13 silent signs that your pet might be in pain

Signs that your pet might be in pain
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Pet owners are very often confronted with the possibility that their beloved pet is in pain. As dogs and cats cannot communicate verbally to their owners, it can sometimes be less obvious that they might be experiencing pain. Since we don’t want our pets to experience unnecessary pain  – and often pain might be the only indication of more serious conditions –  here are the 13 silent signs that your pet might be in pain.

Reluctance to jump

Jumping uses additional muscles and joints when compared with, for example, walking. Some dogs and cats might be walking without any signs of pain, but will refuse, or struggle, to jump. Reluctance to jump is often an indication of abdominal pain, back pain and/or joint pain.

Reluctance to defaecate

Reluctance to, or difficulty pooping is often an indication of back or abdominal pain. Gastrointestinal obstructions is also painful in dogs and cats and can cause the inability to defecate.

Panting and increased heart rate

Panting is a common sign of pain in general. In dogs and cats, frequent or continual panting, or fast shallow breathing, especially in unexpected situations, is abnormal. Panting/fast breathing commonly goes hand-in-hand with an increased heart rate. These signs are due to stress hormones, adrenalin and other physiological responses affected by pain centres in the brain.

Panting Labrador
Excessive, unexplained panting might be an general indication of pain in dogs and cats.

Abnormal walking and sitting posture

Apart from obvious limping, some pets that are in pain might just walk or sit ‘funny’. This is often an indication of joint pain, bone pain and/or back pain. Some dogs and cats will walk slowly, or even wobbly. Abnormal sitting includes sitting with the legs spread out (frog leg) or favouring one side over the other.

Lying down and struggling to get up

In order to reduce the chances of getting hurt even more, dogs and cats might reduce their activity to lying down. This is often an indication of back pain or joint pain. Struggling to get up again might also be an indication of pain.

Abnormal eyes

The eyes of a pet can sometimes tell whether he/she is in pain. A sore eye will often be red, tearing and/or might have a constricted pupil when compared with the other eye. Squinting and/or rubbing/pawing the affected eye might also be seen in cases of pain. Dogs and cats with dilated pupils or droopy eyes can also be a general sign of pain.

Lethargic dog with sleepy eyes
Continual and unexpected lethargy in pets might be a general indication of pain. Also note the droopy eyes.

Excessive sleeping

Dogs and cats that are suddenly sleeping more than usual might be an indication of general pain. Being in constant pain often drains the energy levels, leading to lethargy and sleepiness.

Excessive grooming

If a pet is constantly licking a certain area of its body, it is likely he/she is trying to soothe that area. When a dog or cat is hurt, its first instinct is often to clean and care for that area by licking it.


Contrary to popular belief, dogs and cats very often don’t vocalise when they are in pain, but when they do, pain should definitely be suspected. Vocalisation in painful situations will be in the form of excessive yelping, growling, snarling and even howling.

Swelling and redness

Pain is very often a consequence of inflammation. Inflammation causes swelling at the site it occurs. It also causes a redness and feels hot to the touch. Inflammation is the reaction to injury or infection, so the chances that your pet might be experiencing pain in the case of swelling is very likely.

Change in nature

Dogs and cats that are in pain will very often behave differently, often in defence. Some pets will become antisocial, shy and scared, while others might become agitated, aggressive and even snappy.

Dog lying down

Muscle wasting

Muscle wasting is where the size of a muscle decreases, often due to inactivity. In active dogs and cats, the muscles supporting the legs should be well defined. A decrease in the size of these muscles is commonly an indication of joint pain because these legs are used less. Muscle wasting can be in one leg only or affect the front and/or the back legs.

Anorexia and vomiting

Pain in general can cause pets to eat less or refuse to eat at all. Abdominal/stomach pain can cause some dogs and cats to vomit, even on an empty stomach.

Cat not wanting to eat
Dogs and cats might refuse their food when they are in pain.

Last note

When treating pain in dogs and cats, it is always advisable to know exactly what you are treating for. Human painkillers can be very harmful to pets, especially cats. Apart from not wanting our pets to be in pain, pain can also be an indication of something far more serious. Rather consult your family veterinarian for the best advice, diagnosis, treatment options and medicines available.

About the author
About the author
Vet Hospital Port Shepstone is a private, small animal hospital with extensive surgery, diagnostic & consulting facilities. We also have an animal pharmacy for dispensing medication and an on-site vet shop.
View all posts by Vet Hospital Port Shepstone

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