September is Animal Pain Awareness Month. Pain is a very tricky thing to identify in pets, so I felt that it would be a good time to have a chat about it.

Dogs suffer from pain just like people do, but can you imagine not being able to verbalise with your carer or doctor that you were in pain? The long term effects of living with chronic, untreated pain can be drastic. This is why it’s important for us to be able to recognise the subtle signs in dogs and treat the pain accordingly. Pain can come in many forms. It can be acute, which is often obvious and distressing, or it can be chronic. Often chronic pain is brushed off as being a sign of old age, which shouldn’t be the case. There are many treatment options available for elderly dogs. It is important to remember, age is not a disease, pain is. Older dogs should not suffer in pain needlessly.

So what are the signs of pain? The most common signs include:

• Decreased activity
• Not going up or down the stairs
• Difficulty or reluctance to jump into or out of the car
• Difficulty getting up after rest
• Reduced appetite
• Over grooming or excessively licking a particular area
• Aggressive behaviour
• Whimpering/moaning/groaning
• Stiffness

There are also more subtle signs of pain that we need to look out for. The owner often notices the subtle signs first, as they know the dog and their behaviour so well.
Other subtle signs can include:

• An anxious expression, or a general change in your dog’s usual expression
• Decreased social interaction
• Submissive behaviour
• Changes in posture
• Guarding behaviour
• Changes in toileting habits
• Reluctance to walk on certain surfaces- like a slippery floor
• Disruption in sleep patterns
• Aversion to being petted
• Abnormal or uneven wear on their nails

My own dog suffers from chronic pain. Toby is a rescue dog and had injuries caused by cruelty at a young age. He is 11 now and still has anxiety issues and suffers with Osteoarthritis and intervertebral disc disease, but on a bad day his anxiety is heightened. He will avoid eye contact, keep his distance a bit more and prefer to be out in the garden than in the house with us. When I first noticed these changes I thought something had frightened him, but these signs then progressed to trembling and hiding, and whimpering. I then learned that the earlier changes were missed signs that he was in pain.
Prevention is obviously better than cure. Early diagnosis and early treatment of pain is the best approach and prevents unnecessary suffering and minimizes further damage. There are so many causes of chronic pain, but whatever the issue is there are many options available to help manage it. If you think your dog is in pain, or just not behaving like they usually do, then a trip to the vet and a quick and early diagnosis will make the world of difference in managing chronic pain. Unfortunately, vets often report that pet owner’s put off bringing their dog when they display these early signs, maybe because the dog is still managing ok and has a good appetite, or because their owner is waiting it out to see if they will return to normal. If you have any doubt, a quick visit to the vet will put your mind at ease, or help you achieve an early diagnosis and the best care and pain management for your pet.
I very rarely see those subtle signs in Toby any more. We use a combination of medical and physical therapy to keep him as comfortable as we can, while he remains functional and able to enjoy life. I remind myself every day to remain in tune to his behavioural changes and any subtle signs mean we adjust his treatment accordingly. Now, instead of seeing hiding, trembling or avoiding social interaction he spends his days playing with our other dog, having a roll and scratch on the furniture and loving his walks. Exactly how it should be!
This is why Animal Pain Awareness Month is so important. It’s a great way to make owners aware of the signs and treatment options available for their pet. So please spread the word, and if you’re in any doubt about your own pet, visit your vet asap!

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