Dog Pain Management - How to Treat Acute Vs. Chronic Pain in Dogs

What is the difference between acute and chronic pain in dogs?

Acute pain is more or less sharp, not necessarily in duration, as it's typically only been there for a little while. It just recently emerged. Chronic pain would be, as the name implies, appears over a more extended period. In the case of an arthritic dog that's been hurting for weeks or months or, in some cases, even years, that would be chronic pain.

Dr. Scott Broussard
The Waggin Train Veterinary Clinic

How quickly should I bring in my dog if I suspect that they are in pain?

Right away would be my answer there. It's kind of a vague term when your dog is in pain. So for acute pain or injury or anything like that, you'd want to address it as soon as possible. That might even be an emergency basis type of thing. But even if it's not an acute injury or an emergency, would you want to walk around in pain every day at all times? Of course, you wouldn't. As soon as you notice any signs that your dog may be experiencing pain, address it. Get the dog examined by your veterinarian to see if there are things that we can do or medications to put them on that can help alleviate some of that pain.

What are some signs and symptoms of pain in my dog?

It kind of depends on where the dog is having pain and how intense that pain is. Some of the more common things can be aggression or biting at you and perhaps at themselves. They might bite you because they're hurting, they're just grumpy. They don't want to be touched. They don't want to be moved. They may not want to be petted. Sometimes they can show that aggression towards you. Other times they can show it towards themselves, not that they're self-mutilating or anything, but say, for example, their hips hurt. You might find that the dog is turning around, biting at their hips or licking at that area because in their minds, it's like they're trying to do something to alleviate or minimize that pain.

Let's think about paws because, for whatever reason, that came to my mind first. If they have a cut on a paw, maybe they sprained one of their paws or something along those lines, then obviously, it could just be simply a limp. They're walking around, not bearing full weight or maybe three-legged, not walking on that leg at all. With dogs with arthritis in the hips, one of the most common things we see is that they can be very reluctant to sit. Maybe they'll sit off to one side. Perhaps they don't sit. Perhaps they just want to pace all the time because they're not comfortable sitting. And then the reverse is true. So when they do get a sitting or into a lying position, they struggle to get up. Sometimes it's after a long nap, or maybe they're waking up first thing in the morning, and it takes an act of Congress to get them up and moving around.

It's kind of a wide array because it depends on the intensity and where the pain is located. Another sign of pain would be shaking. Many times, people come back and say, "Oh, my dog's trembling. What does that mean?" Well, he's scared? Most times, no. They could be cold, but if it's the middle of summer, and they're shaking, it could be is pain or discomfort. That can make them tremble. Even panting. Think about all the ways that they have to express that something's not right, something is hurting, something feels off, and those are sometimes subtle if you're not looking for them. If you are looking for them, though, they can be quite evident.

Are human pain pills like Tylenol or Advil okay to give my dog?

No, for the most part, no. Advil, absolutely no. One dose of Advil and I've seen it where dogs can have stomach ulcers and bleeding and they're vomiting. It causes a whole lot of GI issues that you don't want to play with. Not to mention what it can do to the kidneys, which is wiping them out. I would say no to Tylenol, too. I know that there are doses that have been used and can potentially be used, but the short answer is no. There are too many good veterinary-approved products that we can use. Consult your veterinarian. Go see your veterinarian, and they will be more than happy to prescribe you a suitable product that does the job better than over-the-counter drugs anyway.

What are the medications you typically use for pain management?

On the veterinary side, probably the most popular class that we use, especially for chronic pain, is something that their dog may have to take long-term, which is what we call NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. And those would be things such as Rimadyl, Previcox, and there used to be one called Etogesic. There's one called Galliprant. The list goes on and on. There are many different makes and manufacturers, but NSAIDs are one of the most common forms or modalities of pain control that we have. Now, is it a true pain medicine? Well, it's an anti-inflammatory, so it helps with pain, but there are more specific analgesic drugs such as tramadol, morphine, and buprenorphine. Those are opioid-type drugs that'll control pain that way. And lately, there has been a surge in the use of Gabapentin. That's another one that helps with pain control, particularly neurologic pain. Those are some of the most common drugs that we use daily.

Can a veterinarian help me manage my dog's chronic pain?

Absolutely. We do so in all the ways I just mentioned. To summarize, if your dog is in pain, if you notice any of the signs that we just covered, get them in. Get them checked—particularly if it's been a long time since your dog has been checked. They probably need to be examined anyway to look for not only the source of pain but for everything, so your dog looked at. Your veterinarian will be more than happy to formulate a plan for you to manage. Our job is to relieve animal suffering as best we can. We can't do that if we don't know where it is and what it's coming from. So get them in, get them looked at, and there are a whole plethora of drugs that can be used to control and alleviate the pain in most cases.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (337) 223-9581, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Pain Management - FAQs

Dr. Scott Broussard
The Waggin Train Veterinary Clinic

What are some signs that my dog is in pain?

It's a good question, and it's one that probably has quite a few answers there. Signs of pain can include but are not limited to what I'm about to say—panting or biting at either you or themselves. Sometimes if their hips are hurting, they'll turn around and try to bite at those or look at them. You can have swelling in a certain area; depending on the nature of the injury. You might experience vocalizing, crying, barking, and growling. Dogs have a hard way, at least in our language, of letting you know they're in pain, so sometimes it’s those simple things. If you’re going to make a simple day-to-day motion or you’re petting them or picking them up like you might've done every day for their entire lives—if they hurt and have, say, a back injury and you pick them up by the front legs or something, they're going to let you know it hurts.

And the flip side of that is sometimes a sign of pain might be a lack of something. So again, referencing a back, consider the example of dogs that are on and off of furniture all the time or they're on and off of your lap 20 times a day. If their back is hurting, they're not going to want to jump up and certainly not going to want to jump down. So all of a sudden, the dog is going to sit there and look at you as if, "Oh no, no, I don't want to go." And they're going to sit there and do that 10 times when they normally would just hop right up onto the sofa. That is a subtle sign that they're telling you something hurts.

So again, depending on the intensity of the pain, where it's located, there's a lot of variability with that question. But I think those are some of the most common signs that we see that tell us a dog's in pain.

What can cause pain in my dog?

That's a hard question to answer because almost anything can cause pain; let's be honest. It could be a sprain, arthritis, trauma, intestinal obstruction, you name it. So many of the things that we see daily cause some sort of pain in general. One of the most common ones we see is a dog that's overweight or even obese—how does that cause pain? Because now you have a dog that's walking around on their hip joints, and he's supposed to weigh 40 pounds, and there is supposed to be 40 pounds of pressure on his hips. Well, now there's 65 pounds of pressure on the dog’s hips and everyday activities—running, jumping, those kinds of things, are causing a lot more stress on the joints. So that can cause pain, particularly in older dogs that already have arthritis and are overweight. It exacerbates the signs that much more and makes them much more evident.

How do I know if I need to bring my dog to a veterinarian for pain?

If you see any of the things that we just talked about, get them in. Would you want to walk around hurting if you didn't have to? No, of course not.It's same thing with a dog. If you see any of those signs, get the dog looked at. You don't know whether anything needs to be done or can be done, but you should let your veterinarian decide that. If you don't take them in then, you're pretty much answering that question for your pet, and it's not fair to them. Get them in, get them looked at, and you and your veterinarian can come up with a game plan, what works best, and what's available to you.

How will my veterinarian gauge whether my dog is in pain?

With a physical exam. It's what we do, all day, every day. When you see dogs for a living, you get very used to seeing what normal is. You can read body language. You can read the posture of the tail, the posture of the dog. How are they standing? How are they moving? What's their facial expression? Are their ears up and perky? It starts with a basic observation and then when you put your hands on them. Again, pain is such a vague word. The pain of what? If they come in three-legged, well hello, that's where the problem is, so we're going to start on that leg. But if they come in just kind of not moving right and a bit sore, we have to start looking. You can check the range of motion. You can check the neck, the spine, the hip, etc., as It's what we we’re trained to do.

And in some cases we'll need an x-ray to tell you, "Oh, that spot equals pain." But sometimes, you can see lesions on an x-ray to where you know that's a painful process that's going on. Sometimes we might need additional tests beyond just a physical exam. But I would say about pain, 90% of it is probably recognition and a hands-on physical exam.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (337) 223-9581, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.