Seeing your dog in pain is distressing for any pet owner. Whilst humans can self-diagnose and often self-medicate, animals cannot. It is therefore important to promptly determine what is causing your dog’s pain in order to treat it effectively, returning them to their usual happy selves as soon as possible.
Vetsure founder and qualified vet, Dr Ashley Gray MA VetMB PhD MRCVS explains what you should do, should you find your dog in pain.
How can you tell if your dog is in pain?
It can be difficult to determine if your dog is in pain, as they cannot tell you. However, there are certain signs to look out for that often indicate they are experiencing a level of discomfort:
- Excessive barking
- Excessive panting
- Reduced appetite
- Lethargy or listlessness
- A reluctance or inability to exercise
A noticeable change in your dog’s behaviour or demeanour could indicate the onset of chronic pain. If they start to snap or act in an unfriendly fashion, this could indicate they are in pain.
Acute pain can also cause your dog’s heart rate to become elevated, their blood pressure may become raised and their breathing could speed up.
You know your dog’s usual temperament and what is normal for them, so if you notice anything unusual, it may be a warning sign that something is not quite right. To prevent your pet suffering in silence, take them to your local vet as soon as you are able.
What has caused my dog to be in pain?
There are a number of factors that may cause your dog to feel pain, from issues such as injuries and accidents to less obvious causes such as degenerative diseases including hip dysplasia, bulging discs and arthritis.Pain can also occur in the mouth due to dental problems – this may present through a reluctance to eat or excessive drooling.
While arthritis is seen more frequently in older dogs, some breeds are also more susceptible to the condition, including:
- Great Danes
- German Shepherds
Stomach pain may indicate your dog has swallowed something, which can lead to Gastroenteritis but it may also be a symptom of a serious condition such as Peritonitis or an infection. Be particularly vigilant if you allow your dog to eat bones or play with sticks, as splintered fragments can tear or puncture their stomach or intestines.
Untreated parasites such as worms or fleas can also cause stomach pain in dogs, so ensure you treat your dog with an appropriate preventative treatment on a regular basis [AG1] .
In some instances, your dog may only display symptoms of pain following a particular activity, such as walking, eating or going to the toilet, whereas in others, they may show signs of being permanently uncomfortable.
What can I give my dog for pain?
Before you attempt to treat your dog’s pain symptoms, always consult your vet.
Whilst dogs can take some anti-inflammatories never give these to your dog without first getting the opinion of a vet, as this can result in accidental poisoning and potentially fatal kidney failure should you give them the wrong dose. Ibuprofen, for instance, is toxic for dogs, so leaving the prescription of any form of medication to an expert is imperative.
Even with a vet-prescribed dose, some NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can cause an adverse reaction in dogs, plus they can react with other medication, potentially causing further problems.
Whilst, in rare circumstances, a vet may prescribe a controlled amount of paracetamol (acetaminophen) to your dog, the drug can be fatal to cats. So never give to cats. Accidental paracetamol poisoning in dogs is common, so please do not self-prescribe this for your dog either – it is far more usual for your vet to use other NSAIDs which are safer for dogs.
Natural pain relief for dogs
With the risks of traditional painkillers, some dog owners prefer to treat their pet’s pain with natural remedies like homeopathy and acupuncture as an alternative or adjunct to traditional treatments. However, the use of many natural remedies is highly controversial amongst many members of the Veterinary Profession. Many vets feel that there is little or no scientific basis for many natural treatments whilst others swear by their selective use and have successful responses using them side by side with more conventional treatments. If you are considering any complementary treatments, please, consult with your vet who will have the best understanding of the condition being treated and will be able to advise on what you might like to try.
Popular homeopathic supplements for dogs include:
- Arnica – for stiffness, soreness and muscle pain
- Borax remedy – for fear and agitation caused by fireworks and thunderstorms
- Calendula – for skin irritation or infections
- Glucosamine – believed to relieve the symptoms of arthritis
- Ledum – for puncture wounds and insect bites
- Ruta – for injuries to tendons and ligaments. Particularly effective after cruciate ligament surgery
- Silicea – for removing foreign bodies such as splinters
However, always seek medical advice from your vet before administering to your dog.
Your vet may also advise complementary treatments for the control of pain including acupuncture and hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy, in particular, when undertaken by a suitably qualified person, can be particularly effective in aiding weight loss, promoting muscle recovery after injury or surgery and alleviating inflammation associated with arthritis.
Alternative treatments such as massage and chiropractic methods are also growing in popularity for many dog owners and vets, as well as laser therapy, which can help to speed up the healing time of incisions and stitches post-surgery. Laser therapy may also help to alleviate symptoms of arthritis, plus reduce pain from broken limbs or nerve damage.
In all cases, check with your vet if you are thinking about using complementary medicine services outside of the practice – in the hands of poorly qualified people, such techniques may, at best, be a waste of money or, at worse, actually cause your dog harm.
Some dog insurance policies include cover for these complementary treatments – bear in mind when choosing your policy and check your policy documents if you already have a policy in force.
How to prevent pain in dogs
Keeping your dog fit and healthy will go a long way towards helping to prevent everyday pain. Regular activity and exercise such as walks and long runs will keep their joints and limbs flexible, plus it will keep them at a healthy weight, reducing pressure on their joints. Remember also that, especially for older dogs, regular steady exercise is better than walking your dog very little during the week and going out for a huge ‘binge’ hike on the weekend.
Keep an eye on your dog’s teeth and gums, as spotting any dental problems early will make them easy to treat, reducing potential pain and complications from issues such as abscesses and dental decay.
When something does go wrong with your pet, it is important for you to be covered with the right level of dog insurance as costs can often escalate quickly.