Slowing down might not be just a natural consequence of aging. Your dog may be in pain. So how do you know if your dog is in pain?
There are two main types of pain. Acute pain comes on suddenly and lasts a few days or weeks. Dogs will react to acute pain by adapting. They might limp, hop or even stop altogether. They may continue doing what they were doing but very gingerly and in anticipation of pain. It is usually easy to spot this type of pain and your dog may yelp or whine. Adapting to acute pain can result in compensatory pain elsewhere in the body. I will be producing an article on compensatory pain later in the year. The other main type of pain is chronic and is best described as constant, mostly lower in intensity and present over a longer time period. Acute pain that is not addressed can become chronic with all the obvious signs such as limping, touch sensitivity etc. However, many dogs experience chronic pain without an obvious cause and may not give obvious signals that they are in pain.
You may notice their behaviour changes; their posture and gait may be affected. You might just think that they are slowing down and falling behind on walks because they are getting older. Being in chronic pain is stressful and over the medium to longer term this stress suppresses the immune system. Stress also affects the mental health and general mood of your dog.
You may find you are visiting the vet more often as they get more infections, appear reluctant to do the things they used to like and seem generally unhappy or depressed. You may even think this is also a natural and inevitable aspect of your dog aging. There are different causes of chronic pain including; from the bones and joints (e.g. arthritis), muscular such as the repetitive strains caused by a dogs usual activity or from dysfunctional connective tissue.
Let us examine dysfunctional connective tissue.
Connective tissue should allow different body tissues to interact with and slide over one
another. This allows the body to move in comfort.
Dysfunctional tissue can "stick" these different tissues together. Making movement harder and uncomfortable. The chronic pain generated from dysfunctional connective tissues is often referred to as myofascial pain. It is often interpreted by owners and vets as expected slowing down caused by getting older. It is often seen as:
Stiffness that loosens up once the body gets moving
Excessive nibbling, biting or licking (often the lower legs and feet)
Twitching of the skin when lightly touched or when the dog stretches
Shortened stride length, i.e. less movement in the hips and shoulders
A reluctance to move between different gaits (e.g moving from a walk into a trot)
Hopping or skipping
Becoming more reclusive and grumpy
Becoming less tolerant to touch and grooming.
To understand what restrictive fascial feels like try standing up, and with your legs straight reach for your toes. STOP when you feel any discomfort! The discomfort and often burning sensation you feel at the back of your legs is your fascia (not your muscles).
Myofascial pain is not generally as acute as the sensation you have just experienced. It is often experienced as a dull, non-specific discomfort. Those suffering from myofascial pain will often stimulate other areas of the body to distract the brain, reducing the discomfort they are experiencing. This is why a dog will lick, nibble or bite their feet or legs – but you and your vet cannot see any reason for them doing so.
Removing or reducing myofascial pain means their physical, mental and psychological wellbeing improves. Put simply, they will have a better quality of life.
Releasing your dog from pain brings their “spark” back!
If some of the symptoms described in this article sound familiar there is good news!
Myofascial pain responds extremely well and significant improvements can often be observed in as little as two massage sessions. In addition, massage can help address the causes of the tissue dysfunction reducing the need to continual treatments.
If your dog is showing any of the signs of pain discussed here, get in touch and book your dog in for a massage. Or if you are not in the Hemel Hempstead area visit the Canine Massage Guild to find your nearest Guild member.