Starting this month we begin a four part series on understanding and treating animal pain.

  • Part 1 will explore how to recognize pain in dogs.
  • Part 2 will tackle the interesting and confusing world of cat pain.
  • In part 3 we will learn how pain is transmitted throughout the body.
  • In part 4 we will learn about the many treatments available for pain, from oral medication to acupuncture. Read on to learn how to recognize and treat pain in your dog!

Part 1: Pain perception and recognition in dogs.
Nobody likes to talk about pain, but pain is actually an important part of the normal functioning of a dog’s body.

Pain serves to alert the brain that there is a problem that needs attention.

Whether that problem is a broken bone, or an ear infection, pain serves a purpose.
As humans, we express our pain openly (OUCH!) so that others around us know about it, and will help us.

Do dogs feel pain? Of course they do, but being descended from wild predators, they express pain very differently than we do:

  1. Their first instinct is to pretend like nothing is wrong. This way, other predators will not see them as vulnerable (i.e., dinner!).
  2. Their second thought is to seek out a safe place to hide.
  3. And finally, when they are safe, then they deal with the pain.

Keep in mind, they are feeling the pain the whole time, they are just responding to it in a way that is totally unfamiliar to us.

So when a dog has pain they will first try to act like there is no pain. They will try to hide or “go quiet” to feel safe, and then suffer with their pain in silence.

Contrary to what we might think, animals will almost never cry out or moan in pain, they will tend not to seek us out for help when in pain, and they may learn to accept chronic pain as a way of life.

Dogs with pain, however, can be helped in many different ways. The first step to helping them is understanding how they deal with pain. The second step is learning to recognize the symptoms of pain. They can be subtle, but once you know what you’re looking for, you will be able to help.

The symptoms of pain in dogs includes:

  • Hiding, not taking part in household activity.
  • Not wanting to go for walks or other normal activities.
  • Limping or favoring one or more limbs.
  • Change in appetite or lack of interest in food.
  • Change in behavior, becoming more sedate or even aggressive.
  • Rapid breathing or panting for no reason.
  • Shaking or muscle tremors.
  • Changes in urination or defecation (i.e. going indoors), or difficulty getting into position to go to the bathroom.
  • Pacing, or can’t get comfortable.
  • Difficulty rising or laying down.
  • Difficulty with task such as stairs that used to be easy
  • Facial expression appears tight or “pinched”

And when the pain gets unbearable:

  • Crying out loudly or vocalizing in distress.
  • Unwilling to get up.
  • Moaning or groaning while at rest.
  • Notice how many other symptoms of pain a dog might have before they actually cry out.

And dogs with oral/ dental pain will almost never cry out or even stop eating. They are very secretive about mouth pain, often to the point that owners don’t have any idea there is a severe problem going on.