We often hear pet owners/caregivers say “I just don’t want my pet to suffer.” The word suffers means different things to different people but we feel living in pain each day does, in fact, decrease a pet’s quality of life.  Wouldn’t we all rather live life pain-free? So, let’s dig deeper into this topic and see if our pets are in pain and we just don’t know it.

Pain control is a common topic as we go through the change of season here in Wisconsin.  The wintery winds start to blow, and our joints start to ache.  This is also true for our pets, especially our dogs.  How can we know if they are in pain? What can we do to prevent the pain? What can we do to treat pain?

Let’s start by learning the signs of pain in pets. Pets do NOT cry or whine when they are in pain. Let me just repeat that. Pets do NOT cry or whine when they are in pain. How can that be?  Well, as much as we tend to think of them as family members, cats and dogs are still cats and dogs, and they see life from the point of view of a cat or a dog, not as a human sees it.  Animals think of themselves as members of a pack and as pack members, they must be a strong members of the pack or the pack no longer needs them.  So, they work really, really hard to hide any sign of weakness that would cause them to be kicked out of the pack/family. Pain is a sign of weakness. They do not show us pain, of any kind until the pain is so unbearable that they can’t hide it any longer. Humans, on the other hand, spend most of their day discussing their aches and pains!

Animals are different in their thought processes in another way too.  Not only do animals think they must hide their pain in order to stay in our family/pack, but they really don’t understand there is an alternative to their pain. Think about that sentence for just a moment.  What if you were in pain and didn’t know there was a drug or a treatment to alleviate it, what would you do? You, like our pets, find a way to go on with life and “workaround” the pain. You would find a way to do the things you love anyway.  If the pain is in the back end of the body, your pet learns to walk with more weight shifted onto the front half of the body. If the pain is on the left side, your pet learns to shift the weight to the right.  The weight shifting is so subtle that you don’t really notice it until the pain is so severe that the pet is actually limping.  They adapt because they don’t know there is any other choice. Side note: Let’s be clear, if your pet is limping, they are in pain. They do not limp just for the fun of it.

What are the signs we can watch for to let us know our pets have pain?  Subtle changes in their daily routine can give us clues such as choosing to stay on the floor instead of hopping on the furniture or bed to lie down, hesitating at the stairs before going up or down, slowing down on a walk that they are used to doing, not playing ball for as long as they used to or licking at a particular joint on and off.  There are more obvious signs of pain, like limping or dragging a toe on the ground.  Sometimes the pain is so severe,  an animal’s appetite can even be affected.  Annual exams by a veterinarian will also help to identify any painful areas that need to be addressed in your pet.

What can I do to prevent arthritis and other joint pain problems in my pet?  The foundation to this is, of course, nutrition. A properly balanced diet that supports a healthy weight, decreases undo pressure and strain on joints. As always, health does start by feeding our pets correctly.  In addition to that, supplementation of glucosamine, chondroitin, and essential fatty acids will promote a healthy joint and decrease the chance of arthritis setting in early.

If my pet already has pain/arthritis, what can I do? If your pet is overweight, goal number one would be weight loss. That extra weight causes so much pain. Just remove the excess weight results in less pain naturally, among other health benefits. In addition to that, there are a number of treatment options, and the severity of the pain, the health status and age of your pet, and the amount of time you have to give to your pet’s care all come into play here.

Treatment options for pain include anti-inflammatory drugs or herbs, spinal adjustments, acupuncture, laser therapy, essential oils/flower essences (when used correctly), supplementation, massage and rehab, and lastly, a variety of energy work therapies. To determine which of these your pet would thrive on, please set up a consult with our office to explore these options. Some are more time-consuming, some are more costly so designing a protocol that works for both you and your pet is the ideal approach.