All of us hate the idea of our loved ones, human or animal, being in any pain. However, it’s not always easy to recognise when our pets are in discomfort. Whilst Italian Greyhounds are often very demonstrative with their acute pain, chronic pain is much more likely to be hidden from us.
Like young children, dogs are unable to express their pain through speech. In acute pain, such as an injury, we are more likely to hear them vocalise in other ways – crying out or whimpering. In chronic pain – typically degenerative joint disease such as arthritis or periodontal disease, the signs are often more subtle, and more insidious in their onset. Instead of drawing attention to their pain dogs will often try to hide it from us. In addition, chronic lameness often affects more than one joint or limb and so there may not be an obvious ‘limp’.
Behavioural change, especially at home, can provide a wealth of information which can help you to recognise a problem early and aid your vet in reaching an accurate diagnosis.
Painful joints, as I’m sure we can all imagine, can increase irritability and reduce the tolerance threshold around noisy, boisterous children or younger pets – a common reason for the older dog to start to withdraw from the family and spend more time in other parts of the home. Increased aggressiveness is another more extreme example. A dog which has always been placid and amiable and suddenly starts to snap when approached could be suffering from a painful ear infection or sore back – and it may be some time before any further signs of disease appear. Other dogs will become more clingy or affectionate when they are painful. Physical contact and the proximity of familiar people can actually help to ameliorate the unpleasant feelings associated with pain in dogs just as they can in people.
It is important to remember that while it is inevitable that older dogs will start to ‘slow down’ and live life at a more relaxed pace, a loss of mobility and desire to interact can also be significant signs of pain. It is always worth having a thorough checkover by your vet for any dog which becomes slower or more withdrawn. A reduced interest in a previous beloved game such as tugging rope or fetching a ball should also ring a few alarm bells and prompt a check-up.
Like people, dogs will show changes in their sleep patterns with age. Sleep can be affected by a number of diseases including those which affect the volume or frequency of urination/defecation; senility changes (dogs get dementia too!) and hearing loss but pain can also lead to sleep disturbance – restless sleep, with crying or moving around in the night are particularly significant.
It is also important to watch out for excessive licking. Just as we will often rub a painful area on our bodies, dogs will tend to lick at painful areas on themselves. Bald, red or sticky areas on the body, particularly on the limbs, can be a sign of a painful joint underneath.
Italian greyhounds, in common with many toy breeds are prone to disease of the teeth and gums. Oral pain can also be difficult to spot especially as eating is an essential behaviour for survival. While some dogs will go right off their food at the first hint of discomfort, others will battle on! It is sometimes amazing the extent of dental disease we see in our patients who are still happy to wolf down a large bowl of crunchy biscuits! However, it is useful sometimes to stop and watch more closely. Difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling and chewing on only one side of the mouth can all indicate pain in the teeth, gums or tongue. It is also worth lifting the lips and having a look at the teeth. A build up of tartar or gingivitis on one side of the mouth more than the other may indicate pain on this side.
Recognising and accurately assessing pain in animals is difficult – there are teams of researchers and scientists continually striving to improve our ability to do this! By monitoring the subtle (and sometimes less subtle!) signs our pets give us we can help to recognise when they are in pain and do something about it. Your observations will mean you and your vet can work together to reach the best possible outcome for your precious pet.