Is your pet living with pain?

30th March 2021

In the wild, if an animal gets injured, it has little choice but to live with pain.  It will continue to follow behaviours essential to life such as eating, and will often hide signs of pain to look less weak to other animals. This is assisted through the release of pain killing hormones, such as adrenaline, which allow the animal to act and move as if no pain were present. These behaviours allow that animal to survive predators, or maintain its place in the hierarchial systems of its social groups, until the body has had time to heal sufficiently to allow the animal to survive in the wild.

These inherent behaviours still manifest themselves in our domestic animals and are why our domesticated pets may still eat, even in the face of severe dental pain or other painful conditions. Additionally your pet may play enthusiastically due to the release of adrenaline which allows it to override pain in the short term.  Similarly, when the body does a hard work out in the gym, soreness and pain is often only felt the next day.

You may remember that last month we wrote about Sonnie, the very beautiful German Shepherd, who’s joint pain was recognised and then helped by the physiotherapy team at Blackwater Vets. Sonnie now is doing much better still and has recently started to receive laser treatment which we are currently trialling and plan to introduce to our offered services at Blackwater Vets later this summer.  

In reflection it was fortunate for Sonnie that his owner realised he was showing signs of pain and had the opportunity to discuss these observations with our in-house veterinary physiotherapist Lana. The outcome of these discussions was a plan of pain management, tailored to Sonnie’s specific needs, whilst still being compatible with his owner’s budget and lifestyle. Overall Sonnie is far more comfortable and his owner can rest knowing that she is optimising his comfort into older life.

The success of Sonnie’s treatment had our clinical team at Blackwater Vets wondering whether we could create an accessible and usable guide for our clients to use at home so that they too could make sense of whether their dog’s behaviour could be indicating pain.  If we could empower the owner to recognise pain in their dogs, it would enable the owner to seek help from their vet and their veterinary physiotherapist, thereby improving their dog’s welfare and quality of life.

To create this guide, Lana used her physiotherapy training and internationally recognised pain scoring systems to create a questionnaire for dog owners to complete at home.  Consisting of 20 easy questions designed to be completed in less than 10 minutes, the questionnaire guides the owner through various behaviours that are warning signs of pain which then can be discussed further with their vet and veterinary physiotherapist. 

The free resource encompasses veterinary research which has identified various signs to look out for that may indicate your dog is in pain: These include;

  • a change in mood
  • hiding behaviours
  • guarding or defensive behaviour
  • grumpiness when touched in certain painful areas
  • reduced ability to cock the leg or to squat when toileting
  • reduced play and exercise
  • reluctance going up or down stairs or getting in or out of the car
  • limping
  • struggling to get up after a long rest, or appearing stiff at first
  • crying or whining
  • difficulty moving or appearing more tired

The downloadable questionnaire is found under the physiotherapy tab of the Blackwater Vets website, and can be accessed by clicking on the yellow button under the physiotherapy sub-heading ‘recognising pain in your animal’.  If you wish the completed questionnaire can be returned to us for analysis or you can contact our friendly reception team to discuss your dog’s behaviours.

We are currently in the process of creating a similar resource for identifying pain in cats, so keep an eye on the website, as they often present pain in a slightly different way.

Any feedback on the questionnaire will be gratefully received,

Take care,

The Clinical Team, Blackwater Vets