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Severe pain in pets

isolated dog cat and rabbit


  • If your pet is in pain, contact your vet, if they are in severe pain, it could be an emergency. Severe pain often indicates a serious problem, even if the cause isn’t obvious.
  • Signs of severe pain include crying, hissing/growling or protecting a part of the body.

Covid-19 update

In the current situation, it’s important to call your vet practice to check they are open before you arrive. If they are closed, it’s likely that you will be directed to another local practice.

First aid

Stay calm

  • Reassure your pet with a soothing voice.

Protect yourself

  • Even the friendliest pet can scratch or bite if they are in pain.
  • If necessary, use a muzzle or towel to protect yourself but never use a muzzle if your pet is struggling to breathe or have an injury on their face.

Move your pet to a safe space

  • Make sure both you and your pet are safe and if necessary, slowly and gently, move them to a safe space.
  • If necessary, use a blanket, board or towel to help move them.

Call your vet

  • Call your vet for advice.

If your pet has a life-threatening problem


Severe pain is usually obvious, but some pets try to hide it as much as they can. Some of the common symptoms of being in pain include:

  • Crying
  • Rapid breathing
  • Lying very still/being rigid
  • Protecting an area of their body
  • Growling or hissing, especially when touched
  • Tooth grinding (especially rabbits)
  • Wide pupils.

Possible causes

There are many different things that can cause pain including:

Published: December 2020

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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst