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How can I tell if my pet is in pain?

Pain is associated with surgery, disease or illness, and has both physical and emotional components. A vital part of veterinary medicine includes maintaining quality and compassionate care by preventing and managing pain both in hospital and when the patient is discharged.

Some signs of pain that a pet might show at home are as follows:

  • Not eating/drinking
  • Decreased activity or not wanting to walk
  • Looking at or the urge to lick/chew at surgical site
  • Decreased grooming
  • Flinching/increased body tension when surgical site is gently palpated
  • If your pet does not want to lay down on the incision or if it tried to and then immediately changes to a different position.

The most common sign of pain is a change in behavior.

What are the behavior changes to look out for if my pet is in pain?

If your pet is normally vocal and is acting more subdued, this can be an indication of pain or discomfort. On the other hand, if your pet is normally quiet and is vocalizing more this can also be a sign. Reduced interaction with other pets and owners, inappropriate eliminations (urinating in the house), aggression, abnormal posture, restlessness, and hiding can also be a sign of pain. If these signs occur try giving the recommended dose of the pain medication that was prescribed by your veterinarian.

How can I tell the difference between anxiety and pain?

Keep in mind that the first 24 hours your pet is home after hospitalization is the most common time for anxiety to be seen. A vocalizing or struggling pet who when approached or touched calms down is more likely to have anxiety rather than pain. If your pet does not calm down when given attention they may be experiencing pain.

What can I do at home beyond medication to make my pet more comfortable?

Along with the appropriate pain medication, environmental changes are helpful. Things such as extra padding on bedding, raised food dishes and non-slip surfaces. Try inexpensive rugs, rubber matting or children’s soft linking play mats from hardware stores to help your pet walk around if your house has a lot of hardwood or tile flooring.

For cats pain is more difficult to assess compared to dogs; the signs are more subtle. For cats there are not as many types of pain or anti-inflammatory medication to use compared to dogs.

Most animals have activity restrictions placed upon them in the post-operative period. This means your pet may not be able to sleep in their normal area. Therefore, if your pet is used to sleeping with you, if possible bring their crate or bed to you, or bring your bedding downstairs to sleep with them. (i.e. your bed, couch, upstairs.)

My pet still hasn’t had a bowel movement. Is that normal? Or is it because he/she may be experiencing pain?

Many patients may not have a bowel movement for 4-5 days post operatively. Anesthesia, pain medications, lack of appetite, and decreased movement all play a role in decreased gastrointestinal mobility. As long as your pet is not straining and trying to pass a bowel movement there is no need to be concerned. The severe constipation seen in people post-operatively is rare in cats and dogs. Canned pumpkin has shown to help move along the GI tract. See below:

Recommended Amount of Canned Pumpkin for Canines:

Weight  /  Amount

Less than 15 lbs. 1 – 2 tsp.

15 – 35 lbs. 1 – 2 Tbsp.

35 – 65 lbs. 2 – 5 Tbsp.

65 – 95 lbs. 5 Tbsp. – 0.5 cup

95 lbs. and up 0.5 – 1 cup

For Felines: 1-2 teaspoons

Some pets may take to the pumpkin readily or you may mix the recommended amount into each meal. If stool becomes too soft reduce the amount of canned pumpkin. 1-2 days of treatment is generally all that is necessary.


What is the difference between a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory (NSAID) and a pain reliever?

NSAID’s (i.e. Rimdyl, Metacam, Previcoxx and Deramaxx) are Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory medications but ALSO have pain relieving (analgesic) properties.

Tramadol is a mild opiate pain reliever and is generally well tolerated with or without the addition of an NSAID.

What are some side effects of the pain medication I should look out for?

Side effects of NSAID’s include gastrointestinal signs (most common), renal or liver issues (rare) in a very small percentage of dogs. Please monitor for signs of lethargy, depression, vomiting, diarrhea or anorexia. If these signs occur please discontinue the medication and call us.

Adverse side effects of Tramadol are associated with signs of panting, agitation, disorientation and vocalization due to its narcotic like properties. These side effects, although rare, make it difficult to determine a medication reaction vs. pain. If you are having trouble determining which is occurring, try stopping the Tramadol for 12-24 hours. If the signs dissipate then it was most likely a medication reaction; if the signs persist then it is most likely pain. If your pet is still experiencing pain then you can use the increased dose range given by doctor. If an increased dose range is not provided please call us.

Is it better if my pet has some pain, because then he/she won’t want to move around?

Pain after a surgical procedure was once thought to be good to prevent movement and allow healing. However many recent studies have shown that pain relief post-operatively reduces anxiety and discomfort, which improves overall recovery and quality of life.

When can I bathe my pet or bring them to the groomer?

Surgical patients should not be bathed until after suture removal. It is recommended to consult with your pets’ doctor at the time of suture removal regarding when your pet can be bathed and/or go to the groomer.

My pet doesn’t seem to like the e-collar, is it necessary?

YES. When incisions are healing they can become itchy and pets tend to lick them. If your pet licks the incision it can cause the incision to open up and will introduce bacteria from your pet’s mouth into the incision that can lead to infection, further irritation and potentially the need for additional surgery if the incision opens up.

We send home all surgical patients with an e-collar. We use a plain tie around their neck through the loops of the e-collar to keep it on the patient. To make the e-collar more secure and comfortable you can slip the pets own collar into the e-collar loops. Make sure that their own collar fits snuggly enough that your pet cannot slip the e-collar off their head.

Can I take the e-collar off?

Most dogs and cats can eat, drink, and sleep well with e-collar on and animals can do a lot of damage to a surgical incision in a very short period of time without the e-collar. We recommend leaving the e-collar on at all times unless your pet’s sutures have been removed. If you do take the e-collar off make sure they are under direct supervision so that your pet cannot lick or chew at the incision. Alternatives to the plastic e-collar available at pet stores or online include:

  • Inflatable collars
  • Comfy Cone
  • Bite Not collars

How/where should I confine my pet?

Small dogs and cats can be confined to a crate (a large dog crate is fine to allow them to move around a little), an upside-down baby pen or small room such as a laundry room, bathroom, etc.

Larger dogs can be confined to a crate if you have one, or a downstairs room such as a laundry room, bathroom, or dining room. If you do not have any doors try using a baby gate to block off the doorway or an adjustable pet play pen from a pet store.

If you are at home an able to supervise your pet – they may be out in the room that you are in but make sure the doors are shut or blocked off or put your dog on a leash so they cannot take off if the doorbell rings, etc.

My pet doesn’t seem as interested in food, how can I get the medications into him/her?

Cats can be finicky eaters, both in hospital and at home. To make food more enticing to them try feeding them warmed canned food which will make the food have a stronger smell, which is appealing to cats.

With dogs try mixing food with warm water or broth. You can also buy canned food and that is sometimes more appealing to them.

Other strategies for getting your pet to take medication are available. You can purchase “Pill Pockets” at the pet store, or hide pills in peanut butter, cheese, wet food, or pieces of hot dog.

My pet was sent home with a bandage, what should I be looking for?

Bandage care at home is very important. Bandages can be as hurtful as they are helpful if they slip, get wet/dirty, or are too tight. Bandages should be assessed several times a day to be sure they are intact, dry and clean. A soiled and/or moist bandage against warm skin provides the perfect environment for bacterial infection. Very severe skin infections and incisional infections can occur in this situation, often requiring prolonged antibiotic therapy and potentially surgical debridement.

Slipped bandages are concerning for several reasons. A bandage that is applied to a particular area that is intended to provide support will fail to do so if it slips. Furthermore, a bandage that has moved from its intended location can cause restriction or damage to a new area. Examples of these complications include a bandage around the abdomen that moves forward and restricts normal breathing, or a bandage over a knee incision that slides down the leg and leaves the incision unprotected and the knee unsupported.

If a bandage is applied too tightly or slips and restricts a site, adequate circulation can be interrupted, creating discomfort and damage to the tissues. Sliding a finger under the bandage daily is an approximate means of assessing how tight the bandage is. Swelling above or below the bandage is indicative that it is too tight (for example, swollen toes on a bandaged limb).

The bandage itself may draw the patient’s attention to the site and lead to licking or chewing at the bandage and possibly the skin beneath. An E-collar should be left on at all times if a patient shows too much interest in their bandage or if they are to be left alone and not monitored all day. Licking and chewing can moisten the bandage and can make the injury beneath worse. Additionally, ingestion of bandage material can lead to intestinal obstruction and potentially the need for surgery to get the bandage material out.

If there is any doubt about the cleanliness, dryness, position, or integrity of a bandage, a veterinarian should assess it as soon as possible. Please do not try to fix or replace a bandage at home on your own, as this can lead to further complications. The importance of monitoring a bandage cannot be stressed enough.

Please remember the information provided is general information about post-operative management, as well as some suggestions on how to handle various situations. Every pet is different and this is just a general guideline to assist you in assessing your pet post operatively.

If you have any further questions or concerns please call us at 610-666-1050. We are happy to assist you 24 hours a day with any questions or problems you may have.