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How to Manage Pain in Dogs

Pain is an uncomfortable reality for dogs, just as it is for humans. From minor injuries to chronic conditions, understanding how to manage your dog's pain effectively can drastically improve their quality of life. 

Determining how to manage it, whether short term or long term, can be overwhelming at times, especially since our dogs can’t tell us how they’re feeling. Fortunately, we have gained an understanding of canine body language, and we personally know how our own dogs act on a routine basis. 

6 Types of Pain in Dogs

A dog in pain can manifest in various ways and can be attributed to multiple types of discomfort. Understanding the nature of the pain your pet might be experiencing is crucial for proper treatment. And understanding the source of your dog's pain is the first step in effectively managing it. 

  1. Neuropathic pain: Resulting from nerve damage, neuropathic pain may manifest as shooting, burning, or tingling sensations. Conditions like degenerative myelopathy or complications from diabetes can lead to this type of pain.

  2. Visceral pain: Originating from internal organs, visceral pain can be harder to identify. Conditions such as pancreatitis, kidney stones, or gastrointestinal obstruction can cause this form of pain.

  3. Idiopathic pain: This type of pain has no identifiable cause and can be challenging to treat. It's often diagnosed through a process of elimination.

  4. Musculoskeletal pain: Arising from the bones, muscles, ligaments, or tendons, this pain is often a result of injury, aging, or degenerative diseases.

  5. Postoperative pain: After surgical procedures, dogs experience varying levels of discomfort, which is usually managed through medication and supportive care.

  6. Inflammatory pain: Often linked to conditions like arthritis or infections, this type of pain occurs due to the body's natural inflammatory response.

The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain

Differentiating between acute and severe pain in your dog requires close observation of their behavior, physical cues, and, in some cases, veterinary assessment. 

Here's how to distinguish between the two:

Acute pain is usually associated with sudden injuries, surgical procedures, or temporary conditions such as ear infections. Signs include limping, vocalizing, or a reluctance to move. Acute pain tends to resolve as the underlying condition heals.

  • Sudden onset: Acute pain often comes on suddenly and is usually the result of a specific injury, surgery, or infection.
  • Obvious physical symptoms: This might include limping, vocalizing, or showing a reluctance to move the affected area.
  • Behavioral changes: Your dog might suddenly become restless, agitated, or even aggressive.
  • Short duration: Acute pain is generally temporary and is expected to subside once the underlying condition is treated.

Chronic pain lasts for an extended period and is commonly linked to ongoing conditions like arthritis, hip dysplasia, or cancer. Signs may include a gradual decrease in activity, difficulty getting up, or a reluctance to engage in activities that the dog once enjoyed.

  • Persistent: Unlike acute pain, severe pain is persistent and might be due to chronic issues like arthritis, cancer, or degenerative diseases.
  • Subdued signs: Dogs may hide their pain more in severe cases, especially if it's been ongoing for a while.
  • Affects daily life: Severe pain will significantly affect a dog's quality of life, often making everyday activities like walking, eating, or even resting difficult.
  • Requires ongoing treatment: Managing severe pain often requires a long-term treatment plan.

The Dog Pain Scale

When we visit the ER, we see the pain scale ranging from 0-10 with happy, neutral, and sad faces, and we are supposed to pick one. Our dogs can’t exactly do the same. Fortunately, there are still signs a dog is in pain, but we really have to watch for some of them. 

0 - No Pain

  • Normal behavior
  • No vocalization
  • Moves freely, no limping

1-2 - Mild Pain

  • Slightly reduced activity
  • Mild limping or stiffness
  • May still wag tail and eat

3-4 - Moderate Pain

  • Reduced mobility, reluctant to jump or climb stairs
  • May vocalize or whimper
  • Decreased appetite
  • Shows discomfort when the affected area is touched

5-6 - Moderate to Severe Pain

  • Obvious limping
  • Vocalizing—whining, howling, or even growling
  • Reduced interaction with people or other pets
  • May show aggression when touched

7-8 - Severe Pain

  • Reluctance or inability to move
  • Panting, drooling, or rapid breathing
  • Refusal to eat or drink
  • May tremble or shake

9-10 - Extreme Pain

  • Crying or howling loudly
  • May bite if someone approaches or tries to touch them
  • Needs immediate emergency care

This pain scale is just a guideline and may not be entirely accurate. It just gives you a sense of what to look for if you’re worried about your dog’s pain. Plus, some dogs are better at hiding pain than others. To get a full picture of how bad the pain is, your vet will need to run some tests. 

Managing Pain in Dogs Long Term

CBD is becoming increasingly popular as a natural alternative for managing pain in both humans and animals, including dogs. Extracted from the hemp plant, CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that has been found to have various medicinal properties. 

When it comes to long-term pain management for dogs, CBD, like that found in Canine Cush, has shown promise in several ways:

  • Anti-inflammatory effects: CBD helps reduce inflammation, which in turn alleviates pain, offering a natural and holistic approach to long-term pain management in dogs.
  • Reduced dependence on pharmaceuticals: Long-term use of pharmaceutical pain relievers can lead to side effects such as liver damage, stomach issues, or dependency. CBD offers a natural alternative that may reduce the need for these medications.
  • Improved quality of life: Long-term pain management is not just about reducing pain; it's also about improving the overall quality of life for your pet. Many pet owners report that their dogs are more active and happier when using CBD.
  • Multiple forms: CBD is available in various forms, like oils, capsules, and treats like Canine Cush, making it easier for pet owners to administer it based on their pet's preferences. 
  • Low side effects: CBD has low side effects, with the worst one often involving diarrhea while trying to determine the right dosage for your dog, especially compared to traditional pain medications. However, it's essential to consult a vet to ensure it doesn't interact with other medications your dog may be taking.
  • Holistic care: Many pet owners are looking for holistic approaches to pet care, and CBD fits well within that paradigm, being both natural and generally well-tolerated.

Keep Your Dog Comfortable

Pain management in dogs is not a one-size-fits-all solution. A combination of medical treatments and alternative therapies is often the most effective approach. With ongoing veterinary care and a well-considered pain management plan, you can help your furry friend live a more comfortable, happier life.

Read More:

2022 AAHA Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats

Efficacy, Safety, and Regulation of Cannabidiol on Chronic Pain

Cannabidiol as a Treatment for Arthritis and Joint Pain

A Single Dose of Cannabidiol (CBD) Positively Influences Measures of Stress in Dogs During Separation and Car Travel

Scientific Validation of Cannabidiol for Management of Dog and Cat Diseases

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