It’s a well-established fact that dogs are adept at sensing their owners’ moods and frame of mind, reacting in ways that signal understanding. And to our credit, we’re generally pretty good as well at picking up on what our pets want or how they are feeling.
But not always. Sometimes the message is missed entirely, for example when the dog is in pain. Sure, sometimes it’s pretty obvious that a dog is hurting, for example as a result of an injury. However, there are other sources of pain that can be harder for us to detect but that nevertheless cause the dog serious discomfort, says Dr. Michelle K. Beck, DMV, explaining that dogs experience pain just as humans do.
Beck practices at the Backlund Animal Clinic – Animal Rehabilitation in Omaha, Neb., and has been working with dogs for 11 years. As a rehabilitation therapist, she works very closely with her patients and their owners.
“Dogs can develop arthritis due to conformational issues, after joint injury, or from use over time,” she continues. They can have pain from nerve impingement in their spine, like a ‘slipped disk’ in humans. They can have pain associated with cancer, discomfort associated with gastrointestinal disorders or pancreatitis, etc. My day-to-day is filled with caring for dogs that experience pain for their orthopedic or neurologic conditions.”
It’s a growing list of causes—cancer, age, infections, arthritis, genetic abnormalities, surgery, and neglect, says Dr. Tom Dunn, DMV, founder of and practitioner at the Houston Veterinary Hospital, which treats small animals/companion animals.
The fact that dogs have higher pain thresholds compared to us and are better at hiding pain adds to the challenge, says Beck. Plus, we quite naturally expect that our dogs would cry out or whimper when in pain. In some cases, this does happen. For example, says Beck, dogs with neck pain will commonly scream, sending an unmistakable signal that something is wrong. And dogs with joint pain may develop a noticeable limp or the limb may tremble.
But other signs can be subtler. According to Beck, these behaviors can include:
Owners may also notice a decrease in appetite, or that their dog has become more aggressive, says Dunn. “They become reluctant to climb stairs, jump on furniture or get into a vehicle. Some pets begin to urinate and/or defecate in the house (lose their training) because it’s too uncomfortable to get up to go outside to eliminate,” he explains. “They are less mobile; they will not play, will not go on walks and will not interact with the family.”
One of the problems for pets and parents is that many of these symptoms develop slowly over time, making them harder to spot until the problem has progressed to the point where we suddenly take notice. Additionally, says Dunn, owners often think the pet is just getting older and that the behavior is a natural part of aging.
“Then the owners feel bad when we begin a pain management protocol and the pet rebounds and begins to act like his or her previous self,” Dunn says. “They blame themselves for allowing the pet to be uncomfortable for such a long time.”
Consequently, it’s important to pay attention to when a dog’s behavior begins to deviate from what’s normal, scheduling an exam with their primary care veterinarian if you see anything concerning, says Beck. Otherwise, it will be hard to pinpoint why the behavior has changed. (Dunn advises that senior pets undergo regular evaluations, even in the absence of discernable symptoms).
Beck also cautions against using over the counter (OTC) medications without first discussing this with the veterinarian, since not every human remedy is safe for dogs.
There are several other alternative approaches to treating dog pain besides OTC medication. Coconut oil for dogs has proven to be helpful in a multitude of different ways from soothing skin allergies, to promoting joint health.
CBD oil for dogs is all the rage in the pet healthcare right now. Cannabidiol—CBD—is a cannabis compound that has significant medical benefits, but does not appear to have any psychoactive effects associated with it. So it is a great alternative to harsh medicines and is widely toted from helping to treat everything from dog arthritis to cancer and even help protect blood vessels.
Salmon oil for dogs is also wildly popular and has tremendous benefits when it comes to dog joint pain. The fish oil is known for the following benefits:
Both Beck and Dunn deploy a multi-modal approach to treating dog pain. A variety of tools are used to address and mitigate pain, such as physical therapy, lasers, rehabilitation treatments, acupuncture, massage, pain medication and more. Improved support at home is also key, says Dunn.
The support of the bedding is of critical importance and needs to be part of the treatment plan. Often times after multiple types of treatment for dog joint pain these dogs go home and lay on the tile floor.
A memory foam dog bed can alleviate pain and provide comfort. Dr. Beck recommends BuddyRest orthopedic dog beds.
“This is where BuddyRest is so important,” he says. “Even with my own dogs, we added BuddyRest while leaving their blankets and pillows around the house. They chose BuddyRest as the place to sleep.”
Beck uses a BuddyRest bed for her acupuncture sessions, remarking that the dogs seek out the bed and that it enhances their relaxation; why she recommends BuddyRest to her clients looking for a dog bed.
At BuddyRest, they use tactile pressure mapping and real science to ensure dog beds are really orthopedic, calibrated and supportive. They are the world’s number one veterinarian-recommended dog bed.
This all is even more important when it comes to working dogs. Service dogs, hunting dogs, and other working dogs are put through the paces and are more prone to injury and long-term health issues. Specifically, service dogs with joint issues can become problematic. These dogs need proper support and diet more than other dogs because of this. SitStay.com is your working service dog supply headquarters since 1995.
There is a lot that one can worry about when it comes to the health of their furbabies. Seeing a loved one in pain can be very troubling. Rest assured, with the proper treatment, support and awareness, most signs of pain can be treated and eased.