Ways to detect and reduce pain in aging dogs and cats

Ways to detect and reduce pain in aging dogs and cats

Recognizing the common signs of pain in dogs and cats can help you promote their quality of life throughout the aging process.

As our pets age, it is common for them to develop some degree of musculoskeletal pain. One in four dogs in the United States have been diagnosed with arthritis. It can be difficult for pet parents to identify pain in their animals due to the stoic nature of pets. Many times pain is not detected until it becomes extreme enough to alter the animal’s gait. In this blog we will discuss how to identify signs of pain in your pet, and look at some simple, yet effective, solutions.

Know the signs

You should become suspicious of a problem if your pet’s behavior and personality changes. Pain can cause happy dogs and cats to become grumpy and aggressive or normally social animals may begin to avoid their human and animal companions. Cats are less likely to become lame (favoring a limb) than dogs so it is important to be aware of signs that your cat is physically uncomfortable.

Common signs of pain in dogs:

  • Reluctant to go on walks and exercise
  • Uncharacteristically grumpy or antisocial
  • Difficulty jumping on and off furniture, in and out of vehicles or going up and down stairs
  • Decreased appetite
  • Panting when not warm
  • Whining/crying/whimpering when performing certain movements or being lifted
  • Excessively licking at paws or another body parts
  • Restlessness/difficulty finding a comfortable position
  • Change in gait (favoring a leg or modifying posture)

Common signs of pain in cats:

  • Uncharacteristically grumpy and aggressive
  • Being less affectionate with people
  • Rapid breathing
  • Flicking tail
  • Reduced appetite
  • Becoming lethargic
  • Reluctant to move around
  • Difficulty jumping up and down
  • Crying/whining/hissing when moving or being picked up
  • Consistently hiding in dark areas
  • Favoring a limb or avoiding certain movements

It is important to have your animal evaluated by your veterinarian if they are showing signs of pain. If your veterinarian determines the pain to be musculoskeletal in nature, there are several non-invasive, non-medication treatment options.

Natural ways to reduce pain

Massage therapy

Similar to humans, animals can also benefit from massage therapy. Massage will aid in healing by bringing nutrient-rich blood to the area and helping move out metabolic waste and stagnant fluid. While petting can have benefits, massage therapy is more specific and is comprised of specific strokes. It is recommended that you either find a qualified animal massage therapist to work on your dog or cat, or take a course that will teach you how to massage your animal.

Kinesiology tape

Kinesiology tape is a sticky athletic tape that can be used on animals to reduce pain, support muscles and joints, reduce inflammation and decrease the risk of injury (or further injury). There are specific protocols for certain conditions, therefore it is recommended to utilize a trained professional or take a course to learn how to tape your animal yourself. Kinesiology tape is waterproof so it can be worn while your dog is swimming. Depending on the location of the tape application, it will typically stay on for 1–5 days.

Chiropractic/body alignment

Chiropractic and other body alignment techniques can aid in reducing your pet’s musculoskeletal pain by aligning their spines and improving neurological communication. Be sure to do your research when choosing a practitioner for your animal and find someone who is fully qualified. When done correctly, adjustments can aid in reducing symptoms due to intervertebral disc disease, arthritis, muscle spasms, neck and back pain, leg weakness and more.


Acupressure is the manual stimulation of specific acupuncture points. Acupuncture was developed in Ancient China with references to acupuncture procedures dating back to as early as 198 BCE. Traditional acupuncture utilizes thin needles that are applied to specific points to stimulate energy flow. Acupuncture medicine teaches that all people and animals have energy channels running through their bodies called meridians. The flow through these meridians can become altered due to trauma, stress and environmental factors. Acupressure is a way to influence these meridians without the use of needles.

Reiki/energy medicine

The Reiki technique was developed in Japan by Mikao Usui. This is a healing energy technique that utilizes life energy force that is transmitted from the practitioner’s hands. This technique was originally developed for people, but has been used frequently on animals as well. Reiki energy can help decrease pain, provide animals with emotional release and allow their bodies to naturally heal themselves.

If you are interested in finding an animal bodywork practitioner near you, visit holisticanimalstudies.org/practitioners.html. To learn these technique, click here to view a list of online courses offered by Holistic Animal Studies.


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