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Is my Pet in Pain?

Often the signs of chronic pain can be overlooked as bad behaviour, old age or even personality traits. This is especially true for those of us who have older pets as we often blame our pets age for any changes in their behaviour or activity, however, this may not always be the case. What is chronic pain? Chronic pain is pain that lasts for a prolonged period (more than 3 days), for example from arthritis, muscle strains or DOMS. It’s important that we manage these conditions that cause chronic pain in our pets so as to lessen their pain and improve their quality of life, right? But how can we do this if we don’t notice the signs of chronic pain? Check out our arthritis management pack- What are the signs of chronic pain? Increase muscle mass When our pets are in pain in a specific limb dor example when a horse has hock arthritis or you dog has elbow dysplasia then they begin to lessen the amount of weight they will carry on that limb. This leads to the other limbs having to work harder and therefore their muscle mass will increase. Decreased muscle mass As we discussed above when a limb is in pain over time it gets used less and less this leads to a reduction in the muscle mass of this limb as the animal is not using the muscles, in the same way, that if we break our right arm it will lose muscle mass and strength whilst in a cast. Reluctance to exercise When our pets are in pain often the exercise we ask them to do causes an increase in this pain without us realising. Therefore pets may become reluctant to complete exercises we ask of them. For example, your usually keen showjumper may begin to refuse fences. Its important to remember that exercise is beneficial to our pets even if they are experiencing some degree of pain but you must speak with your vet and vet physio about what exercise is correct and appropriate for your pet at the current time. Book a vet physio session now- Muscular changes As we discussed above muscle mass can increase/decrease when our pets are experiencing chronic pain. However the strength and feel of the muscle will also change and this is often an early sign of increase/decreased muscle mass. Therefore changes in muscle tension (how hard the muscle feels) and muscle strength (how well your pet’s muscles work to move their bodies) are an important first indicator of chronic pain. So how do you know if your pet’s muscles are showing these signs? Speak with your vet and vet physio and they will be able to show you how to palpate and assess the condition of your pet’s muscles and what you should look out for. Overworked muscles often fell harder than normal muscles and may even have trigger points or areas that cause muscle spams which themselves will cause pain. However, muscles which are underworked often appear floppy and lack and tone. Postural changes When our pets are in pain they will try to alter their posture and limb positioning to reduce the pain they are feeling and get more comfortable. Does your dog always sleep in the same position? Or perhaps they keep changing position? Does your horse always rest the same leg? Will, they lay down to sleep? Often horse's will sleep standing up and refuse to lay down as the change in posture causes them more pain. Horse's who only sleep standing do not experience a deep sleep and therefore will be more lethargic and show less willingness to work. Gait changes Your pets gait refers to how they move, in what order they place their feet and at what speed. When our pets are experiencing pain they may alter this pattern to reduce the use of a limb, alter their speed to reduce weight-bearing this is because when your pet moves faster for example at a trot or canter they have more forward momentum and each limb is in contact with the ground for a shorter period of time and is therefore used less than in the walk. This is why when trying to improve your pets posture and gait walk exercises are of most use to you. Loss of balance As our pets try to alter their gait and posture their core muscles are often not been used effectively and this causes them to frequently lose their balance or be less coordinated than you would expect. If you want to find out how to improve you pets core strength check out our core conditioning handouts at Slowing down We often associate ‘slowing down’ with older pets and contribute it just to them becoming older however it is more often a sign of pain in our pets which prevents them from being able to move as effectively as they could before. This is because as our pets move less their range of movement becomes smaller and in turn causes them to be able to do even less leading to pain and the cycle continues leading to conditions like OA. Aggression If we miss the subtle signs of pain our pets may try to make us aware of their discomfort py showing us aggressive gestures. For example, our dogs may growl or snap at other dogs in the park who jump on them or inadvertently bump into them. Our horses may begin to be reluctant to be tacked up and show what is often referred to as girthy behaviour or may even appear cold backed. Behavioural changes Behavioural changes can be subtle such as seeking more time alone or dramatic such as aggression. However, changes in behaviour are not always proportional to the pain. For example, a horse in severe pain may only show a slight lack of impulsion however a horse with mild pain may show aggression, due to this, it is important to keep an eye out for any behavioural changes. If you’re ever in doubt or have concerns about you pet please book a FREE phone consultation with us here and we will advise you on what the best next step for you and your pet would be. If you’d rather not speak on the phone or are lacking in time drop us an email at and we will reply ASAP.

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