Is Your Dog Hurting Silently?

By Dr. Erin Troy

How do you know when someone you love hurts? Normally, you can ask them, but we don’t speak the same language as some of our most beloved family members. Most of our dogs don’t tell us in an easily understandable way when they are sore or uncomfortable.

As responsible pet parents, we need to watch for the early, subtle signs of pain and discomfort. Many of us think the most obvious sign of pain is whining or crying, but that could not be further from the truth. We need to be looking for more subtle clues, such as taking longer to stand or lie down, difficulty or refusal to get on the bed or into the car, and slowing down on walks. Other indicators include excessive panting that is not temperature related, restlessness at night, and reclusive behavior. Keep in mind that if your dog has a sore back or is uncomfortable in more than one leg, he or she will not limp but will still be suffering.

The earlier pain is recognized, the earlier it can be treated and the less damage done to your dog’s body. Chronic untreated pain can have far-reaching effects and cause dysfunction in all parts of your dog’s body. Many of us believe it is normal for an aging dog to slow down, and we attribute many mobility changes to “He is just getting older.” A senior dog deserves as much comfort as we can provide, and there are many ways that you and your veterinarian can help your dog age gracefully and pain free.

If you are concerned about your dog’s comfort, the first step is a thorough examination by your veterinarian to assess muscle pain, orthopedic pain and neuropathic pain. This includes gait evaluation, palpation and, potentially, x-rays.

Once localization of discomfort is made, you can talk with your veterinarian about a multimodal approach to manage the discomfort and prevent the development of compensatory dysfunction. This plan can consist of medications, supplements, nutrition, acupuncture, chiropractic care and physical rehabilitation, which can include therapeutic laser treatments and targeted exercises.

Unrecognized problems go untreated, and discomfort in our dogs is no exception. Don’t be afraid to look for pain in your dog. Make it a show of love – to be sure your dog is as active and comfortable as he can be throughout his entire life.