Arun Veterinary Group

Recognising pain in small pets

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Signs of pain: rabbits and small mammals

In the last of our series looking at how to tell if your pet is in pain we’ll look at rabbits and the smaller companion animals.

This is where it gets really tricky – our small pets are very difficult to assess for pain. If you are a prey animal in the wild then your survival depends on you masking your pain – any evidence of not being at your fittest and healthiest and you stand out from the rest as being a prime target for predators. Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, gerbils and mice are therefore all experts at hiding pain. To make things even harder, exhibiting normal behaviour does not necessarily mean that the pet is not experiencing pain.

So, how confident are you that you are able to tell when your small pet is in pain?

Just as with dogs and cats we are looking at three different areas: body language, behaviour and physiological parameters. As our smallest pets will not be wanting to give anything away you’ll need to observe them very closely – and it will help a great deal if you know your pet’s quirks and habits so that you can identify anything that inout of the ordinary.

Here are some signs to look out for:

Body language:
hunched posture
extending the neck
pressing the abdomen against the ground
head tilted to one side
sensitive to being touched

Changes in behaviour:
being withdrawn, less keen to interact, hiding
reluctant to move
eating less, having difficulty eating or not eating at all
drinking more
grinding teeth
grubby coat or matted fur – this is a rabbit that is struggling to groom itself
pulling fur out
not wanting to jump up or down onto surfaces
sleeping much more or less than usual
changes in toileting behaviour: passing very small amounts of urine more frequently, passing very hard or very soft pellets
Physiological parameters:
rapid, shallow breathing or breathing with the mouth open
breathing with increased abdominal movement
increased heart rate

As we have seen, identifying pain in your small pet can be a tricky business and it is often only very subtle observations that suggest to us that something may be wrong. Please remember we are here at the Storrington hospital 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to offer advice over the telephone and see your pet if necessary. If in doubt a phone call may confirm the need for a visit to see the vet or just be all it needs to provide reassurance.

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