What are the signs of pain in dogs? It's not what you think it is!
Updated: Aug 10
Dogs are masters of disguise. For the most part, they get on with life. They don't complain. They don't feel sorry for themselves. They can be scrupulous when it comes to coping with pain. An acute injury can cause a dog to display immediate physical signs or indicators that there is pain or discomfort present. You may see limping, or hear a yelp. This is often an 8 or 9 out of 10 on the pain scale. Quick and effective diagnosing and treatment can lead to a full recovery. However, often dogs are very quick to mask discomfort. Adrenaline plays a massive role in coping with pain and masking it. When there is a ball present, or something fun, adrenaline rises with the excitement. This overrides their pain response and activates their prey response. When we see our dogs running after balls or frolicking on the beach with other dogs we often assume the dog can't be in that much pain if they are able to do that. It's easy to dismiss an injury when we see no obvious evidence for it. This is where it gets interesting. In the short term, acute pain is managed with adrenaline as a pain blocker. This gives the dog enough time to start using other parts of their body to compensate for any pain or tension being held in a particular place, thus reducing the impact of the pain in day-to-day life. Sometimes this can go unnoticed for years. At which point the dog's entire system and body can become highly contorted and disfigured trying to compensate for the original acute pain or injury. This is what vets and physiotherapist call deferred pain. To the trained eye, we can often see abnormal gait patterns or adaptive postures being employed by the dog to cope with discomfort.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Early recognition and treatment is crucial in any soft tissue damage or muscle injury. Avoiding high-impact exercise following an injury is crucial. Gentle proprioception work is helpful to keep the joints moving but at low impact. Proprioception is one's physical awareness through space. There are many ways of exploring safe movement for our dogs: Canine forest schools, where a dog is encouraged to slow down their movement and use their seeking system for forage is a gentle way of encouraging presence of mind in a dog in a natural environment. Canine Snoezelen, which is a multi-sensory approach to learning and gives the opportunity for a dog and their guardian to spend time together without having any attachments to outcome and guided well, by a practitioner, it's one of the best ways of teaching a caregiver observation skills regarding their dog;s movent and behaviour.
FlOORING FLOORING FLOORING
As a preventative for injury it's really important to have a floor that your dog won't slip on. If you have sleepy floors then put down pieces of carpet or runners through the house giving your dog a pathway of traction. If your dog already shows signs of pain this will reduce further damage. More rugs, less drugs.
There are many behaviours that indicate a dog may be in pain or suffering. Some are more subtle than others. Perhaps your dog doesn't want to climb the stairs anymore. Or maybe he doesn't want to put his harness on. Sometimes it's not subtle and we see our dog’s sociability decline and even become irritable with other dogs or us.
Subtle changes can be a sign of deeper-rooted problems. Don't leave it. If you feel something is up, big or small, talk to someone. It's easy to feel silly and think we are overreacting and that our vet or trainer might think we are bonkers, but in my experience, your gut is usually a good place to start. Early treatment and management can prevent lifelong and life changing problems. So talk to us, we are here to support every aspect of a dog’s life and education. It takes a village.