Common Signs of Pain in Animals

When our furry friends show signs of discomfort, it can be hard to tell if they’re just acting out or if something is really wrong. Animals are good at hiding their pain for a variety of reasons, they don’t want to show weakness in front of others, they don’t want to seem like a burden, and they instinctively know that showing signs of pain makes them targets for predators. However, just because they’re good at hiding their pain, doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s important to know the common signs of pain in animals so you can get them the help they need as soon as possible.

Common Signs of Pain in Animals
Image Source: Unsplash

Hunched Posture

When an animal is in pain, it often adopts a hunched posture, leaning and bracing itself on one or more limbs to reduce the strain on its body. This hunched posture involves sitting or standing with shoulders rounded and head held close to the ground.

Ideally, this posture will give the animal some relief from discomfort while also minimizing further injury. In addition to humans, many other animals are known to adopt a hunched posture when in pain, including dogs, cats, birds, and rodents. Some scientists believe that this behavior is simply an instinctual response to suffering and that hunching may help to draw attention to the source of pain without alerting predators.

Restlessness and Agitation

Whether they are zoo animals, pets, or wild creatures, animals can get restless when they are suffering. This might manifest as pacing or agitated behavior, or it could show up as incessant scratching or grunting. In addition to these physical signs, however, there are often behavioral changes as well. For example, a cat that normally loves to eat may suddenly refuse food, while a dog that usually sleeps quietly may be constantly pacing and barking.

Whatever the specific symptoms may be, restlessness is often an indication that some form of pain needs to be addressed. Whether it’s due to illness, injury, or stress and anxiety brought on by living in captivity or in the wild during times of environmental threat, this condition can clearly signal that immediate intervention and treatment are needed.

Loss of Appetite

Loss of appetite is often seen as a sign of sickness or pain in humans, and this is also true for animals. However, this reaction can also be indicative of pain in animals, particularly arthritis in horses. Pain impairs an animal’s ability to concentrate on food and can cause lethargy and a loss of motivation. This makes it difficult for the animal to gather or maintain its appetite, leading to weight loss and decreased energy levels.

While equine arthritis is most common among geriatric horses, younger horses may also be at risk. If you notice that your horse appears sluggish or disinterested in eating, it may be worth consulting your veterinarian about arthritis as a possible cause of its symptoms. Ultimately, paying attention to changes in your animal’s behavior can help you ensure its well-being and maintain its quality of life.


Animals become withdrawn or inactive if they are injured or sick, seeking isolation as a way of reducing the stress associated with their condition. This apparent tendency among animals to hide their pain is deeply rooted in an evolutionary instinct for self-preservation. By concealing their vulnerability from potential predators and attackers, animals can focus on healing instead of on protecting themselves.

Studies also suggest that hiding may be a result of pack mentality, even seemingly minor injuries could cause an animal to be ostracized by its group if it were not able to stick close by at all times. Whatever the underlying cause, one thing is certain: hiding is generally a reliable indicator that an animal is experiencing pain or distress of some kind. If you notice your pet or any other animal suddenly becoming more withdrawn or isolated than usual, it may be worth investigating the possibility of illness or injury.

Acting quickly when these signs are detected can help improve the animal’s quality of life and minimize the severity of any health issues it might be facing. If you suspect that your pet is in pain, be sure to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible in order to devise a treatment plan tailored to his or her specific needs.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:November 22, 2023

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