Is my dog in pain? Good question. Pain can be thought of as an emotional response to a stimulus. Different pets will show different severity in emotion and reaction following the same painful stimulus. They react differently in the same way that different humans would react differently to the same painful event (stubbing your toe, falling over).
Whatever your pet’s “pain threshold”, it is so important that we try our best to keep them pain-free. A painful pet has a poor quality of life – they will take longer to recover from infections, wounds will take longer to heal, they will be less willing to go out and about and do fun things, and above all, they will be a lot more miserable.
We have lots of different ways of managing pain – lifestyle changes, diet changes and medical management.
Acute pain is short-lasting pain and we can normally work out exactly what’s caused it. This pain is sometimes thought to be useful to our pets – for example, if they break their leg, the pain associated with the broken bone prevents them from walking on it and causing further damage. However, nowadays we can look after them to help avoid further injury, so we would always try and manage the pain for them.
Chronic pain is pain that has gone on for a longer period of time than we would expect for the given condition. It is inappropriate pain, and it is often hard to determine why it’s happening. Acute pain tends to go away once the injury occurs, and it’s what we’re all used to dealing with – the impact on your pet tends to be temporary. For chronic pain, however, the impact is long term and insidious, gradually making their life more and more miserable. This type of pain may also be harder to detect as the clinical signs may not be as obvious.
Pain can be associated with multiple different body systems and some symptoms may be specific to the location of the pain. However, general clinical signs of pain include:
Resistance to move, resistance to touch/palpation, inappetence, depression, restlessness, blood shot eyes, heavy breathing/panting, licking of lips, change in gait (change in stride length), isolating, vocalisation and toileting inside.
Many lifestyle changes can help to reduce the amount of pain experienced by our animals.
We need to make sure their food and water is close by so no significant movements need to be made in order to gain access to them. Providing a soft bedding located down on the floor, preferably near to the door so it is easy for them to go outside to the toilet, is beneficial in minimising the amount of mobility needed in urgent situations. Ensure all prescribed medication is given on time. We need to make sure they keep a reasonable core temperature, ensuring they do not overheat or become hypothermic.
Try to keep notes regarding the frequency/duration and time of day when the pain seems to occur. Is it associated with feeding time, early in the morning when they wake up, after exercise? Keeping a diary and providing thorough clinical notes to your vet will decrease the amount of time it takes for vets to diagnose and select appropriate management options.
Booking an appointment with one of our vets can help us to manage the pain. It also helps to monitor for progression/regression and modify the lifestyle of drugs needed. Managing pain is vital and is very case dependant. It depends on the type of pain, the cause of the pain, any other systemic disease, and concurrent medication amongst other factors.
We can pain score your pet. The more often we see your pet and learn about their normal behaviour, the easier it is for us to detect behavioural changes. These may suggest this pet is experiencing more pain.
We have 7 different types of drug that we can choose from to manage pain. Many of these can be used together. So, there are lots of options and methods for us to manage and improve your painful dog’s quality of life.
As our pets get older, they often experience more musculoskeletal pain. Many injuries from their younger years result in osteoporosis in older years. These bony changes make it much more painful to move around, get up, or go outdoors.
We need to monitor and control the amount of exercise our pet participates in. We want to make sure our pets continue to exercise, as using their bones helps to maintain good bone strength. However, too much exercise could be detrimental to soft tissue.
Older animals may need to be let outside more to go to the toilet because they have reduced bladder control.
It depends on the type of pain, and your dog’s unique response to it and the medications. Some dogs can be kept comfortable on low doses for many years. However, we may use all the medications and the other tools. This still not be able to keep them happy and pain-free. These are the situations where we have to stop and think – how much longer is it fair to keep going?
For more information, please visit our page on ‘Is it time?’ where we discuss how you can give your pet the best quality of life until the very end. If you need any further advice or guidance, please give us a call on 08000 354 999 where one of our understanding team would be happy to talk you through your concerns during a no obligation call.