Learn more about how to identify pain and discomfort in your dog and some of the different options for managing your pet’s pain.
What if you couldn’t communicate or express your discomfort to those around you? What if you couldn’t tell your doctor where it hurt? Dogs suffer pain the same way people do, but they lack the ability to verbalize it. Pain can present in different ways and can often be difficult to interpret. There are two primary categories of pain in the veterinary world – acute and chronic. Acute pain is the easiest to identify because it is obvious and distressing. These injuries and subsequent pain occur when you break a bone or tear a ligament. Chronic pain – such as arthritis or long term ear infections – can cause more subtle signs and is often attributed to “slowing down” or “getting older”.
Common signs of pain include – but are not limited to – withdraw from social activities or preciously enjoyable experiences (such as playing fetch or hiking), decreased appetite, decreased mobility, submissive or anxious behavior, self-inflicted wounds, anxious/guarding behavior, growling or biting. Each dog will react differently to pain – different pain tolerances, different coping strategies, different activity levels, different disease severity. Just like people, the treatment plan for pain in dogs should be tailored to the patient.
Acute and chronic pain conditions are treated differently and there are generally a combination of options used to manage pain and discomfort depending on the patient’s pain level, lifestyle, and overall health status.
- Food Therapy – There are a variety of prescription diets that are designed to be anti-inflammatory and improve arthritis and joint disease.
- Joint Supplements – There are several (okay, thousands) of joint supplements available over the counter or as a prescription from your veterinarian. As a vet, when I make a recommendation on a joint supplement, it is based on clinical experience and scientific data. Often times, I cannot advise you supplements that are purchased over the counter because I just don’t have experience or information on them. As a consumer or pet owner, please remember that there are NO required regulations on supplements in veterinary medicine and what is on the label isn’t always what you get in the bag or bottle. Cosequin, Dasaquin Advanced, and Adequan are joint supplements that I tend to recommend to pet owners.
- Traditional Medication – Traditional pain medications can be prescribed by your veterinarian and the appropriate type and amount will be determined by many different factors including size, tolerance, pain level, disease severity, etc. There are several classes of medications usedto treat pain in dogs. Common groups NSAIDS (Rimadyl, Previcox, or Metacam), GABA analogs (Gabapentin), Opiods (Tramadol), or even non-traditional medication classes like Dopamine Agonist (Amantadine).
- Acupuncture – Not all veterinarians are trained acupuncturists, but if you can find one in your area, it can potentially improve your pet’s comfort level dramatically. These treatment sessions vary in timing and what time of modalities are used (dry need, aqua acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, etc.)
- Other Modalities – Rehabilitation therapy, laser treatment, targeted pulse electromagnetic field (Assisi Loop).
If you are concerned about your pet, please talk to your veterinarian. If you are looking for an integrative considerate approach regarding pain management for your pet, the IVAPM (International Veterinary Association for Pain Management) website is a great resource and can be used to locate local veterinarian members.