acute pain in dogs

How to comfort a dog in pain

Pain is a defense mechanism essential to the survival of the species and learning how to comfort a dog in pain is really important.

At the origin of avoidance behavior, it reduces the cause of pain or limits its consequences. For example, when a dog breaks a paw, without the onset of pain, he would continue to use his injured limb, making the injury worse.

Mentalities concerning the treatment of pain in animals have evolved a lot in recent years and it is now possible to limit the suffering of an animal, whatever the cause (following a surgical intervention, progression of an osteoarthritis process, etc.).

Do not hesitate to share your concern with your veterinarian if you have the impression that your dog is in pain. He has many analgesics (“painkillers”) available in his toolbox to relieve your canine friend.

acute pain in dogs



How to comfort a dog in pain: Know the different types of pain

There are two types of pain, namely the acute pain and the chronic pain.

Acute pain appears suddenly and is usually traumatic, surgical or infectious in origin. It is usually temporary, recedes quickly (if the cause of the pain is removed) and responds well to analgesics.

Chronic pain appears more insidiously and can extend over months or years. It is linked to an evolving malignant process such as cancer pain, to a slowly evolving degenerative process (e.g. osteoarthritis) or follows acute pain (post-traumatic pain). Chronic pain is more difficult to identify and does not respond well to analgesics. This is why it is essential not to let the pain set in and to treat it as early as possible.

Cancer pain is often referred to as “acute recurrent pain” as it seems to fluctuate around chronic “baseline” pain, with sharp painful flares.

What is the mechanism of pain?

Whatever the cause, the physiological mechanism of pain is always the same and can be simplified as follows:

Any lesion (injury, irritation, inflammation, etc.) is immediately at the origin of a nervous message picked up by the “nerve endings” or pain receptors, present in all the tissues of the body such as muscles, viscera, skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, pleura, peritoneum, meninges, etc.

mechanism of pain

This message is then transmitted by nerve fibers to the brain, passing through the spinal cord. Once it reaches the brain, the message is perceived as pain.

The body’s reaction to pain is not limited to avoidance movements alone. The body also reacts by secreting natural morphine, endorphins or endomorphin, which play an inhibiting role in pain. Whatever its location, pain is perceived by the brain.

How to comfort a dog in pain: learn to recognize it

Acute pain is relatively easy to identify. Even if the dog in consultation with the veterinarian tends to mask his suffering, an attentive dog owner will have noticed some typical signs of pain at home, such as the following:

  • A change in appearance: in particular eyes wide open with dilated pupils or, on the contrary, a veiled look with half-closed eyelids.
  • An acceleration of breathing.
  • Mood disorders: prostration, restlessness, nervousness.
  • Abnormal postures depending on the location of the pain: removal of support from a limb, modification of the wearing of the ears, modification of the carrying of the head (neck “tucked in”), rapid and shallow breathing, abdomen raised, belly hard, back arched, low tail …
  • Changes in gait: stiffness, lameness, refusal to perform certain movements.
  • Changes in activity: compulsive licking, scratching.
  • Vocals: complaints, moans, growls, barks.
  • Defensive or aggressive reactions when handling the painful area.

chronic pain in dogs

Chronic pain is more difficult to identify. It often results in changes in general condition and behavior such as weight loss, lack of appetite, sleep disturbances, unusual calm, disinterest in games and those around them and occasional aggressiveness. These disorders are similar to a depressive condition.

Certain breeds of dogs (shepherds, mastiffs, etc.) are renowned for their stoicism and their tolerance to pain. Conversely, poodles and terriers are particularly sensitive to pain (although there is no scientific basis for this). However, an attentive dog owner will always be able to recognize that something is wrong with his companion.

How to comfort a dog in pain

The treatment of acute pain is based on treating the root cause, where possible and administering analgesics. Many classes of drugs can be used such as:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): ketoprofen, carprofen, flunixin, piroxicam, meloxicam, cimicoxib, robenacoxib, firocoxib.
  • Opioids: butorphanol, buprenorphine, morphine, fentanyl, methadone… These molecules are administered by the veterinarian, animal owners cannot have them at home.
  • Local anesthetics: lidocaine, bupivacaine, etc.
  • Analgesic sedatives: a2-agonists.
  • Very low dose central anesthetics: ketamine.

Depending on the case, analgesics can be administered orally, by injection (intravenous, intramuscular or epidural), rectally (suppository) and recently by transdermal route in the form of a “patch” applied directly to the bare skin.

dog with bangage after surgery

Many practitioners use analgesics as a preventive measure before surgery. This makes it possible to stop the painful message induced by the surgery as much as possible, to reduce the quantities of anesthetics required and therefore to limit the side effects. Do not hesitate to inquire about the protocol used by your veterinarian before, during and after such procedure.

The treatment of chronic pain is based on the use of analgesics but also antidepressants or sedatives, in relation to the depressive state which accompanies chronic pain. It is complemented by more measures targeted at the dog’s environment such as positioning of bowls at height of the dog suffering from stiffness in the neck, use of ramps for dogs with reduced mobility, sleeping on special pain relief cushions (visco-elastic foam), etc.

Cancer pain responds well to analgesics at the start of the episode, but over the long term, drug tolerance and body dependence appear which make analgesics less effective. But don’t worry, your vet has other molecules or physiotherapy measures available to relieve this type of pain.

How to comfort a dog in pain set up analgesic treatment

The implementation of a long-term “pain relief plan” requires a real dialogue between you and your veterinarian.

  • Strictly observe the dosage (dose, rate of administration, route of administration, duration of treatment, etc.).
  • Do not give anything from your own pharmacy as the side effects of paracetamol and aspirin in particular can be disastrous on a dog.
  • Do not increase the doses, do not change painkillers or combine several painkillers on your own.
  • Immediately report the appearance of side effects (diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, etc.).
  • The response to an analgesic varies depending on the dog and sometimes you have to try several formulas before finding the one that relieves your dog.
  • Regularly assess the effectiveness of the treatment.
  • Do not hesitate to take the advice of your veterinarian by phone.

dog examined at the vet

Beware of misconceptions!

An animal cannot suffer

Mentalities have evolved and we now know that any animal (even a goldfish, it’s scientifically proven!) can feel pain.

Pain has a protective effect

It is often thought that pain prevents the dog from being too active (especially after an intervention) and thus facilitates healing. There are other means than pain to limit activity such as confinement and tranquilizers.

In addition, in certain cases of orthopedic surgery, a rapid resumption of activity facilitates rehabilitation, avoiding ankylosis and muscle atrophy.

Pain is a symptom and makes it possible to establish a diagnosis more quickly

Of course, but it is not because we reduce the pain that we stop the progression of the disease.

Strong analgesics (morphine type) have side effects

Habituation is often the first fear, but the benefit of treatment generally outweighs the risk and their use is possible in a reasonable manner over short periods. Opioids are much safer to use in veterinary medicine than in human medicine and the digestive or hallucinogenic effects in particular are not common in animals.

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