“But Dogs Can’t Tell You They Are In Pain, Can They?”
This is a comment I often get from Owners and my answer is always the same… yes they can and they often do. We just need to know what language they are speaking in and not expect them to use English.
Whereas ‘Acute Pain’ that occurs suddenly and sharply often results in a yelp or a pronounced limp, ‘Chronic Pain’ is a prolonged ache or stiffness across a certain part or multiple areas of the body, and is ‘put up with’ as the muscles and pain receptors start working differently to compensate for these new sensations.
As i realised recently during a muscular MOT at a DogFest event, “dogs don’t know that chronic pain isn’t normal”, especially if it continues and becomes “the new normal”.
So they don’t complain. Or not audibly at least.
Look For Subtle Signals:
I often chat to dog owners about changes they may have seen to normal behaviours during their dog’s day…
- Are they slowing down on walks or struggling to walk as far as they used to?
- Are they struggling (or even just hesitating) to get on and off their favourite bit of the sofa or bed (hesitating is an indication that it will hurt but the reward of being up there is greater than the pain for now)
- Do they take a while to get out of their own bed, or just choose to stay there because its warm and easier?
- Can you hear their claws scraping on the floor on walks or door jams or tripping over altogether (because they aren’t picking their feet up)?
- Have they lost interest in playing with their toys or other dogs in the household (because this may lead to pain afterwards if too aggressive)
- Have they lost their appetite, especially at certain times before their body has “woken up”?
- Or do seem Depressed at quiet times even if they get excited for food or a ball?
These are known as “Pain-related behaviours” and could be indications of your dog not being able to contract or relax a specific muscle (or a group of muscles). This restricts the bending, lifting or extending (flexion/extension) of their leg muscles and surrounding muscles (in their lower back or neck/shoulder muscles for example). You can usually see this whether the muscles are being used carefully or in quick movements such as jumping (an action that uses so many muscles at the same time).
Still Ignoring the Subtle Signs?
But because most dogs don’t cry out in pain, all too often i hear owners saying “my dog is just lazy” or “they are just getting old” or “they’ve done that for years, it’s normal”.
REALLY?… even when you are expecting your 13 year old Labrador to jump into a car boot that is higher than their head?
(HINT: Get a ramp for your dog!)
Would you leave your ageing grandma in a corner of the room and ignore her all day just because she has aches and pains that are associated with old age?
No. So why would you do the same with your dog?
Massage? Really? Why?
We can chuck as many drugs as we can at a certain disease like arthritis but they are not the only treatment. If you don’t work holistically with the muscles, tendons, fascia (in addition to dulling certain pain receptors within the joint) then we are not helping as much as we can.
Massage Therapy can not only increase the flexibility and elasticity of the muscle fibres, making movement of limbs easier, but it also promotes blood flow to all the tissues (inclusive of nerves and organs) and removes metabolic toxins via the lymph system to enhance repair by the body’s natural responses.
A good indication that a massage is needed for your dog (or for yourself too) is:
- when your dog isn’t keen on being touched or if the skin ‘twitches’ underneath where you are stroking.
- if your vet can’t find anything specific (aside from the arthritis) and you can still see your dog is still struggling on a certain leg.
- when the pain-relief drugs fail to work.
- if your dog is taking longer than expected to recover from surgery or an injury.
Massage and Myofascial Release
Recent evidence also suggests that chronic pain can be released by working on the “Fascia”. This is a layer of connective tissue that surrounds individual muscle fibres, muscles as a whole, and bodily compartments and houses many pain receptors.
I like to explain Fascia as being the skin of a sausage, whereas the muscle is the sausage meat itself. If the Fascia becomes dehydrated or has had any previous physical or emotional trauma (even from many years ago), then the Fascia will become tight. This will prevent the sausage from moving optimally, even if there is nothing wrong with the sausage meat itself. And we all know what can happen to a sausage when the pan gets a little too hot, eh?
Thankfully, this Fascia also responds wonderfully to certain massage techniques (Myofascial Release) when implemented with love, care and attention for the dog or the owner (depending on who is getting the treatment). This in turn frees up the pain receptors embedded in the fascia so that the chronic pain reduces.
I’m the Clinical Massage Therapist so that You Don’t Have To Be
If any of this feels confusing then don’t worry, many owners of my clients don’t know about chronic pain to begin with either. They only understand the difference that canine massage can make to their dog’s comfort after as few as 3 sessions when they see the changes occurring.
It truly warms my heart when i hear my clients saying how happier their dog is, or that they have started spending more time together on walks. Or that they have started playing with their favourite toys again and are joining the family on the sofa again.
Quite often, it is only when these ‘normal’ behaviours return that we all realise how much chronic pain our dogs were silently living with in the first place.
So What Can You Do to Check in on Your Dog’s Chronic Pain Levels?
Spend time getting to know your dog and the way he or she moves, truly watching their daily behaviours. Especially during the quiet times when they aren’t excited about food or their ball (Endorphins often mask the pain signals). That way, you will learn the language that your dog is communicating in and you will be able to pick up on the more subtle pain-related behaviours… even if they are trying to hide it because they are more interested in living life and making you happy.
If you have any questions about this then why not drop me an email on hayley.Hilton@HandsOnHeart.dog and i’d love to discuss what you are seeing in your Dog(s) and whether massage or another type of therapy may be able to help.
I may work with Dogs but i don’t bite 😉