Is My Dog in Pain?

Dogs are sentient creatures like us--they do feel pain and can suffer with both acute and chronic pain. As we age, many of us will have at least minor aches and pains on occasion. What do we do? Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or your choice of over-the-counter pain medications. But what happens when that headache or back pain lasts for hours or days? How does it affect you? Your sleep? Your performance with athletics or your job? What happens with your interactions with your friends, family, or coworkers? Are you bright and cheerful or reserved, grouchy, or ready to go back to bed?

Unfortunately, most of our four-legged friends don’t give us clear signs when they are uncomfortable or in pain. Occasionally, they will cry out or limp, but most of the indicators are more subtle. We can easily pass these changes off as “old age,” cognitive dysfunction, or behavioral issues, such as aggression.

There are numerous resources to help you and your veterinarian identify if your pet may be in pain:

IVAPM (International Veterinary Association of Pain Management)
Colorado State University Feline Pain Scale
Colorado State University Canine Pain Scale
AAHA/AAFP Pain Management Guidelines

The following are general guidelines for behavioral changes that may indicate pain in dogs; however some may also indicate poor healthy or anxiety. Working with your vet can help you to differentiate:

-Whimpering, vocalizing, crying out
-Abnormal posture (guarding a specific area, hunched posture)
-Inability to get up, lie down, or stay in the same position for more than a few seconds
-Over-grooming or licking an area
-Decreased or picky appetite
-Staying in the same location for hours, inability or unwillingness to walk
-Biting caregivers or other animals (uncharacteristically)
-Urinating or defecating with no effort to get up or move
-Restlessness or agitation, commonly at night
-Barking or growling when approached, intermittently, or constant in some cases

There are certainly more changes or behaviors that can appear in dogs. It is important to remember that they are all individual and respond to pain differently. They also respond to treatments differently, and it is important to evaluate your pet to see if you see positive, negative, or negligible changes with treatments.

Uncontrolled pain in both acute and chronic settings can set animals up for long-term, difficult to break pain cycles. It can affect their overall healthy, including weight, organs, blood sugar, and overall health.

In most animals, there are many avenues that can be pursued and a little tweaking can make a big difference in their overall quality of life.