Dogs are notorious for being reluctant to show pain. This natural instinct can make it incredibly frustrating for dog owners as they may not be aware of how much pain their dog is in or that they are in any pain at all. However, if you study your dog’s body language carefully, over time you will be able to identify subtle signs of pain which will make it easier to manage, treat and hopefully prevent it in the future. In this article, we will discuss how owners can learn more about whether their dog is in pain as well as some canine pain management strategies to hopefully help relieve your dog’s discomfort.
How do dogs feel pain
Due to their survival instinct to try not to show pain, it used to be believed that dogs did not experience pain in the same way humans did. However, in recent years, veterinarians have made huge improvements in the understanding of how dogs feel pain. Studies have shown that although dogs do not show pain as easily, they actually have similar nervous systems to humans and this knowledge has allowed us to implement new canine pain management strategies.
Pain is defined as a “highly unpleasant physical sensation caused by illness or injury” and varies significantly depending on the specific injury, condition as well as the individual. As pain is very subjective, it can be difficult to measure, especially as dogs instinctively hide their pain to prevent being seen as weak and vulnerable by predators. Whilst it is challenging to know when a dog is in pain, there are some signs that owners can look for.
Common signs of pain in dogs can be:
Spotting the signs is crucial for canine pain management. Whilst these can all be signs of pain, it is important to note that they are not exclusive to dogs experiencing pain. There can be other reasons why they are showing these symptoms.
Canine pain management strategies
Once it has been established that a dog is in pain, they will need to have a pain management strategy in place. If your dog is undergoing any surgery or dental procedure, feel free to ask what pain management your vet is using as the options are varied.
In general, medication of some form will be given to the dog before, during, and after any surgery to help with pain relief. Many types of drugs can be used to prevent or reduce canine pain and your vet will choose the appropriate drugs based specifically on your dog’s needs and condition.
NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
This type of drug is used to treat mild to moderate pain and discomfort and work by interfering with the production of inflammatory molecules that trigger swelling and pain. These drugs are powerful and therefore must be used with caution as they can have potential side effects on organs such as the liver, kidneys, and stomach.
Opioids are often used in more severe cases of pain, for example, if a dog is suffering from severe arthritis or cancer. This group of medications includes morphine, codeine, and hydromorphone and are used on selective cases only to try and reduce discomfort and maintain a good quality of life for a dog that suffers from chronic pain.
Depending on the cause of the pain, one pain management strategy could be therapeutic exercises or treatments. For example, dogs with osteoarthritis or similar conditions may benefit greatly from treatments such as laser therapy or hydrotherapy. Establishing a course of treatment is something your veterinary physiotherapist will be able to create as dogs can experience the best benefits when this treatment and exercises are sustained. Acupuncture and massage can also be used to offer pain relief, however, this tends to only provide short-term relief.
Whilst it can be a challenge for owners to reduce their dog’s weight, studies have shown that lameness can be decreased when dogs lose weight. It is important to note that this method of pain management truly depends on what condition the dog is suffering from. For example, a dog with osteoarthritis may benefit from this method.
Untreated pain is something no human or pet should ever have to experience. Whilst it can be challenging to spot if your dog is in pain, once you notice any subtle sign, you must visit your vet. The earlier these signs are caught, the higher the chance your vet will be able to come up with a successful canine pain management strategy to stop the pain or reduce your dog’s pain as much as possible.