By Tracie Korol
My current boarder has had pain this past week. I noticed during one of our afternoon constitutionals that she seemed to be panting more than what would be considered normal for her level of exertion and the temperature that day.
But the real tip-off that something was amiss was that her tail wasn’t upright.
A happy dog wears her tail with pride, tip to the sky, usually wagging softly to indicate all’s well. This day her tail was dragging. We headed home immediately and I ended up carrying her the last third of the way.
Pain is one of the most enigmatic of all the disease symptoms, especially when dealing with an animal that can’t talk to us, tell us where or when it hurts. Pain is a language that tells us something is wrong. Ordinary or acute pain is a barometer of tissue health. Much like the Check Engine light on your car’s dashboard, pain is your dog’s way of telling you to pay attention. Most areas of a dog’s body have pain sensors — the joints and areas around the vital organs have more. The pads of the feet, relatively free.
Dogs with pain will likely indicate that they are suffering by giving you clues. Changes in behavior are usually the first indicator. Licking and yawning are signs that a dog is nervous. Dogs who hurt do not want to be picked up, or even touched, so they may lick their lips or yawn when you approach. They’re typically restless; they will pace; be up and down; can’t sleep; and they can’t seem to get comfortable in one position. Some dogs may hide or act aggressively grouchy. Fear biting is common in dogs that hurt. Others may whine or want to be held. The night before my guest’s tail-dragging moment, she just could not get comfortable. I suspected then that something might not be right, but she remained cheerful, finally settling down.
Pain anywhere in the feet, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments or spinal column may cause the dog to have a noticeable limp. However, some dogs are so adept at compensation (learning to accept pain so they can continue to function), it might be difficult to detect an abnormal gait pattern. Only once we returned home from the walk did I begin to notice that my guest was not putting complete weight on one of her back feet. She wasn’t exactly limping, letting only her toes touch when she stepped. If I hadn’t been watching carefully, I would not have noticed anything was wrong.
Pained animals stand off center, carry their head or tail off center or sit or lie down only on one side. Dogs with knee or hip pain will “bunny hop” or they may “puppy sit” — a posture where they’ll sit on their butts with hind legs to the side. Dogs experiencing abdominal pain are reluctant to move. They may reuse to eat or moan or bite at their abdomens. Their pain may be accompanied by diarrhea or vomiting. Chest pains may cause shortness of breath and possibly increased heart rate.
There is evidence from human medical studies that preventing pain is more productive than trying to stop it, that pain diminishes the body’s ability to heal and that recovery can be encouraged with the addition of pain relievers. We know from humans that beginning pain prevention early, before pain begins, is more effective than trying to catch up once the pain has started. With our animals, it is important to be sensitive to minor changes in behavior or small adjustments in their approach to life so we can help them before pain takes control.
My guest is feeling better today. She has been taking an NSAID (more on this next time), some homeopathic remedies (Arnica and Bryonia), some flower remedies (Rescue and Agrimony) for the mental distress, and I’ve tucked some lavender into her bedding. I have gently massaged her affected hip and when we cuddle she’s allowed me to tuck a warmed rice bag against her leg. Earlier today while she was helping me do some yard work, I noticed her tail was up again, wagging in response to something dead in the driveway. She’s feeling better, I can tell.