September has been designated “Animal Pain Awareness Month” by the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management, and doctors from North Houston Veterinary Specialists are urging pet parents to reflect on this often-overlooked problem that affects pets everywhere.

When your dog is reluctant to go for a walk or your cat suddenly starts hiding for hours at a time, there could be a very simple explanation for their unusual behavior: pain.
Pain is obvious when we feel it ourselves, but our pets’ pain often stays hidden. Unlike your human friends and relatives, dogs and cats are never going to say, “Oh, my aching back.”

Five signs that may indicate your pet is experiencing chronic pain:

  1. Changes in the pet’s gait, the movement you are used to seeing as they walk.
  2. Pets who don’t want to run any more, or who walk laboriously – even to the food bowl.
  3. Cats who disappear. When cats don’t feel well, they tend to go hide.
  4. Changes in posture, especially pets who seem to be increasingly hunched over.
  5. Pets who suddenly wince or become aggressive when you scratch their backs or pet them in a certain area, particularly if they seemed to like this before.

Arthritis, back, hip and disc problems and unrecognized injuries are among the conditions that can cause pets to feel ongoing pain. The good news is that in many cases, relief is available. Dr. John Gicking, a BluePearl veterinarian who is board-certified in emergency and critical care says,

Chronic pain is common in older animals and there are effective treatments.

Some conditions such as joint disease can be improved with surgery. Veterinary anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers can sometimes help. So can physical rehabilitation and even alternative practices such as acupuncture.

Just as in human medicine, the understanding of pain in animals has come a long way over time. Now it’s accepted that pain affects many of our pets, just as it affects many of our human friends and family members. Be observant about changes in your pets’ behavior, especially as they age. If you notice a change, or if you think your pet might be in pain, the first step is to see your family veterinarian.