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Signs your dog may be in pain.

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

Pets in general are notoriously good at hiding signs of pain as this is a wild survival tactic preventing them from being perceived as weak so an easy target. This is not so good when the owner wants to make sure of their dogs quality of life and well being!

Signs to look out for

Dogs can show pain through physical symptoms, behavioural changes and mobility issues. Always stay vigilant and monitor your dog closely. Here are some examples of sings your dog is in pain or discomfort:

  • Low posture/ arched back

  • Shaking

  • Grumpy

  • Panting

  • Crying

  • Excessive licking/ scratching of an area

  • Reluctance to play

  • Lameness/ reluctance to use stairs or jump

  • Stiffness after rest

  • Avoiding being touched

  • Increased respiratory rate

  • Licking lips

  • Changes in eating/ sleeping or drinking habits

Not all these signs would be visible if a dog is in pain, with acute pain signs may be quite obvious

but with more chronic, gradual onset of pain signs can be far more subtle.

Causes of pain

Pain can be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (ongoing longer standing condition like arthritis).

Anything that damages cells or causes inflammation can cause pain in your dog. Certain conditions can be particularly painful these include pancreatitis, bone cancer, arthritis, dental disease, slipped disc, ear infection, cystitis, peritonitis to name just a few.

Treatment of pain

If your dog is exhibiting signs of pain, arrange an appointment with your vet so they can work out what is causing the discomfort. They will examine the dog top to tail and may need to do further tests. There are a variety of medications your vet can prescribe for your dog if it is pain. The choice of pain relief depends on the underlying cause, the amount of pain your pet is in and other treatments and medications that maybe required.

If your pet shows signs of pain or discomfort during an activity, stop and avoid it until you have spoken to your vet.

Depending on the cause of pain, treatments can be short term and others can be long term.

Never self medicate your dog with human medication as some can be very dangerous and toxic for dogs, always get veterinary advise before starting treatment.

Complementary treatment

There are a number of additional options for pain relief in the dog. The most common indication for use of these therapies is post operative patients that have under gone orthopaedic procedures. They can also help aid stiffness and arthritic pain and encourage the patient to stay mobile. All these therapies should be carried out under direction of a vet.

  • Therapeutic laser- reduces pain and inflammation and promotes healing, is often used post surgery and with tendon/ ligament damage.

  • Pulsed electro-magnetic field technology - A magnetic pulse relieves pain and promotes healing by stimulation cells needed for regrowth. It can be used with a range of conditions from post op pain to arthritis.

  • Ultrasound- Uses sound frequencies to absorb energy to decrease pain and inflammation and increase blood flow which promotes healing . It is helpful with arthritis, neurological conditions and tendon injury.

  • Acupuncture- This involves tiny needles puncturing the skin. It is a physiologic therapy as the brain responds to the needles and promotes self healing.

  • Massage and passive range of motion- This can be very important in healing with certain injuries like post op pain, neurological disease and arthritis. It involves movement of joints by external forces, stimulating the joint and muscle and increasing flexibility. Massage can help remove noxious chemicals and improves oxygen supply to damaged tissues

  • Neuromuscular electrical stimulation- Used in neurological and orthopaedic patients, it contracts muscles which in turn reduces pain.

So whether pain is related to an acute injury or has been going on for a while, there are several approaches to pain management in dogs. If possible the direct cause of the pain will be addressed by your vet, sometimes this is not an option and symptomatic relief is given. A few simple changes to the environment can also aid in reducing pain such as altering activity levels, or making changes to the home environment such as ramps and raised food bowls.

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