Following on from Rupert’s blog about osteoarthritis (OA), I thought it would be a good chance to discuss a bit more about pain generally and how we can help.

Chronic pain is miserable. It’s not until the pain goes away, do you realise just how miserable it had made you. It’s just a constant nag and over time has quite a major impact on mental health and wellbeing. I tell you this from personal experience, and I’m sure many of you reading will understand this through your own experiences.

Our pets suffer in exactly the same way. They are, however, unable to vocalise their issues and thus, their pain can go unnoticed until things get quite bad.

It’s important to be aware that chronic pain is of no benefit at all. It is an unfortunate side effect of the acute pain pathway which helps us survive by a) moving us quickly away from the danger and then b) keeping the area tender to prevent us re-traumatising the sore spot until it has healed. It is this latter part that sometimes gets left “switched on” and leads to chronic pain.

Because of this, it is really important to treat pain quickly and effectively, otherwise we are encouraging the development of chronic pain. So, thinking “I don’t want treatment now, because nothing will work when things get really bad” is absolutely the OPPOSITE of what we need to do. We need to act ASAP to stop the situation getting worse, otherwise it’s more difficult to treat. Think of a single track road that with repeat traffic (pain signals) over time becomes a major highway. It would have been easy to stop the traffic on that single track road, but now we are trying to stop the traffic on a 4 lane motorway….that’s not so easy!! It’s still possible, so don’t be disheartened, but it is more difficult and takes longer.

So, for example: Let’s say a dog has one sore hip. It’s a bit lame on that leg and the lameness is going on for a while. The rest of the body has to accommodate for that sore area, so he takes more of the weight into his back and into the front legs in order to protect the hip. This places excess strain on these new areas, and we have loss of the normal alignment of the body. Over time, this causes problems, such as muscle tension/strain/overloading of joints in the back, neck and the front legs ie the whole body becomes affected. As time goes on and the pain remains, the dog becomes depressed and maybe shows behavioural changes such as grumpiness or sleeping more.

To treat, we use a multimodal approach.

  1. Analgesia- to reduce the pain sensation
  2. Physical aids- to make their life easier
  3. Improvements to mental and emotional wellbeing
  4. Changing the way they think about their pain

We do this by looking at drug therapy, hydrotherapy and things you can do around your home to make life easier and more fulfilling. If your pet has been used to long walks and now can’t do those, we look at other things to keep them mentally and physically active.

If you’re thinking “my pet is just slowing down a bit, but she’s not that bad. I won’t come now”- it’s the perfect time to seek help. A few minor changes are likely to work and get you back on track.

If you’re thinking “my pet can hardly walk, it’s too late”- we are here to help. Please come and see us. There’s lots to do.

Photo’s courtesy of canine arthritis management

Blog written by Eleanor Graham BVMS, MRCVS