I am regularly asked two questions: “Is my pet in pain?” and “How severe is the pain?” These are very good questions.
Assessing a pet’s pain level is very important but tends to be subjective and sometimes difficult to quantify. To help identify pain we need to touch and examine our pets as well as look for changes in habits and patterns. Using a “pain scale” can also help quantify pain.
- Level 1 – Normal, happy activity
- Level 2 – Normal activity but not happy (“Something is off”)
- Level 3 – Change in mood, hiding from people, obsessed with the owner, difficulty moving around or getting up
- Level 4 – Not moving around and/or appetite is off
- Level 5 – Constant panting, not eating, not moving
- Level 6 – Crying out and yelping
Each of these ranges is subjective but provides an initial method to quantify pain. Your veterinarian can also do a physical exam and run diagnostics to find the source of the pain and start proper treatment or surgery.
Our goal is to eliminate or minimize pain. Sometimes this is not possible and we are asked, especially with older pets, to perform a “quality of life exam.” These are exams performed by a veterinarian to determine if an elderly pet is in irreversible pain or dysfunction and needs to be euthanized. Every veterinarian will have his/her factors in determining this. Here are mine.
- The pet has not eaten for 3 days in a row despite being treated for pain.
- The pet is not moving very much and panting constantly.
- The pet is defecating and urinating where they lay or sleep.
- The pet stares at walls and constantly wanders and paces
A pet doesn’t have to display all of these, just one or two. Of course there are other things to consider, and you and your veterinarian can talk about the big picture to determine if your pet needs to be euthanized. No one wants a pet to die suffering.