Have you ever wondered if your dog is in pain? You think you know your dog, but sometimes you’re not sure exactly what he’s feeling. Maybe he seems a bit unlike his usual self, or he’s walking a bit differently, or not playing as vigorously as he once did. So, you wonder, is he in pain? For that matter, do dogs really feel pain to the same degree that you do? Perhaps you decide to take him to the vet, just to be sure. After all, you love your dog and you want what’s best for him.
You might be surprised to know that it wasn’t’ all that long ago that supposedly knowledgeable people assumed that dogs did not feel pain in the same way that humans do. In fact, around the turn of the century, veterinary students were actually made to break bones in dogs, and the re-set them as part of their training. Today, such a practice would certainly result in public outrage, and would also bring the full force of the law down on the veterinary college. We know now that dogs feel pain in the same way that humans do, and instead of inflicting it as a supposed means of educating potential veterinarians, we work to ease pain in our canine friends.
When a dog sustains a serious injury, develops an infection or inflammation, or has undergone surgery, he is going to be in pain, and he needs medication. Today, veterinarians know that a dog that is in pain will not heal as quickly as he should, so medication is needed to control pain and facilitate healing. We are better now at knowing when an animal is in pain, and knowing how to treat pain in dogs. Medications are safer, and more effective.
As recently as 15 years ago, veterinarians did not recommend pain medication for dogs following surgery. They believed that pain relief would cause the dog not to want to move around much following the operation, and that this would slow the healing process. They even thought that if the dog was in pain, that would work toward better, more effective healing and enhance the dog’s overall health once healing was complete.
Hard to believe, isn’t it? Talk about being cruel to be kind.
Personally, I remember when I had Janice spayed. I sat up with her all night, cuddling her and stroking her and telling her what a good girl she was. There was no doubt at all in my mind that she was in pain, the same way I would have been if I’d just had my uterus ripped out. Fortunately, Stephen, my vet, isn’t one of those idiots who believes that dogs don’t experience pain (shockingly, there are still a few of them out there). He prescribed medication for Janice, consisting of an opiate along with a mild sedative to keep her from moving around, but I could tell that she was still in pain. Much of the night, she was whimpering, probably out of fear as well as discomfort. Imagine the agony if she had had no medication.
So, is pain relief for dogs good science and good medicine? Or is it just common sense?
Maybe it’s a bit of both. Veterinarians are learning so much more lately about pain in dogs. In fact, it has been determined that if a dog wakes up in pain after an operation, it will be exacerbated by a level of about 60% once the dog becomes fully conscious. Research has also shown that if a dog’s pain is not addressed, then other injuries or medical procedures that cause pain will be even more painful than they need to be. The way that pain is treated in the first instance actually affects how the dog experiences pain later on down the road.
What this means, in the final analysis, is that pain can be avoided. It also means that all pain should be eased, regardless of the cause
Definitions of Pain
Pain, at its essence, is the way in which the body responds to an injury or other type of cell damage, and this is the same in both humans and dogs. There are two basic kinds of pain, acute and chronic. Acute pain occurs at the time of injury or inflammation, and continues throughout the healing process, which can be several months. Chronic pain goes on for longer than the healing time.
Scientists also classify pain by the way in which it occurs. Nociceptive pain causes pain receptors to sense vibrations, chemicals and heat generated from cells that have been damaged. Pathological pain is extended, abnormal sensitivity and discomfort resulting from severe tissue damage. Inflammatory pain is the immune system’s response to an injury or infection. And finally, maladaptive pain is a response to changes that occur within the body’s nervous system during the healing process, and it can continue long after healing is complete.
Types of Pain
Any pain occurs in response to an injury. Perhaps it is due to inflammation, healing following an injury, the period of recovery following surgery, or due to chronic illness. Any damage to tissue can produce pain.So, how can pain in dogs be managed?
First, you have to identify the pain. This isn’t always easy, because it’s nothing short of amazing how skilled dogs can be at hiding the fact that they are suffering. So, you have to watch carefully to identify your dog’s pain. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:
- A reluctance to use stairs or walk on slippery surfaces
- Trying to stand with the front legs first
- Many attempts when trying to lie down
- Reluctance to run or jump
- Abnormal nail wear
- Aggression when it comes to other animals
- Unwillingness to play
- Stiffness in the joints
- Difficulty sleeping
- Change in appetite
- Urinating or defecating inside the house
Any of these symptoms could indicate that your dog is in pain.
What Can Be Done?
Most of the time, if your dog is displaying any of the above symptoms, your vet will recommend an anti-inflammatory medication. Sometimes, aspirin is all it takes. I don’t really recommend trying to diagnose and treat your dog’s pain on your own, but if you are determined to do it, you need to know that aspirin is generally safe, Tylenol most definitely is not. In fact, Tylenol could kill your dog. The active ingredient in Tylenol is acetaminophen, and it can be lethal.
Ideally, you should see your veterinarian to determine what medications are appropriate for your dog. Some medications can cause kidney or liver damage, so your dog has to be checked out before a medication can be recommended.
Aspirin is classed as an NSAID (not-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), and is mainly used for mild to moderate pain. Other NSAIDS that your vet may recommend include Lodine, Deramaxx, Rimadyl, Metacam, Previcox and Equiox. Of course you know that you can buy aspirin over the counter, but even so, you should not give it to your dog without veterinary supervision. This is because it is less effective than other NSAIDS, and also because there can be harmful side effects.
The best course of action is never to give your dog any medication without consulting your vet, and even when a vet prescribes medication for your dog, to watch him carefully. Keep an eye out for loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, dark stools, or behavior changes. Any of these could be indications that your dog’s liver or kidneys are being adversely affected by the medication.
Other Medications Your Vet Might Recommend
When treating pain, your vet has access to a number of other medications that can work singly or in conjunction.
- Tramidol – This is a weak opiate. It doesn’t work at the site of the pain. Instead, it works on your dog’s brain chemistry to suppress his response to pain. It is effective on moderate and severe pain, and most often used in elderly dogs who are suffering from cancer or other painful conditions.
- Gabapentin – If your dog has a seizure disorder, gabapentin can workto ease the condition and reduce pain. It is not appropriate for all dogs, though, as it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, loss of balance or drowsiness.
- Adamanatine – This medication used to be used to combat viruses, but today is more commonly used to ease chronic pain. If your dog has had a leg amputated due to bone cancer, for example, your vet might prescribe adamantine. It is used for serious pain, and it has side effects like vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. Most of the time, though, the side effects will go away in a few days.
Some of these medications are used individually, but they might also be used together. In fact, when they are combined, there are actually fewer side effects because less of each drug is needed.
At the high end of the pain medication scale are opiates. And if your vet wants your dog to have opiates, don’t argue with him or her. You probably think of opiates as something that people take when they want to get high – your dog does not know from getting high; he just wants the pain to stop. And you don’t want him to suffer needlessly.
Veterinarians give opiates to their dog patients because they are in pain. Your dog is not going to pretend to be in pain because he figures that way he can get a cool drug. But do you know why veterinarians are sometimes reluctant to prescribe opiates for dogs? Unfortunately, it is because sometimes the dog’s ownerwants to get a cool drug, so he or she exaggerates their dog’s symptoms in the hope of having an opiate prescribed, and then uses the drugs that are prescribed for the dog. How awful is that?
Thanks to unscrupulous dog owners, veterinarians have to be very alert to the possibility that a person might get drugs that are prescribed for their dog, and then use them recreationally or even sell them on the street. Most vets are quite adept at determining the level of pain medication that a dog requires, and will not offer an opiate if an NSAID will get the job done. However, some vets simply won’t prescribe opiates, even if they could help your dog. They are quite simply unwilling to take the risk of the drugs being used for purposes other than which they were intended.
When veterinarians prescribe opiates for dogs, there is considerable paperwork involved. The government also keeps a very close eye on vets who prescribe opiates. This is another reason why some vets are reluctant to prescribe them. And of course there is also the enhanced risk of a break-in on any premises where narcotics are known to be kept.
The fact is, though, if your vet refuses to prescribe opiates under any circumstances, you might be well advised to start looking around for another vet. These drugs definitely have a place in pain management for dogs, particularly in cases where you are performing palliative care at home for a dog that is dying of cancer.
You can have your dog’s opioid prescription filled at a human pharmacy if you like, but make sure to tell the pharmacist not to use any substitutions. Some medications (hydrocodone is one) usually is combined with acetaminophen for use in humans, and as previously mentioned, acetaminophen can be toxic to dogs.
An Integrative Approach to Pain Management
Today, there are various approaches to treating pain in dogs. The first and foremost is rehabilitation – in other words, a means of working with the dog to make him stronger, and to strengthen the injured area in order to prevent it from deteriorating further.
There have also been major advances in alternative therapy. One such therapy is laser treatment. The research suggests that laser therapy will reduce inflammation, and also work on the dog’s nerves to ease pain.
In the 1970s, acupuncture came into favor as a means of treating pain in humans. More recently, it has been used to treat pain in dogs. Although you might think that dogs would not react kindly to having needles inserted into their bodies, most of the time dogs are actually very complacent when it comes to undergoing acupuncture therapy. In fact, many veterinarians now recommend acupuncture therapy for their canine patients.
Massage therapy is another therapy that can help your dog. When your body hurts, don’t you love a massage? Your dog will too. You can take your dog to a professional for a massage, or you can learn how to do it at home. It’s a non-invasive treatment that delivers pulses of energy that can ease inflammation and pain, and facilitate healing. Arthritic dogs in particular can benefit from massage.
Okay, so your dog is in pain and you want to do something about it. The first thing you need to do, though, is make sure that you know what is causing the pain. If it’s arthritis, then fine, go ahead with massages. Get him some exercise. If you are dealing with a young, active dog, though, then it’s not unreasonable to assume that he’s broken a bone. And if he’s an old dog of a certain breed, then the cause of the pain could be cancer. You need to know what is causing the pain before you can decide what to do about it.
There are many options when it comes to dealing with your dog’s pain. First, you need to have a proper diagnosis. Is it a sprain? Is it a broken bone? Is it something else? Often, the signs of pain can be confusing.
Be Alert to the Signs
Any change in your dog’s behavior could be an indication of pain. In fact, often pain goes unnoticed, because dogs do not express pain the way humans do. Any change in the way your dog moves, plays and goes about his ordinary routine could be a signal that he is in pain.
People often assume that if a dog is not whimpering, then he is not in pain. The fact is, though, that a dog can be experiencing horrible pain without displaying much in the way of outward signs. This probably goes back to the era when surviving in the wild often necessitated hiding any discomfort in order to avoid being rejected by the pack.
Most of us really don’t want to believe that our dog is in pain, and we can build up a good deal of resistance to the idea of using medication. And of course there is the expense involved – medications for dogs can set you back quite a bit financially – so sometimes, it’s easier to just convince ourselves that medication is not really necessary. Trust me, though, modern veterinarians are very much in tune with pain management, and your vet will never prescribe pain relief if it is not warranted.
The Final Word
So, now you know the answer to the question, “Do dogs feel pain?”. They most definitely do. Do they have to suffer with pain? Absolutely not.
With modern veterinary techniques and the wide range of pharmaceuticals available, there is no reason for any dog to suffer unbearable pain. Pain medication is now prescribed for what used to be considered routine procedures (although it’s hard to believe, today, that spaying and neutering were once thought of as routine) for which pain relief was not offered.
Your vet can prescribe a wide range of pain medications, from NSAIDS for mild to moderate pain, on up to opiates for severe pain. If your dog is in severe pain (dying of cancer, for instance) and your vet will not provide an opiate, find one who will.
In the final analysis, it is your job to keep your dog safe, healthy and happy, and that means also ensuring that he is not in pain. You may have to watch closely for signs of discomfort, since obviously, your dog is not going to be able to tell you that he’s hurting. If you suspect pain, for any reason, a trip to the vet is in order.
There is always an appropriate pain medication for your dog. You and your vet can work together to find the most effective, safest medication, or combination of medications, to ensure your dog’s comfort following an injury, infection or medical procedure.