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Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Pain is universal and one of the most common feelings animals can convey. Most owners can detect a limp or a painful cry, but pain that’s chronic or moderate enough to withstand takes more scrutiny to recognize.

When it comes to detecting pain, you should look for a change or abnormality in your pet’s behavior. You know them better than anyone else and if you suspect something is wrong, take them to your veterinarian.

Everyone has experienced pain and knows how debilitating it can be. Your pet’s no different, but they have a limited language to convey their discomfort. Take the time to “listen” and watch for the signs.

What are some of the signs that a dog or cat is in pain?

Dogs and cats generally show a change in behavior or temperament when they’re uncomfortable. A normally happy and affectionate pet may become irritable and refuse to be held or petted. A rambunctious dog may prefer to sit or lie quietly and be left alone.

If a dog or cat can reach the painful area, such as a paw, they may lick, scratch, or bite it in an attempt to make it feel better. Unfortunately, they may inadvertently inflict self-injury by repeatedly rubbing or scratching the area. This is seen frequently in animals with ear infections that dig at the skin behind the sore ear with their rear claws.

What are some of the signs that a horse is in pain?

Horses in pain become restless and paw at the ground. They may look at the painful area and try to kick at it or roll around in the dirt. If the pain is very severe, they may refuse to move and prefer to stand with their head drooping. These are all common signs of abdominal pain, or colic, in horses.

What signs do cattle exhibit when they are in pain?

Cattle frequently grind their teeth when they are in pain. They may groan when they get up or take only shallow breaths. In dairy cows, a drop in milk production is often a reaction to a painful hoof or udder.

What are some of the signs that a bird is in pain?

Birds will frequently pluck their feathers from a painful area. It should be noted, however, that feather plucking, also called feather picking, can be a behavioral problem seen in otherwise healthy birds.

Can I give my pet pain human pain medications?

Don’t ever give human pain medication to your pet unless your veterinarian has specifically recommended it. Common over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen, are very poisonous to certain pets.

What should I do if my pet is in pain?

If your pet is showing symptoms of pain, contact your veterinarian or the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital at 509-335-0711.


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

Golden retriever being prepped for acupuncture therapy.

What is integrative veterinary medicine?

Integrative veterinary medicine is a comprehensive approach to animal health, guided by the best available evidence, that combines complementary therapies with conventional care. 

What therapies are used for pets in integrative medicine?

Hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and laser therapy are three of the more common therapeutic services offered for your pet. All three treatments have been shown to be beneficial in treating a variety of chronic conditions, including osteoarthritis.

What is hydrotherapy and how does it benefit my pet?

Hydrotherapy uses an underwater treadmill to ease pain, increase range of motion, and improve blood flow.

Being in water takes weight off joints and helps the patient move easier. This puts less stress on the joints of a pet that has suffered an injury or is recovering from an operation. For older, arthritic patients, the underwater treadmill can help ease those painful stiff joints and increase mobility.

Hydrotherapy can also be used for weight loss, conditioning, and mental stimulation. Most pets, even those scared of the water, can become comfortable on the underwater treadmill. Animals that are weak from a nerve problem, spinal cord injury, or degenerative condition can often gain or maintain strength using the underwater treadmill.

What is acupuncture and how can it benefit my pet?

Acupuncture can benefit a variety of conditions in pets, including functional problems such as those that involve paralysis, pain, and inflammation.

Acupuncture, a technique practiced in China for thousands of years, involves inserting needles at points where nerves and blood vessels come together to produce a healing response in humans and animals. Each acupuncture point has specific actions when stimulated.

The technique has also proven beneficial for animals with arthritis, degenerative joint disease, cancer, metabolic disease, and chronic and neurologic conditions. In Chinese medicine, acupuncture is one way of aiding in the flow of Qi (chi). Thought of as vital energy or life force, Qi flows through the body along channels called meridians that run up and down the body.

What is laser therapy and how can it benefit my pet?

Laser therapy is a non-invasive procedure beneficial for osteoarthritic pets. Laser therapy can increase blood flow, limit pain, decrease inflammation, and stimulate and improve healing. Therapy lasers use light energy (photons) to cause beneficial changes within unhealthy cells through a process called photobiomodulation. Without damaging tissues, the laser sends photons into the tissues. This stimulates the cells and repairs damaged cells and tissues. The procedure may take anywhere from 1-10 minutes. Most conditions take four to eight sessions for the best effects, and chronic conditions may require periodic maintenance sessions.

What should I do if my dog is showing signs of osteoarthritis?

If your dog is experiencing osteoarthritis or a similar painful condition call your veterinary clinic or schedule an appointment with one of the integrative medicine veterinarians at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital by calling 509-335-0711.


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

Blue green algae never the shore.
Photo credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/cyborgsuzy/

As temperatures climb during the summer months, conditions can become ripe in waterways to produce toxic blue-green algae – or cyanobacterial – blooms that can be deadly to pets, with animals often dying within 15-20 minutes after exposure.

Animals can be exposed to blue-green algae and its toxins by simply contacting any affected water body, including ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, or even residential decorative ponds and neglected swimming pools.

What are blue-green algae?

Cyanobacteria, also referred to as blue-green algae, are microscopic organisms that live in fresh bodies of water that usually multiply and bloom when water is warm, stagnant, and rich in nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from sources such as fertilizer runoff.

The toxins that cyanobacteria produce come in four types and can be very deadly. The toxins can specifically affect the liver, the kidneys and liver together, the nervous system, or the skin.

How do I know if water is contaminated with blue-green algae?

It is impossible to tell whether a given body of water has a toxic bloom currently without sophisticated testing. During warmer months, it is best to assume all surface waters are potentially contaminated.

Sometimes, blooms will present as thick, gooey, green slime on and in surface waters and eddies of running waters. Blooms can also be red or brown.

Often, concentrations will occur in just one part of a waterway.

Dead fish, waterfowl, or other animals around a water source may indicate the presence of blue-green algae.

What are the symptoms for an animal exposed to blue-green algae?

Signs of poisoning usually occur within 15-20 minutes after ingestion. Symptoms can include:

  • Skin rashes
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in stool or black, tarry stool
  • Weakness
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Jaundice
  • Seizures
  • Disorientation
  • Coma
  • Shock
  • Difficulty breathing

What should I do if I think my pet may have been exposed?

Immediately contact your vet or the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital at 509-335-0711.

The time from exposure to death can be mere minutes to hours without aggressive and experienced veterinary intervention.

How can I protect my pet from blue-green algae?

To reduce the chance of your pet being exposed to blue-green algae:

  • A good rule of thumb for you and your pet is: When in Doubt, Stay Out!
  • Don’t let animals swim or drink where there is noticeable algae in the water or scum on the shore.
  • If pets swam in water that could have harmful algae, rinse them off with fresh water immediately. Don’t let them lick their fur.
  • If your pet experiences any symptoms after exposure to algae, contact your veterinarian immediately.

This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.