How Can I Tell My Pet Is in Pain?

Unless you're the proud pet parent to a loquacious parrot, you're probably not getting up-to-the-minute reports on your pet's well-being. Unlike people, dogs and cats don't simply state, "I have a headache," or "My tummy hurts," etc. Wouldn't that make life easier?!

There are easy ways to tell if your pet is in pain.

Instead, pets have some other tells that can indicate pain, discomfort or weakness in their muscles, joints, organs and bones. You don't have to be a pet whisperer to decode these signs. But you do need to know when it's the right time to take a trip to your veterinarian for an examination.

Here are some signs your dog, cat or pet may be suffering. Make a mental note if he or she:

  1. Becomes easily agitated - appears to be on edge

  2. Makes unusual cries or yowls

  3. Is sensitive to touch or resists normal petting

  4. Becomes grumpy and snaps at people in the home

  5. Hides or becomes quiet / skittish in plain sight

  6. Limps or refuses to walk

  7. Stops eating or vomits more than once

  8. Breathes fast or has an elevated heart rate

If you observe any of these signs, you don't necessarily need to rush right over to the vet. Put your pet under close monitoring for several hours, unless his or her symptoms seem to be immediately life threatening. You'll especially want to pay close attention and take quick action in the case of symptoms 7 and 8, as either can become life-threatening if left untreated.

You know your pet better than anybody, and you'll know when his or her gate, sounds or mood are not normal. Any changes in behavior can indicate pain or discomfort, which, in turn, can indicate a condition that requires medical attention.

Vet bills can get expensive. You might be tempted to leave a potentially painful condition untreated; or you might feel that you cannot cope with the expense and decide to surrender your pet to a shelter for care. DO NOT SURRENDER YOUR PET TO A SHELTER. The odds that your pet will receive comprehensive medical care at the shelter are not good. More likely, your sick pet will be deemed a poor candidate for adoption and euthanized to save space and resources.

NJ STRAYS provides veterinary assistance to North Jersey pet owners in need as part of our Owner Surrender Prevention project. If you are struggling with a pet in pain and feel that the only option left is surrendering him or her to a shelter, contact us at


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