You’re not you when you're hurting and the same is true for your dog!
Pain places both discomfort and emotional stress on our dogs and can make them out of balance both psychologically and physiologically. Pain can be acute or chronic and knowing the difference can really affect the way you go about addressing the situation.
Recognizing pain is an important first step! So how do we recognize pain in an animal that has thousands of years of survival instinct screaming at it to pretend like nothing is wrong?
What Research is Saying about Pain and Behaviour
Pain which is sudden onset and short term is referred to as acute pain is considered adaptative – meaning that it makes our dog aware they’re injured or ill and that they should slow down to prevent damage and protect their body. Pain which is on-going and long term (> 3 months) is known as chronic pain and is maladaptive, placing prolong stress on the dog’s body and psyche. Prolong stress causes the dog’s body to maintain high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) which can lead to detrimental effects to the immune and digestive system, delays healing, and can cause sleep deprivation. Chronic pain in particular can cause unseen changes in the central nervous system (CNS) that can lead to magnification of pain perception (Hellyer et al., 2007).
There was recently a study from the Animal Behaviour Clinic at the University of Lincoln which examined noise sensitivities in dogs. The study suggests that pain can be a factor in the development of new noise sensitivity, especially in older dogs. The researcher hypothesized that that dogs who startled to loud sounds may exacerbate pain by tensing muscles or moving suddenly (Lopes Fagundes et al., 2018). This created an association of loud noises with pain and could further develop fear of loud noises.
Behavioural Signs of Pain
The Body Language of Pain
Pain body language can be pretty subtle. In this picture staff dog Brisingr was suffering some breathing distress. As a result of the pain he hunched his back, and rested his weight into the rear end. He also avoided physical contact to his back. His ears were drawn back and he was standing stiffly.
How Conditioning and Rehab Can Help!
I had a client contact me about her dog Max who had recently bitten someone that had reached out to pet him during one of his walks. This was new and concerning behaviour for an otherwise happy and friendly dog. Max's mom sought out the help of an animal behaviourist but it was also suggested she get him seen by a canine PT to assess for pain and discomfort. Speaking with Max's mom I learned that he had suffered a traumatic accident that resulted in his front leg being amputated. For dogs with this type of chronic condition it's not uncommon to see great compensation in the back. Max is a big dog - a lean 85 lbs, so I knew that any compensation he had it was carrying a lot of weight! Speaking with his owner I also learned that he was showing greater reluctance to go on his walks and that he was becoming more sluggish. After an initial assessment I could tell that Max's back was causing him pain and that his walks were perhaps too much for him to handle. I started to see Max regularly and in a very short time he was back to enjoying his (shorter) walks and hadn't had another incidence of aggression since. When dealing with a chronic case it's always important to have regular assessments to make sure there is no new overuse issue occurring!
If your dog is showing signs of behaviour change or increased noise sensitivity it may be time to be seen by a vet or get your asses by a canine PT. Regular assessment by a canine PT of your dog’s body can help alert you to potential areas of pain and help prevent further damage to the body. If your dog has a chronic condition it’s vital that you continue to monitor and get regular assessments for pain as research shows chronic pain places a lot of stress on the body.
You can prevent the development of problematic conditions simply by starting a tailored conditioning program from your dog that addresses areas of weakness that could result in an injury. Remember as well, the importance of warming up and cooling down you dog before and after strenuous activity to prevent injury.
As always, I’m more than happy to discuss particular concerns you may have for your dog and am always here to help!
Hellyer, P., Rodan, I., Brunt, J., Downing, R., Hagedorn, J.E.,Robertson, S.A., 2007. AAHA/AAFP pain management guidelines for dogs & cats. J. Am. Anim. Hosp. Assoc. 43, 235-248.
Fagundes, Ana Luisa Lopes et al. “Noise Sensitivities in Dogs: An Exploration of Signs in Dogs with and Without Musculoskeletal Pain Using Qualitative Content Analysis.” Frontiers in Veterinary Science 5 (2018): 17. Web.