Is My Dog In Pain?

Ask the Vet

By Dr. Chery Burke, DVM, CCRP

Dear Doctor,

My 12-year-old Border Collie, Lizzie, is getting stubborn about going down the stairs to go outside. We have had several accidents in the house already this week. She doesn’t want to play Frisbee or eat from her dog bowl. We think she is grieving because she misses our children who are away at school.  What can we do for her?

Worried in Woodlawn

Dear Worried,

It certainly sounds like your girl is not herself.  I think she is due for a visit to your veterinarian.  There are a number of things that might be going on with her, and a thorough physical examination is the place to start. Much of what you describe could be attributable to pain.  It is worth figuring out if Lizzie is experiencing pain.

Dogs do not necessarily express pain like you and I might.  Often the signs of pain are subtle in dogs.  It is actually unusual for them to cry out. They might lick a sore joint or area excessively, change their sleeping position or location, or become withdrawn. Dogs will sometimes change their facial expression or avoid touch.

Some of the behaviors that you describe with Lizzie are consistent with a neck or front leg discomfort or even a problem with her balance. A thorough physical is the place to start. Many owners think that when a pet withdrawals socially that they are aging or grieving, often those dogs are hurting. No doubt, Lizzie is missing her human companions, but there is likely more to her difficulty with stairs and her change in behavior.  Typically dogs will cry out with nerve pain, ear pain (also nerve pain) or when you step on their toe. The majority of pain that dog’s experience does not make them cry out.

Veterinarians will manage pain in their patients based on the situation (trauma or surgery) as well as the type of pain (orthopedic, neuropathic) and the duration (acute, chronic). We find that a balanced approach with low doses of several medications, as well as complementary treatments, often achieves the best relief. Best of luck with Lizzie. I hope she is feeling better soon.

Dr. Cheryl Burke, DVM, CCRP, graduated from Catonsville Senior High and UMBC before attending The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine where she received her DVM.  She has been the owner of Paradise Animal Hospital for the past 25 years, practicing companion animal medicine and canine rehabilitation in her hometown community.   She received her CCRP certification from The University of Tennessee.

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