Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Word on Pain

Is your dog suffering from pain? Would you know if he was?

It seems that there is a wide misconception of how much pain our dogs might have to be in for us to actually notice.

This is really important to realize. Dogs don't go around groaning, whining and complaining. Their instinct is to hide their pain. In a pack,  a dog showing weakness will  not only have to endure his pain, but also face challenges for his social rank. Clearly there is no advantage to that.

Yes, sometimes pain is clearly communicated by yelps, whimpers, and in case of excruciating pain even screaming. This is true for acute type of pain, as an immediate reaction to injury.
  • you've heard your dog yelp when you stepped on his toe. This means: “Ouch! Hey, you stepped on my toe, and it hurt!” It is also a message to you, to be more careful next time.

  • a whimper is both an expression of pain and fear. I read this as: “This hurts, I'm afraid, please stop, I give up!”

  • a series of yelps, clearly a more intensive message than a single yelp, expresses a high degree of pain or fear. It also communicates surrender.

  • screaming, as you might guess, is an expression of extreme pain or fear and I hope that you'll never get to hear that.
Ok, so detecting acute pain seems rather straightforward. How about chronic pain though?

You might be shocked how much pain your dog could be going through without showing it. 

That's why it is up to you to look for clues.

Some signs are easy enough to figure out. If your dog's leg is hurting - you might notice lameness. Often though, you need to look for more subtle messages:
  • changes in posture or gait
  • reluctance to get up, use the stairs or jump in the car
  • panting and pacing
  • asymmetry in the body (Do shoulders appear broader than normally? Is one leg more muscular than the other?)
  • any changes in behavior or routine
Pay attention to small changes in your dog's behavior or actions and  don't shrug it off. It is my sad experience, that is something doesn't seem right, it most likely isn't, and it needs to be figured out.

Unless we understand that, we might inadvertently leave our best friends suffering.


Further reading: Pain and Pets
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  1. When I worked in veterinary clinics I used to try to explain the concept of pets and pain to our clients. It's amazing how many times we would hear "No, my pet isn't in pain. He just limps a lot". Hello?? What do you think a limp is? Unless your dog is trying to be all bad-ass and "gangsta" chances are he's limping because he's in pain. My husband broke his leg this summer (rotation fracture in two places) and he was in considerable pain. But he didn't sit around whining and crying. He still ate and drank and went about his daily routine. That's how our pets are -- just because they don't show it doesn't mean they aren't feeling it.

  2. Jennifer, as a side note, your husband is an exception! LOL

    But otherwise you're completely right, people are just not getting it.