Almost daily I find dogs on routine physical exam that show signs of chronic pain unbeknownst to their owners. Arthritis and back pain are two very common causes of chronic pain in middle age to senior dogs, yet their pain is rarely recognized by their human caretakers. Why is this? The reason is simple. Pets do not express pain in the same ways that humans do. Pets do not grimace or have facial expressions we might equate with pain when we observe this in our fellow human beings. Pets do not complain, gripe or grumble and rarely whine about their pain. They certainly cannot communicate to us where their pain is at on a scale of 1 to 10.
Decades ago even some veterinarians felt that animals do not feel pain. That is just not the case. We know that pets absolutely suffer from pain and it is very real. They just do not express their feelings of pain in the same manner people do. I have found that the most common sign of chronic back or rear limb arthritic pain in dogs are lack of desire to be active and decreased interaction with other pets and people. Some people may construe this as simply “my pets just getting older” when it could be that the pet is experiencing chronic pain.
Some people feel that their dog is just getting stiff with age because they are slower to rise or get to their feet. I will submit to you that if your dog is stiff in the morning, or slow to rise from a lying position, or gets up on the front legs then needs an additional effort to get the back legs up and moving, your dog likely is exhibiting symptoms of pain. I will submit to you that if your older dog no longer greets you at the door when you get home, or just does not seem to interact with your family the way he used to, he may be experiencing chronic pain. I will submit to you that if your dog seems reluctant to take the stairs or jump into the car like he used to, he may be experiencing pain.
There are so many treatment modalities to help pets with pain issues that significantly improve their quality of life, unfortunately, the biggest barrier to providing this benefit is that most of us humans fail to appreciate that our pats may be experiencing pain, and thus go untreated.
article written by:
Scott Petereit, DVM
Companion Animal Hospitals of Mount Prospect, Kenosha, Vernon Hills, and Oak Park