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Your dog can’t tell us …

Several times a day I wish I could ask my dog patients this simple question.  It sure would make the decision of when to bring your pet to your veterinarian simple (and my job a lot easier!).  Since we can’t, this series of articles will cover established but often subtle signs of pain.  All animals feel pain but this particular series is dedicated to human’s best friend, the dog.  Not all dogs will express all signs and for those very stoic dogs I will rule out pain by prescribing a short trial on pain medication – then look for positive changes in their activity / demeanour.

… so here are some signs to look for.

1) Reluctance to walk on slippery surfaces. If your dog has never liked to walk on wood or vinyl flooring because they are cautious then the following won’t apply; however, if this is a more recent issue, then pain needs to be considered:

To understand why this reluctance may reveal pain, it’s important to understand how dogs gain traction on slippery floors.  In general, dogs rely on their nails for traction, but nails won’t help on smooth surfaces.  This isn’t a big problem for a dog that isn’t in pain. Strength and balance help them to remain in an upright position and should one leg start to slip that cannot recover, it is easy enough to compensate with another.  But when a dog has one or more painful legs they lose their natural ability to compensate.  A leg slides out and and if they lack the strength to draw it back toward their body, they risk a fall – especially if they have more than one painful leg which diminishes their ability to compensate.  This creates reluctance to walk on that floor.  Since dogs are quick learners it only takes few such falls or near falls for them to develop fearfulness of slippery surfaces.  If there is a neurological issue causing weakness or instability, this will further compounds their fear.

2) Trouble going up or going down stairs.  Negotiating stair puts most weight on the back legs going up and the front legs going down.  Rarely will a dog in pain refuse stairs – if they do it’s 90% likely due to pain (changes in vision can also have this effect so once you have scheduled an appointment with your veterinarian, observe them negotiating stairs in bright and dim lighting).  Many owners describe their dog as standing on the landing and looking up or down the stairs, but not moving until they get their nerve up, are coaxed, or maybe start barking in frustration.


Stay tuned for Part 2 on how to tell if your dog is in pain…


Dr. Jeffrey Person practices in Edmonton at the Delton Veterinary Hospital and co-hosts the listener call-in show Pet Talk – Sunday mornings at 8a.m. on 630 CHED (AM dial).