Is your dog in pain?
This isn't a nice question to be thinking about I know, but it's important that we ask ourselves this as we are our dogs only hope of getting relief. Our dogs obviously can't talk, but they can subtly communicate that they are uncomfortable and it is our responsibility to pick up on these signs and do something about it.
We may think that if our dog isn't limping or isn't crying out that they're happy and comfortable, but there are so many smaller signals that they could be showing us! A dog could be in severe pain and never cry out, so don't wait for that to happen. Also - and this is a big one - just because they are still running/enjoying their walks/chasing their ball/wanting to fetch does NOT mean they're not in pain. They get a dopamine release from these actions because they love them so much, so they'll do the action regardless of the consequences. Some dogs would probably still chase their ball even if their leg was hanging off, they just can't help themselves!
How many times have you carried out your daily routine even when you're in pain? You may get lower back pain - does it stop you from going to work? Making dinner? Walking your dog? Just because you cope doesn't mean its not painful, and its the same for our dogs.
Ok lets get nerdy for a second...
There are two types of pain, ACUTE and CHRONIC.
Acute pain is good. Acute pain is the immediate pain you get from cutting yourself, or touching a hot pan. That pain has a purpose, it tells your body to stop doing the thing that could potentially really harm you. It usually lasts a little while and then goes away. Great.
And then there's chronic pain.
This is a long-term pain that actually has no real beneficial purpose. Its the type of pain you get from arthritis or from nerve damage, which may originally occur to stop you from using something that's damaged (such as an arthritic joint) but it gets very carried away. Chronic pain causes muscle inhibition = instability = tripping/falling = more injury. Chronic pain can also lead to hyperalgesia (increased sensitivity) because the nervous system gets constantly bombarded with pain signals and doesn't know how to process them.
So we need to be able to address this pain and get it under control before it spirals. What should we be looking for?
Your dog will be constantly trying to communicate with you the only way they know how - their behaviour. Have they become aggressive to you, other people, other dogs? Do they lick and chew more than they used to? Do they seem to sleep more, or have a depressed demeanour? Do they pace and pant at night? Do they avoid high surfaces, or sleep in different places to where they used to?
These are all indicators that something has changed, and that could be a painful change.
Did you know that dogs naturally have a slightly lordotic back? This means that their back should curve like a very shallow plate or bowl, but what we actually commonly see is a slightly kyphotic back which curves like a rainbow. Why? Because the dog has changed the way it stands and holds itself to avoid pain.
Does your dog stand with a leg 'in each corner' i.e. are each of his feet directly below his legs or do they stray towards the middle/towards the outside/more forwards/more backwards. If a leg isn't in its corner it would indicate that having the leg in a different place is more comfortable. It will adapt to shift the weight off a painful area until a new area becomes painful because of the extra strain, and then it will have to adapt again. These changes are often so subtle that we don't notice but there are tell-tale signs to look out for. Look at some of these postural changes stolen from the CAM (Canine Arthritis Management) website:
Linked with this are muscle changes. Can we see bones we couldn't see before? That would indicate muscle loss. Have they overdeveloped muscle in particular areas? This could be to take weight and strain off painful areas. Has their coat changed colour/condition/direction? This could tell us about the condition of the fascia and muscles underneath. Everything has a story to tell when you know where to look!
So lets say that you're reading this at home and you have linked some of the points mentioned so far to your own dog - what do you do now?
SPEAK TO YOUR VET! I can't highlight enough how important it is to get these things checked out. If your dogs not in pain, great! If it is, then you have made the first step in changing its life for the better.
Imagine having to live day-in day-out in chronic pain with no pain relief and no changes to your daily routine. It would be awful!
Now imagine that someone suddenly realised your pain and gave you pain relief, adapted your exercise regime, adapted your home environment to make it more manageable and what a difference that would make to your quality of life.
Pointing out these pain indicators can sometimes seem a bit doom and gloom because you start to realise that we see them everywhere. But this is so important because I'm sure every one of you would want your dog to be pain-free, and in order to do that we need to be able to recognise when they're not so we can correct that.
Here's a nice explanation from CAM about acute and chronic pain and you can always explore the rest of the website for pain specifically related to arthritis in dogs.
This article by a vet nurse/behaviourist is also a great read about the effect of pain on behaviour.
And another article written by someone who has a dog with chronic pain (arthritis) but also suffers with chronic pain herself, gives a different perspective on living with chronic pain.
In the coming weeks I will be writing a blog post about the use of NSAID's (Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories) which are often used for pain relief in chronic conditions such as arthritis or hip/elbow dysplasia - keep your eyes peeled!
Thanks for reading!
Harley :) x