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How Do I Know If My Pet Has Pain From Cancer?

How Do I Know If My Pet Has Pain From Cancer?

Our beloved cats and dogs can be extremely good at hiding their pain during illness. If your pet has been diagnosed with cancer, it is imperative to detect and address pain as quickly as possible. Today, our Vienna veterinary oncology team shares the signs of cancer pain to watch for, and how cancer pain in cats and dogs can be treated.

Cancer in Pets

Cancer can occur in any part of your pet's body and could be causing unnecessary discomfort without you realizing that there is an issue. For that reason, it's important for pet parents to be on alert for any signs of pain in their dog with cancer.

Types Of Cancer Pain

Because of our dogs' and cats' lack of ability to speak, detecting cancer pain in pets is difficult. Furthermore, understanding the nature of the pain (acute, chronic or intermittent) and the level of the pain (dull or severe) can make understanding how your dog is feeling very challenging!

These challenges are further compounded by the fact that the onset of pain in dogs with cancer can occur and escalate very gradually over a long period of time, or in some cases pain may be caused by cancer treatment rather than the cancer itself.

Signs Of Pain In Pets With Cancer

It may sound vague, however, if your dog begins displaying any behavior that is not typical for them, it could be an indication of pain. Some of the most common signs of pain in dogs include:

  • Limping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Aggression/Skittishness
  • Heavy panting
  • Trembling/Shaking
  • Excessive grooming
  • Increased vocalization

Signs of pain in cats can be more challenging to identify, but some indications of pain in cats include:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reluctance to move or walk 
  • Difficulty getting comfortable, restlessness
  • Less social, hiding or withdrawn
  • Purring with other signs of pain (purring is sometimes a self-soothing behavior from cats in pain)

For both cats and dogs, a surefire way to know whether your pet is experiencing pain is an improvement in their activity and/or demeanor after receiving vet-prescribed painkillers. 

Many cancers affect older cats and dogs, so it's likely that you as their caretaker are more familiar with their behavior and what is out of the ordinary. If your pet has been diagnosed with cancer and isn't acting like themselves, contact your veterinarian or vet specialist right away to have them seen and treated. 

Treating Cancer Pain In Cats & Dogs

Because there are so many variables regarding the type of pain your pet could be experiencing and why, there are a variety of pain relief medications and treatments that your vet may recommend to help improve your pet's quality of life. Below are some common approaches to managing pain in cats and dogs, keeping in mind that your vet may recommend a combination of drugs or treatments to address your animal companion's pain.

Hot & Cold Therapy

  • Hot and cold therapy using the application of ice packs to painful areas can be particularly helpful in reducing inflammation. Talk to your veterinarian about whether this is an appropriate method of pain relief for your pet.


  • Acupuncture can offer relief to dogs and cats with cancer that are suffering from mild to moderate pain. If you are interested in acupuncture as a way to relieve your pet's pain, be sure to consult a qualified veterinary acupuncturist.

Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

  • There are a number of effective anti-inflammatory drugs which your vet may prescribe to help relieve your pup's mild to moderate cancer pain, including Metacam, Previcox, Deramaxx and Rimadyl. These medications can impact the liver and kidneys so periodic blood tests will be required to monitor your pet's liver and kidney function while using these medications


  • Tramadol is a commonly prescribed narcotic that can help control mild to moderate cancer pain in cats and dogs. This medication is well tolerated by most pets and can be used in high doses to treat more severe pain, or combined with NSAIDs. Never make adjustments to your pet's medication without first consulting your veterinarian or vet specialist.

No matter what medications are prescribed for at-home pain relief treatment, it is important to ensure your pet gets the correct doses at the times prescribed by your veterinarian. If your pet reacts unexpectedly or poorly to the medications, or it does not seem to be taking effect, contact your veterinarian right away so that dosages or medications can be adjusted.

Administering pain medication on a preset schedule is more effective and less risky to your pet's wellbeing, rather than giving it to them 'as needed.' If your dog or cat is in pain, they're likely upset, stressed, and nervous, making administering the medication more fraught than it needs to be. Additionally, if your pet is exhibiting signs of extreme pain, a higher dose of medication may be required to address the pain – and higher doses of medication mean a higher risk of negative effects.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Our veterinary specialists provide advanced care for sick animals referred to us by their primary care vet. Contact Hope Advanced Veterinary Center for more information about veterinary services if your pet has been diagnosed with cancer.

New Patients Welcome 

Hope Advanced Veterinary Center is always accepting new patients! Our board-certified vets and specialists are passionate about restoring good health to Vienna's pets.

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