Behaviour and pain
As owners, we are often the first to pick up on behaviour changes with our animals and many people seem to forget that some behaviours may be closely linked with pain, we often see behaviour changes when our dogs or cats get arthritis for example- you would see things like less activity or slower to get up and down. But what about “aggression” When you are in pain I expect that you become less tolerant of things around you? This may be the same for dogs too! Around 25% of aggressinn cases reported a link with pain in a study in 1983, though these days we think this could be more. Pain, and fear of pain, place physical and emotional stress on our dog which puts them physiologically and psychologically out of balance.
If your dog is in pain, always think about how much extra stress you may be putting on them by putting them in certain situations. Think about whether or not it is neccessary for your dog to come with you everywhere. Are there some things that your dog would be happier missing out on?
People often wonder why behaviourists work on vet referral. The reason i quite simple really: whilst It is important that if you seek advice from a behaviourist for behaviour problems, it is always good practice to have the pet assessed by a vet, this is so that most pain related conditions can be ruled out before trying to modify behaviour. This also helps build a bigger picture of the dogs history for the behaviourist. If the vet thinks there is no medical issue at present it shouldnt be ruled out, your pet may be experiencing fear of pain from previous medical issues or they may be hiding a new condition well.
Before you are able to modify any behaviour you need to get pain under control, without doing this you may have trouble to modify the behaviour and it could also impact your pets welfare negatively and cause frustration along the way.
Behaviour changes in dogs that are in pain will vary from dog to dog as every dogs threshold will likely be different they behaviours seen will be an adaptation to help the dog feel less painful whilst completing some tasks, for example the dog with arthritis may get up less frequently and urinate less in the garden because getting up causes the pain.
Possible behaviours that may be seen when your dog is in pain:
- Seeking cool or warm surfaces / objects
- Less social and willing to participate in activities, walks or games
- Changes in sleeping, eating or drinking
- Displacement behaviours such as chewing or licking, including self-mutilation
- Increased noise phobia and general increase in fear
This is not exclusive or an extensive list, you know your dog best and you may notice subtle body language changes with your pet too! If you think your pet is in pain seek veterinary advice!