Do Dogs Feel Pain?
Pain is a feeling of discomfort that indicates (usually) something may be wrong. It’s our body’s way of signaling that an area needs to be protected to allow it to heal. Pain can range from mild discomfort, like an ache, to sharp pain. It can be a nuisance, like a mild headache, or it can be more significant, like a sharp pain that is so bad that you’re unable to walk. Some descriptions of pain include throbbing, stabbing, pinching, aching, piercing and there can be many others.
Some people believe dogs don’t feel pain, or if they do, that they have a much higher threshold for pain than people do. In truth, dogs feel pain in the same way humans do, though they don’t always show it in the same way.
Think about it—a human can express their feelings through words. “Ouch!” Whereas a dog can’t be that specific in its communication. If a dog barks or growls, you might not know what it means. As a result, dogs often rely on owners to pick up the cues- or suffer in silence.
These indications of pain in dogs can be expressed through physical symptoms, mobility issues, and behavioral changes. They may be obvious, like if your dog is limping or whining. Or, they can be much more subtle, like if your dog pulls away when you pet him in certain areas.
Types of Pain
There are two primary types of pain in dogs—acute pain and chronic pain. Knowing which type of pain your dog may be dealing with can help you to understand potential causes.
Acute Pain in DogsWhen your dog is suffering from acute pain, it is due to some recent event or trauma that has been present for a short period of time. This pain is usually associated with things like injury, surgery, or even illness. It generally improves within the first few days after the event that caused it. However, it can last as long as it takes for the issue causing the pain to heal.
Acute pain in dogs often causes behavioral changes. When dogs feel this kind of pain, you may notice that they may not want to be touched. They may also do things like hiding or not putting weight on an injured leg. If you notice these kinds of behaviors in your dog, he may be dealing with acute pain.
Acute pain is sometimes known as adaptive pain as it’s pain that heals with a return to function. It serves a purpose to protect the dog. If a dog breaks a bone, for example, the pain goes away as the bone heals. However, if the bone isn’t treated properly and remains out of alignment it can get worse, leading to chronic pain.
Treatment of Acute Pain in Dogs
Acute pain often requires a visit to the vet and treatment will depend on the cause and the severity of pain. Treatment may require prescribed pain medication and rest or it could require more. It generally lasts for a short period of time—days or even months, depending on the issue. Pain lasting for a longer period of time becomes chronic pain.
Chronic Pain in Dogs
Chronic pain persists longer than the period of time expected for healing. Or, it can also be associated with certain conditions. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common, but it can also include pain caused by cancer, neuropathy or myopathy, and conditions like intervertebral disk disease and others. Acute pain can also become chronic pain as mentioned earlier.
Chronic pain is often called maladaptive pain as it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose to protect the area in pain. In the case of arthritis, for example, it’s not a condition that can be cured. So, the pain remains present along with the osteoarthritis.
With chronic pain, you may see your dog limping, or you may see more subtle behavioral changes. Some dogs may be less willing to do things they used to do before. This could be activities like running, or perhaps they are less willing to jump or climb stairs. You may notice they are generally less active than usual. These signs may be much more subtle and can be easily overlooked or dismissed as “aging” but they are often still there.
Treatment of Chronic Pain in Dogs
Chronic pain in dogs is often not curable, but it can be managed. Pain medications given at the right dosage can ease it, reducing the pain signals to the brain to give the nervous system a chance to recover. There are also some holistic treatments that can help manage chronic pain as well as therapies like physical rehabilitation.
Treating chronic pain helps to reduce your dog’s stress while keeping him comfortable. And, it enables dogs to engage in the activities they love giving them an improved quality of life. It may take some time to determine that the behavioral changes you are seeing are related to chronic pain. When you do realize, or if you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to go to your primary vet for an exam. Share the changes you’re experiencing to help your vet determine the cause of the pain.
Understanding Chronic Pain vs. Acute Pain in Dogs
Dogs feel pain just like humans. However, their inability to directly express that they are in pain and the site of their pain can be challenging for owners. Knowing the difference between acute and chronic pain can help you to know what to look for so you can help your dog feel better.