Animals on the whole are much tougher than the average human being. When it comes to recognizing the signs of pain in a pet, that trait can be extremely problematic.

From an evolutionary standpoint, animals are programmed to hide pain. Even today, with all the veterinary training and technology we have access to, it can be difficult for a vet to diagnose and find the source of a pet’s pain.

 In honor of Animal Pain Awareness month, here are a handful of ways to remain vigilant for animal pain – and make sure it doesn’t go too far.

Watch for subtle changes in your pet’s behavior that may indicate underlying pain.

You’re around your pet all the time, so you’d think even the smallest changes in their behavior would be easy to detect. However, you might dismiss small things that could be early indicators. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a watchful eye on your pet to understand their own patterns – and when they change. 

You might notice that your pet is not eating as much as usual, or eating more slowly – or not eating at all. A pet might pause before running up or going down the stairs, jumping on or off furniture, or have difficulty standing up after a period of lying down. An increase in urination or vomiting (which can lead to weight loss), excessive licking of a particular area, and a decrease in activity in general can all be signs as well.

Even if you don’t see any of these specific signs, if you think something is wrong with your pet, it probably is. Trust your inner voice even if you can’t articulate it. Why? By the time animal pain is clearly visible to a lay person, the pet’s health condition may be too advanced to treat.

Partner with your veterinarian to understand the source of your pet’s pain.

Your best next step is to schedule an exam with your veterinarian. He or she can help diagnose the source of your pet’s pain. Your vet will measure your pet’s weight, perform a thorough physical exam, ask you a series of questions, and probably run some blood work to determine the underlying cause.

The key here is early identification. You’ll have a lot more options when you can detect problems earlier. If your pet has suddenly stopped eating because of a bad tooth, for example, it will be easier for your veterinarian to remove the tooth when the pet is healthy. If you wait to bring your pet in when they haven’t eaten in 10 days and are severely dehydrated, you’ll need to work to get the pet healthy again before they can be anesthetized for a dental procedure.

Has your pet experienced any of the behavioral changes mentioned above, or does your sixth sense tell you something is off? If so, get in touch with your veterinarian to schedule an appointment.