How do I know if my pet is in pain; they aren’t whining or yelping?

This is such a great question.  Pets are so good at hiding pain that it is often really difficult to detect.  Pain is complex, even more so in our pets who can’t tell us where it hurts, or if it even hurts at all.  Sometimes there are obvious signs of pain, such as whimpering or limping but more often than not signs are much more subtle and we may not even recognize that pain is present until we see a response to treatment.  In hindsight, we may look back and say “Wow, my pet seems so much better since I started pain treatment.”

If whining isn’t always present how can I tell if I should treat my pet for pain? 

Sometimes it takes the expertise of a veterinarian trained in pain management to work with you to determine this but there are signs that you can look for at home.  Anything out of the ordinary could be a result of pain.  It is important to keep an eye out for all signs of pain, especially for those which are more subtle and can often be overlooked.


Summary of Pain Symptoms

Obvious signs

Subtle Signs


  • Whining
  • Howling
  • Whimpering
  • Yelping


  • Grunting
  • Groaning

Daily Habits

  • Decreased Appetite
  • Withdraws from Social Interaction
  • Sleeps More
  • Not Interested in Play



  • Changes in Drinking
  • Sleeps More
  • Restless, wanders
  • Sleeps less
  • Sleeps at different times than previously

Self Mutilation

  • Biting/chewing at self



  • Scratching a particular part of its body
  • Licking


  • Reluctant to Move
  • Difficulty Getting Up From A Laying Position
  • Trembling, Circling or Laying Very Still
  • Seeks More Affection Than Usual


  • Restless
  • Getting up and down repetitively (Can not seem to get comfortable)


Behaviour Changes

  • Abnormal Aggression
  • Growling or Hissing
  • Biting
  • Hiding
  •  Seeking more attention than usual
  • More docile than usual
  • No Longer Wants to be Petted, Held, Picked up etc. 

Facial Expression

  • Pants Excessively When at Rest






  • Tight facial muscles,
  • Eyes are squinted
  • Pupils are Enlarged
  • Ears are flattened or in a different position than usual
  • Eyes are wide and glazed


  • Laying on side
  • Non-Weight Bearing on A Limb

  • Hunched back
  • Tightly rolled up if not normal for them
  • Subtle lameness – Walking differently
  • Lies in a different position than usual


  • Dirty Hair Coat or Missing Fur

  • Hair is not as shiny, clean or soft as usual


Sometimes these signs are gradual and may not be obvious at all if you are with your pet daily.  However, in hindsight or with a fresh set of eyes, signs may become more apparent.  This is why it is so important to bring your pet to your veterinarian regularly.


How can my veterinarian help me?

A palliative care veterinarian is trained to recognize pain in your pet even when the signs are subtle.  Your veterinarian can help you to recognize the subtle signs in your own pet as well as point you to resources specific for your pet.

At Caledon-Vaughan Veterinary House Call Services we can guide you through pain and quality life assessments.  We offer pain scales and can you help you log different parameters specific to your pet to monitor for changes in order to be pro-active in their care.  We have also developed a unique quality of life scale that can be used to ensure that your pet is living their best life.  Contact us to learn more.


My veterinarian has determined that my pet is painful.  How can I treat it? 

There have been so many advances in pain management recently that we are able to improve our pet’s quality of life by managing their pain.  It is important to get a diagnosis and a plan specific for your pet and their pain before treating your pet. Most over the counter pain medications for humans are very dangerous for pets and other modalities, including exercise, could cause more harm than good if not performed properly.

Once your veterinarian has evaluated your pet they will develop a unique plan to fit your pet’s needs.    Pain is very complex and is best approached from multiple directions at once.   It is important to listen to your veterinarian and follow directions exactly to obtain the best results.


Some of the things that may be included in a multi-modal pain management plan could include any combination of the following:

  • Weight Control
  • Prescription Medications
  • Veterinary Supplements
  • Focused Exercises – Physical Rehabilitation
  • Prescription Diets
  • Laser Therapy
  • Electrical Stimulation
  • Ultrasound Therapy
  • Electromagnetic Therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Aqua therapy
  • Cryotherapy
  • Heat therapy
  • Therapeutic Massage


The best way to ensure that your pet isn’t suffering from pain is to have them examined regularly by your veterinarian.  You should also monitor for overt as well as subtle signs at home and have them checked if you have any doubt.

At Caledon-Vaughan Veterinary House Call Services we want your pet to live their best pain-free life.  We can help interpret your pets needs to help reduce and alleviate pain as much as possible.

Author: Dr. Janet Henderson
Palliative Care Veterinarian
Caledon-Vaughan Veterinary House Call Services