Did you know that when a dog feels excessive and prolonged stress or anxiety, it can cause actual physical pain?
Spare a thought for our rescue dogs whose whole world has been turned upside down. Try to imagine how heightened their emotional pain feels when added to existing chronic pain.
What Does Pain Mean for Rescue Dogs?
You could argue that it’s easier to spot the signs of pain in your own dog because you already know all of their little nuances, what’s normal and what’s not.
With a rescue dog, however, this can be more challenging because you might not have any previous history. You’ve yet to get to know this latest furry addition to your family, as you welcome them into their ‘furever’ home.
To appreciate why there might be a difference in the pain experienced by a rescue dog versus a dog that you’ve nurtured from a puppy, we need to understand that emotional pain causes actual physical pain. Whatever environment those dogs came from, they will still experience emotional upheaval.
If you’d like to dig a little deeper into this subject, I recommend having a look at Loeser’s Pain Model (1980) as a starting point, illustrated below.
The sensation of pain is based on a perception involving many factors, not least of which is the social environment a dog finds themselves in, and their past experiences.
Dog rescue centres do a wonderful job, but from a dog’s perspective they are in a new environment with new routines; there are new people, new sounds, new smells, new food, new dogs. This can cause sensory overload and many dogs struggle to cope. You may have heard people say that some dogs simply just shut down.
Even when these dogs are rescued by those very special new pet parents and brought to live in the most wonderful loving homes, there is still a period of emotional adjustment.
Remember your home is also a new environment, with a new routine, there are new people, new sounds, new smells, new food and possibly new pets.
It’s amazing how cleverly our dogs’ bodies adapt to cope with changes in their emotional, physical and biological environments. This coping mechanism works so well that signs of pain often go undetected.
Why Do Dogs Hide Pain?
It’s thought that dogs hide pain so as not to disclose any weaknesses, which could make them vulnerable. It’s a natural survival instinct.
Some people describe their rescue dogs as being stoic, but in reality, they may be suffering from chronic pain in silence, hidden beneath the instinctive will to remain safe.
Some also say that dogs in general have a higher tolerance for pain. But do they? Or do they just relay pain signals using a different language?
Do Many Rescue Dogs Suffer Pain?
It’s difficult to know how many rescue dogs suffer from pain. What we can say with a degree of certainty is that dogs of all ages, breeds and abilities will experience pain at some point in their lives.
How to Tell if Your Rescue Dog is in Pain
There are a huge number of signs that indicate a dog is in pain or discomfort. These are a few:
- Loss of appetite
- Refusal to drink water
- Excessive urination
- Sustained diarrhoea
- Gum colour change (pale or blue)
- Change in temperature
- Excessive panting/drooling (not exercise related)
Common Signs of Musculoskeletal Pain:
- Limping or lameness
- Stiffness on the move
- Appear old before their time
- Reluctance to jump
- Slowing down on a walk
- Arching back, known as roaching or a dipped back known as swayback
- The back leg/knee sticking out to the side in a sit
- Twitching skin down their back
- Sudden snapping at other dogs/people
- Self-mutilation, e.g. nibbling their back end
- Noise sensitivity
If you are worried at all about the health of your dog, speak with your vet immediately!
The Canine Massage Guild has created a wonderful resource called the ‘5 Principles of Pain’ where you can quickly classify your observations not just by category, but also by severity.
Access the 5 Principles of Pain here.
What do you do once you’ve identified possible pain-related issues? Have a chat with your vet and take your 5 Principles form with you as a consultation aid. This will save so much time for you and for your vet. The quicker the diagnosis, the quicker the treatment.
What Can You Do to Reduce the Risk of Musculoskeletal Injury?
Here are five quick wins:
- Don’t over-exercise your dog
- Keep your dog a healthy weight
- Cover slippery floors at home
- Throw away the ball launcher
- Keep muscles around joints mobile and healthy
What Other Options Are Available to Support Your Rescue Dog if They Are in Pain?
There are so many different ways to help your rescue dog overcome emotional and physical pain.
The complementary therapies:
- Clinical Massage* – Find a Massage Practitioner
- Animal Physiotherapy – Find a Physiotherapist
- Hydrotherapy – Find a Hydrotherapist
- McTimoney Chiropractic – Find a Mctimoney Practitioner
*Clinical Massage is a results-driven, clinically proven therapy used to release tight, sore muscles, reduce pain, anxiety and stress levels, and improve mobility, giving you healthier, happier dogs!
About Angela Day
Angela Day is the owner of Born to Run based in Suffolk. If you’d like to chat about any concerns you have, please find her contact details here.
Not in Suffolk? Don’t worry. There is a national network of clinical therapists ready to help you. Click here to find your closest therapist: Canine Massage Guild.