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Chronic Pain In Our Pets 

Our Latest Blog Entry

Jasper wearing his "Be kind I'm Arthritic" 

Bandana from CAM (Canine Arthritis Management)

5th October 2021

Chronic pain in our pets, what are the signs?

Pain, we’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives. It can hit us hard and fast (acute), or it can be persistent, unpleasant, burning, sharp, throbbing (chronic).

Pain is a natural protector of the body but if ignored it can get worse. Pain is not how it feels it is how it makes you feel. Pain impacts quality of life. We as humans have the ability to self-medicate and explore various options to ease our pain, but what about our pets? They rely on us as their guardians for help. Do you know how your pet might communicate to you when they are in pain or discomfort? Most pet owners will see the signs of acute pain but what about chronic pain?

Measuring pain is a tough one. It is so subjective for us and it’s the same for our pets. The degree of pain each individual will feel is unique; no-one is ever going to experience the same degree of pain. Let’s look at this from the pet’s perspective. Let’s step into their paws. If you were your pet, how would you express you’re in chronic pain? What signs might you express? Your personality could be different, like your internal spark has been dimmed; you’re not so bright and perky. You want to greet your guardian, but you don’t have the energy like you use to and it’s sore to get up. You feel dull, depressed, reclusive, and may want to sleep a lot. You feel disengaged from your normal activities perhaps? You might hesitate to jump into the car, climb up or down stairs or to cross different flooring (slippery) like you use to. On your regular walk you may lag behind your guardian and just not have the stamina to keep up or, to the other extreme, if you’re a high drive doggy (for example a working breed) you might go hard in the moment (play ball) only to pull up exhausted, stiff and sore later that day inflaming your already achy body.

How do you tell your guardian your body aches and you’re sore with a lingering pain? You may be more vocal or agitated perhaps? You may get grumbly or have toilet problems? Your posture could show signs of difference; a change of head and tail carriage, hunching or dipping of your back a shaky limb, muscle spasms perhaps.  Your gait pattern could look different (this can be tricky to detect at times because it can be masked by weight shifting to opposing limbs), a limp or a stiff stride, wobbles, hesitating, stumbles, staggering or struggling to get from lay to stand could be shown. You won’t be able to stand for long periods and can’t flex or extend a limb like you used to and a sit or drop position will look sloppy. You may have to get up and move frequently and change positions to ease weight on achy limbs. Your normal habits of stretching, shaking, and rolling become infrequent, and a slow eye blink to your guardian can be a sign of wariness to move due to pain.

You may start licking your carpus (equivalent of our wrist) which can be a sign of neuropathic pain, heavy breathing and become anxious (grumbly or overly excited) to avoid deliberate touch in certain areas of your body because you’re scared it is going hurt (alodinia the re-modeling of the nervous system). You may have a dull coat or change of hair growth and be very wary of playing with young children or other pets because if you get bumped it could hurt the achy body more.

And because your body is achy/sore and you’re not moving like you used to, this lack of loading and disuse of muscles creates atrophy (wasted) to your muscles, and you no longer have the ability to support joints as well as in the past.

So back to our human mind thinking again, what might cause chronic pain in our pets?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a major cause of chronic pain in our pets. OA can be caused by normal forces on abnormal joints, abnormal forces on normal joints, or both.

Dr Hannah Capon, UK veterinarian from CAM (Canine Arthritis Management), has seen many dogs with osteoarthritis and says there is so much arthritis in our dog population.

Arthritis is a debilitating disease and a silent chronic pain that has no cure but can be affectively managed in most patients. It is not an old-age condition, according to leading experts. Chronic pain can affect young dogs too. Dogs will be experiencing subtle signs of discomfort before some of the more serious changes are being expressed. Did you know your dog will continue to work/play when in chronic pain? Our pets don’t realise, like us humans, that they have options and will get a kick of feel-good endorphins in the moment and just cope only to later feel the aftereffects of stiffness and discomfort.

Dr Hannah said under the appreciation of the close association of pain and behaviour is preventing us challenging arthritis as the leading cause of euthanasia and a significant welfare issue in small animal medicine. Some of the common misconceptions and comments owners will say during a consult include:

He wouldn’t walk on if it was painful, dogs don’t feel pain like we do, my dog wouldn’t do that activity if it was hurting them, he would not chase the ball if he knew it would hurt, she wouldn’t want to get in the car if it hurt, dogs have a higher pain threshold, he would yelp if it hurt, my dog wouldn’t jump up onto the sofa if it hurt.

So how can we help our pets? Dr Hannah says, “Our eyes, ears and energies shouldn’t decline in our care”.

Owners know their pets better than anyone and will be quick to notice changes. We, as the pet’s guardians need to trust our intuition if we get a niggling something isn’t right with our pet and act on it. Sit quietly with your pet and take away distractions like phones, personal agendas, problems etc and really sit in a present state with your pet to observe and connect. What comes up for you from your pet? Trust your inner wisdom. If you’re feeling something’s not right, seek answers and get help and advice.

Awareness and early identification is the key to giving your pet the best chance of living a happy, functional, and longer life. Have a chat to your local vet to get a diagnosis. Videos and keeping a log of your pet’s subtle behavioural cues is a good way of presenting the health issue to your local vet. Remember your pet is going to act different at the clinic than at home, and this paints a picture for the vet to understand what might be going on.

Through localizing the source of the problem, a better understanding of the disease is possible, and a more targeted plan can be implemented.

Understand your pet’s problem and you can do a lot to help, such as pain control, prevent further injury through lifestyle changes, weight control, complementary therapies, diet, and supplement to rebuild a happier, more comfortable, and mobile companion.

I believe in order to provide compassionate leadership to our pets we need to equally take good care of ourselves because we’re of no help if we are in pain or discomfort too!!

Author: Kelly Stewart from Hands4paws Pet Therapy is a qualified Small Animal Bowen, myo-functional, hydro and laser therapist. Kelly is an advocate for CAM (Canine Arthritis Management) and is currently studying Dr Hannah’s arthritic course. She is on a lifelong journey of learning as much as possible to help animals be happy and functional and live a quality life. Kelly believes it is a team approach to helping our pets and is passionate about helping all animals, and particularly the elderly and rehabilitation patients.

Kelly’s goal is to empower pet owners to pick up on the subtle cues their pets might show of chronic pain and to explore ways they can help their unique companion by exploring various holistic options just like us humans do.

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