Silent Pain in Dogs – The Harsh Reality!
Updated: Aug 15
I know what you are thinking! My dog is not in pain! But…!
“Did you know that up to 53% of pets have silent pain that is invisible to their humans?” (Dr Edward – The Healing Vet, 2021) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX9KifAwqSE
This is a shocking statistic and there are many reasons why this is the case. However, it is not because you are a ‘bad owner!’ Even the most devoted and well-informed owners, very experienced veterinarians and skilled therapists (myself included) can simply miss the signs of silent pain. This is because dogs do not show pain in the same way as humans do.
Why is silent pain often missed?
There are many reasons why owners and veterinarians often miss silent pain.
1. Silent pain builds up very slowly – over a long period of time. The misinterpreted signs of aging such as, slowing down on walks, becoming stiffer, postural changes and reluctance to partake in activities can often signify underlying discomfort and pain.
2. Soft tissue pain – usually manifests all over the body. The body is equally affected so no one part is more painful than the other. Therefore, there are no obvious symptoms to see.
3. Dogs often do not vocalise silent pain – even if it is severe. Most owners believe that their dog will vocalise if they are in pain.
4. Survival instincts - Dogs have an inherited, hardwired, deep rooted, survival instinct to hide pain and weakness. In the wild an animal that is injured or weak is vulnerable to attack and are singled out by predators. Our dogs still appear to act in this stoic manner, suppressing obvious signs of pain and discomfort.
5. Silent pain is invisible – Pain associated with soft tissue damage cannot be detected by X-rays, ultrasounds, CT and MRI scans. Veterinarians rely heavily on these machines for diagnosis.
6. Increased arousal – increased arousal levels increase your dog’s pain tolerance (this is a strong survival instinct). This explains why a dog who has severe silent pain can still chase after a ball or compete in sports such as agility or flyball.
But what is pain?
Pain is an essential, unpleasant, and common sensation usually associated with tissue damage. Pain helps your dog protect their body from harm! If they did not feel pain, they would not be able to avoid potential/actual injury or permanent damage. Like dogs, pain can limit our ability to follow a daily routine and complete simple tasks. How many times today have you mentioned how uncomfortable you are feeling? Perhaps you have mentioned how your neck aches from sleeping awkwardly, how your body aches from completing a hard workout yesterday or how your lower back aches from being stood for too long. The list is endless!
As humans it is normal for us to verbalise the pain and discomfort we are feeling. We discuss it with our doctors, friends, family and anyone willing to lend a sympathetic ear. But what about your dog? Yes, dogs whimper, yelp or howl when they are in pain, but often when dogs are hurting, they suffer in silence. This is because there are two major types of pain; acute and chronic. One can be distressing to witness, whereas the other is much more subtle and can go undetected.
Acute pain is easy to see, easy to pick up and easy to identify, due to sudden, obvious changes in your dog’s behaviour and physical capability. This can include,
Unable to weight bear
Unable to jump up/onto/over things
Obvious changes in their demeanour
Acute pain is typically associated with a physical trauma (injury), inflammation, infection, specific disease or surgery. It protects the body from further damage by making the dog aware that they need to slow down/stop. Acute pain is also known as ‘adaptive pain.’ It lasts a short amount of time to allow the body to heal and return to normal function.
Chronic (Silent) pain!
Chronic pain is invisible and very difficult to see, as it appears gradually over time. There are no obvious changes in your dog’s behaviour or physical capability and subtle signs are difficult to identify.
Chronic pain is on-going and long term. It is often referred to as ‘maladaptive pain’ as it does not appear to have a protective purpose. The pain will continue even after healing has occurred. Arthritis is an example of maladaptive pain as it is degenerative, the injury and inflammation are always present.
How can you find silent pain in your dog?
The only way to find silent pain accurately and consistently in your dog’s body is with a skilled hands-on assessment. Therapists that have completed the intensive 2-year Clinical Canine Massage Practitioner Programme with the Canine Massage Therapy Centre (Externally accredited by Lantra) have developed a unique set of Advanced Palpation skills to assess around 40 different pairs of superficial muscles in your dog’s body. This involves using informed touch to search for deviations in the muscles natural tone, temperature, texture and tenderness (the 4Ts). Therapists also utilise the ‘3 Interconnected Qualities of Fascia’ model (Luchau 2015) to assess your dog’s soft tissue and fascial planes.
This is known as a FREE muscular health check!
Is your dog one of the 53% of dogs suffering in silent pain? Would you like clarification? Get in touch today and book your free muscular health check. Or lookout for shows and events that myself and therapists of the Canine Massage Guild will be attending.
The Canine Massage Guild
The Canine Massage Guild is a network of highly skilled professional Canine Massage therapists specialising in soft tissue rehabilitation. They are based all over the country and offer free muscular health checks for dogs at events, shows and clinics. To find your local Canine Massage Guild therapist visit the website: www.k9-massageguild.co.uk/therapistregister/