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6 Ways to Tell If Your Dog Has Back Pain

Published May 16, 2017
Tags:  Dogs

When we at BackerNation started our search to see if dogs experience chronic back pain like people, we were surprised to find out that our favorite furry friends have their own site called PetMD (how cute).

In Managing Pain In Dogs, PetMD wrote, “Fortunately this issue of pain management in pets has been a topic of high priority within the veterinary profession. The 2001 AVMA Animal Welfare Forum, presented in Chicago, was attended by over 100 veterinarians interested in developing a better understanding of pain management in dogs and other animals.”

So it's true — dogs do feel pain like people. Dogs and animals, in general, can be diagnosed with chronic back pain.

A little off topic, but did you also know that a dog can be a diabetic? We may have more in common with the cute fur balls than we originally anticipated, but not everyone will agree.

“It was barely ten years ago that I found myself sitting in a scientific conference listening to a veterinary researcher who claimed, 'Dogs do not feel pain to the same degree that people do and therefore the idea of assessing and managing pain in dogs is not very important,” wrote Stanley Coren, Ph.D., D.Sc., FRSC, a professor emeritus in the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Canines have inherited an instinct to hide any pain that is caused by injuries or infirmity. In the wild, an animal that is injured or infirm is vulnerable to attack, and there is a survival advantage to act like nothing is wrong even when something most definitely is.

“Thus our pet dogs still appear to act in a stoic manner. They suppress many of the more obvious signals of pain and injury to protect themselves and their social standing in their pack. They hide their pain to appear to be more in control of the situation, but unfortunately, because of this, it is often difficult for humans to recognize when our dogs are hurting,” explained Coren.

If your dog's pain is experienced over a long duration of time, it can actually be hazardous to his or her's health. We went back to Coren to find out why.

Coren explained that pain in itself causes stress. On the opposite end, stress can also increase your pain. Stress alone affects virtually every system in our bodies. It can alter the rate of metabolism and mess up necessary bodily systems that allow us to stay healthy. Basically, your entire body goes into overdrive in an attempt to ease any stress like symptoms. This goes for dogs as well as people. So when they say don't stress, they really mean it.

“In addition, the tension that the state of pain-related stress induces can decrease the animal's appetite, cause muscle fatigue and tissue breakdown, and also rob the dog of needed healing sleep. In the end, the dog is exhausted and distressed. This reduces the body's ability to heal.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin Veterinary School studied the effects of managing pain from injuries, illness and surgical procedures in dogs. First, the study tested to see if pain in dogs could be measured and proven. Second, if the animal did have severe pain, they wanted to find out what would happen if the pain was treated immediately and, if it wasn't, how that would affect the dog's health.

Coren explained that the study revealed pain is real in dogs. Period, end of sentence.

If left untreated, deadly health complications can occur in dogs just like in humans. By treating the animal's pain via multiple regimes that include drug therapy and a form of physical therapy, their stress levels decreased and their respiratory functions improved.

“The prevention, early recognition and aggressive management of pain and anxiety should be essential to the veterinary care of dogs,” Coren reminded.

The researchers warn us that it's important to be sensitive to any subtle signs of pain in our pets just as we do with our chronic back pain. The treatment of pain in dogs and humans alike can reduce the stress that can prolong recovery.

It is through educational efforts that dogs will have an improved quality of life even though they cannot verbalize when they are in pain, which brings us to another very important point.

Clearly, we don't speak doggy, (although we wish we did). And because of the language barrier, it's vital for you to know the signs and symptoms of chronic back pain in your dog so you can seek treatment.

According to Coren, “You may be a better judge of whether your dog is hurting than your veterinarian simply because there is nothing better than being familiar with an individual dog in order to recognize how its behavior has changed and how it shows pain.”

How to Tell If Your Dog is in Pain

Generally speaking, dogs that are in back pain will:

  • Usually appear less alert and quieter than normal
  • May hide to avoid being with other animals or people
  • May have stiff body movements and show an unwillingness to move
  • A dog in severe back pain might lie still or assume an abnormal posture to reduce discomfort
  • Show signs of stress, including:
    • Panting
    • Shallow breathing
    • Shivering
    • The pupils of their eyes may be larger than usual
  • Stop eating normally

Animals will return to normal eating and drinking habits sooner when relief from their back pain is received, which is right in line with people. If your dog isn't behaving normally, take them to the vet. It never hurts to check it out. After all, they are more than a pet, they are family. 

Updated: August 15, 2018

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