The 5th Sign of Pain in Pets - Increased Activity
The title probably sounds a little strange - how can pain cause increased activity? I recently read a one page hand out for clients pointing out the 5 ways pets can show dental pain. The first 4 were describing avoiding hard food, not playing with balls or chewing on rawhide, pulling away when petted on the head, and drooling. The last sign was the pet started to play more, want to be petted or had more energy after a dental was done. The elimination of pain due to infected teeth, tartar, inflamed gums decreased the drain on the body so the pet had more energy. Recently I had an experience like this with a client's cat and it brought this 5th sign home to me.
A sweet older kitty had a mass in his ear that was not causing any obvious infection, irritation, or problem until one day it started to bleed. It was pretty scary for the owner and not much fun for this kitty either. I examined the cat, and was able to treat the ear to control the bleeding and discussed removing the growth because it was growing slowly and could be bumped or bruised and bleed again. The client consented and we set up a day surgery. I was able to remove the growth under anesthesia, without problems and there was good news on the biopsy report. Upon rechecking his ear to be sure it all healed fine, the owner told me about how her kitty was more playful, affectionate, and getting along with the other cats better. She noted how her cat would fall asleep then have to scratch his ear before surgery, not any big deal, but now could sleep through the night. We talked about how getting petted around the head which most cats seek, may have been uncomfortable before but was welcomed now. Head bunting is they way cats greet each other so he now was doing this with the other cats and everyone was getting along better.
None of the previous behaviors were out of the ordinary. His change in nature told us that he chose not to be social and playful because it was painful for him. That is the 5th sign - he was more active, social and playful because the pain was gone. Judging pain in animals is not easy. They do not show pain like we do. The last thing a cat will do is cry in pain. For a cat to cry in pain it means they are ready to die because in the wild that would tell the predator "come get me." For dogs, they may cry or limp more readily but they also hold back until pain is pretty bad. This nature of hiding pain is related to animals living in the wild. Dogs do live in groups and are a predator but may also be predated upon. Cats are even more so at risk for predation when in pain because they are solo animals. They do not live in groups (except for Lions).
Veterinarians are much more trained to read the body language of pets for pain than in the past. We also have more medications, diets, supplements and therapies to help relieve pain in pets. When your veterinarian recommends surgery or treatment for a problem because they judge your pet to have pain, trust their judgment. Your pet cannot speak for themselves and a pet's behavior can tell us a lot about what is going on for them.
- written by Dr. Sally Foote