we can see that an animal hurts, it’s our job to try and take that pain away.  Yet, our patients can’t tell us they hurt, they can’t point out their injuries, and they can’t verbalize their pain on a scale from 1 – 10 for us.  But, with our knowledge and expertise, we look for the signs of pain that our patients can show us – signs the average person may misinterpret or simply not see.  The dog and cat pain scales included in this newsletter are meant to give you, our client, a better understanding of what your pet may look like or act like in different degrees of pain.  If you are trained to see these behaviors as warning signs, you can get your pet the help they need sooner.  These scales are just a model, like with the ladder of aggression from March’s newsletter, pets can skip levels altogether and/or may not show some signs at all, especially if they are sick, frightened, or naturally stoic.  

It’s our job to notice the subtle things your pets, our patients, do from the time they walk in to the time we discharge them and send them on their way.  We watch them at each visit and make it a point to notice the differences between their well-pet visits and illness exams.   As an owner, you know your pet’s typical behavior and attitude better than anyone.  Informing our staff about changes you notice in your pet’s personality, attitude and body language at home can give our staff a better idea of things we may not notice in the doctor’s office. Our staff does its best to treat every animal kindly and compassionately, even when they don’t feel good or hurt – times when their poor behaviors might get the better of them.  So, if your pet shows signs of being in pain, or we know that something we need to do to them will cause pain, we will discuss pain management and medication with you.  We’d like to help our patients leave our hospital better than when they came in, and reading body language helps us ensure that we don’t miss things our patients are trying to tell us.    

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