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Can You Recognize the Signs? The Not-So-Obvious Symptoms of Pain
Identifying when a pet has acutely injured himself is fairly straightforward when he is exhibiting obvious outward signs such as holding up an injured limb or howling after a fall. It’s not rocket science, after all! But did you know that most pets will mask symptoms of pain as part of their natural survival instinct? As the shepherds to our pets wellbeing, we are responsible to minimize suffering and can best serve our pets’ needs by learning to recognize the subtle symptoms of canine pain.
Behavioral Indicators of Pain in Dogs
- Decreased mobility or increasingly sedentary lifestyle
- Hesitancy to jump up or down
- Hesitancy to take stairs
- Increased irritability or aggression
- Hiding or antisocial behaviors
- Slow to stand up or sit down
- Difficulty getting comfortable
- Restlessness, pacing
- Altered gait
- Vocalizing or moaning
- Muscle tremors
- Accidents (urinary and fecal)
- Decreased appetite, or prolonged effort to eat
- Altered grooming patterns or self mutilation
Notice even minor changes from a pets previously “normal” behaviors. Lack of normal behavior, rather than development of a new behavior, may indicate an underlying and potentially painful problem. A veterinarian likely sees your healthy pet on only a handful of occasions per year, and during these visits a pet may not exhibit the symptoms you have noticed in a relaxed environment (i.e. the animal’s natural habitat). Mentioning behavior changes will aid the veterinarian in making decisions regarding how to help your pet.
Acute vs Chronic:
Acute pain is recognized due to dramatic behavior changes. It frequently occurs following events such as trauma, surgery, infection, and illness. Chronic pain is pain that has evolved overtime and can be debilitating. It usually develops from an original injury, though it may persist long after the initial injury has resolved. Pets with chronic pain are less likely to display extroverted symptoms of pain, making symptoms easy to overlook. A common disease in canines that leads to chronic pain is arthritis.
Measurement of pain intensity is difficult to interpret as our pets can’t articulate feelings of pain. While it makes sense that as pets age, their body does not bounce back as quickly from activities, it is unwise to dismiss a pets changes in behaviors as “ just getting old”. Most behavior changes have an identifiable underlying abnormality for which treatment can be pursued. Pain management often evolves over time. Discuss with your vet options for additional pain management if the current treatment isn’t working as well as it previously had.
Pain has a purpose, but it isn’t a necessary part of the healing process. Pain is the way the body communicates with the brain that something is “off” and needs attention. Once the underlying cause is identified, a multimodal approach to pain relief is indicated. Ongoing pain can delay healing, cause behavior changes, alter normal activity, and most importantly, ongoing pain decreases a pet’s quality of life.
Amanda Burow, D.V.M. (Dr. B), is a graduate of Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Burow’s patient list includes hunting dogs of all varieties, as well as several field trial dogs and full time sporting guide dogs. In addition to practicing general veterinary medicine, she has special interest in the areas of preventive care, emergency medicine, and dermatology. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and on the lake, staying active, reading, and spending time with family and friends.
Mud River is proud to share these tips from Dr. B with our customers. Keep in mind it is best to work with your local veterinarian to determine the needs for your animals.