This is part two of our blog series on recognizing pain in our pets. Rabbits, small mammals such as rats, as well as birds and reptile pets will be discussed. Much like cats, many of our exotic pet friends will try to hide or conceal signs of pain or injury. This is because most exotic pets are very close to their wild relatives. In the wild survival often depends on being seen as healthy and robust by other members of the group and by potential predators.
Lets talk about rabbits and small mammals first. We are lucky to have lots of available research on pain and pain medications in rabbits. A rabbit that suffers from a sudden pain or injury might let out a piercing squeal. Afterwards the rabbit may sit facing the back of the cage and sit with a hunched back. You may also notice rapid, shallow breathing and bulging eyes with sudden or severe pain. A rabbit that has a more long lasting, or chronic pain might be less active, not wanting to move around, or it could be acting dull. A rabbit in pain often eats less or not at all, though they may drink more water than usual. In the clinic we have found that grinding of the teeth and pulling out tufts of hair can sometimes be associated with pain. Two of the most common causes for pain in rabbits that we see here at Winrose are: dental disease and stomach and intestinal bloating. If a rabbit stops eating, even for as little as 8 to 12 hours, their stomach and intestines can become bloated. This can cause a very uncomfortable and painful sensation. When we treat this condition, called GI stasis, we are always sure to send home a pain medication to help our bunny patients start feeling well enough to eat again.
Guinea Pigs are very vocal little animals and when they are in sudden pain they can let out urgent, repeating, squeals. Like rabbits they may sit with a hunched posture or they might drag their hind legs. They can act agitated or very subdued when they are in pain, depending on the cause and the individual animal. We have a few very good options for pain medications in guinea pigs that can be safely and easily given at home. Rats, mice and hamsters are some of the other small critters that visit the clinic on a regular basis. These little guys will sometimes vocalize when in pain and other times may run in circles or have a hard time walking normally. They can be agrressive when in pain or like guinea pigs they may be very quiet. We are able to treat these small pets with the same medications that we use in rabbits and guinea pigs so don't hesitate to bring them in to the clinic if you notice any of these signs.
Many bird owners may recognize that a sick or painful bird will often sit in a hunched or drooping position and may fluff their feathers. Birds in pain might move about excessively or may be unable to move at all and can sit in the bottom of their cage. Birds have very different pain receptors when compared with mammals, so we will select specific medications that will work on their unique pain receptors. Reptiles are also unique. They often hide, stop eating and are very lethargic, not moving much at all. Sometimes they will display colour changes and can become agressive if disturbed. There is limited available research about the use of pain medications in reptiles but we have one or two medications that we use safely and routinely that seem to be very effective.
I hope you found this series helpful. If there is any question of whether or not your pet may be in pain, it is best to bring it in to be examined by one of our veterinarians.
Thanks for reading!