Admittedly, it’s harder in pets. They can’t tell us what’s wrong, but we can observe changes in behavior that can signal potential pain. Decreased activity, change of routine, limping, and decreased interest in daily walks or normal activities can signal pain. If a dog is not only limping but only toe touching or – worse – not bearing weight on a limb, then that pet is experiencing significant pain.
Some patients may appear dull or depressed. Others may lose appetite or become “snappy” when certain areas of the body are manipulated or touched. They may be restless and unable to sleep comfortably. They may sit or stand even when they seem exhausted. Some will vocalize or chew at themselves. Some with acute pain may have rapid, shallow breathing. These patients may also stare into space with pupils dilated and be unwilling to interact.
It’s important to note that cancer is not always painful. For example, when lymph nodes are enlarged because of infection, they are often painful. With lymphoma, more often they are not. Even large abdominal masses just take up space in the body and only cause problems when they enlarge enough to push on normal structures. However, bone and joints tumors, gastrointestinal or pancreatic tumors, and advanced staged tumors, particularly those that fill the lungs with disease, can cause significant distress and pain. Mast cell tumors, while not considered painful, can cause stomach ulcers and are often irritating and itchy.
We will let you know if we believe your pet is in pain and will let you know whether we believe treatment can help. Most often, we can provide pain medications or preventives that help diminish the ill effects of a tumor, though we also depend on you to help us know how your pet behaves outside in the normal household environment.