by Shelley Heading – SyncCanine, South East
As owners we are often the first to pick up on changes in our dogs behaviour. We often think we need a trainer or behaviourist to help us, however, there is evidence to say that many behaviour changes are down to pain.
Over a quarter 28.2% of dogs exhibiting aggression do so because of a medical condition, including pain. (Beaver, 1983). A small case study of aggressive dogs with a pain focus indicated that musculoskeletal pain caused by hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis of the elbow was the main cause of pain, occurring in 75% (9 of the 12 cases) of these cases. (Camps et al, 2012).
Eighty-eight reports of aggressive behaviour were seen through the behaviour clinic at the University of Lincoln Behaviour clinic during Dec 2010 and July 2013. Twenty-four of the cases were diagnosed with medical factors, eleven of these involved musculoskeletal pains that had not been noted as significant to the behaviour by the referring veterinary surgeon (Barcelos, Mills and Zulch, Clinical Indicators of occult musculoskeletal pain in aggressive dogs, 2015).
Any good trainer or behaviourist will advise a veterinary examination prior to seeing your dog for the presenting issue. The problem with a ‘vet check’ is the issue may often go unnoticed as the injury / disease may not have caused any physical or structural changes (e.g. early stage degenerative joint disease).
Pain, fear of pain or a memory of pain causes not only psychological stress on our dogs but also a physiological stress which puts our dogs out of balance.
Acute pain is sudden onset and our dogs will often slow down, stop doing certain activities such as playing – this is the body’s way of allowing time for rest and repair. The dog is liable to guard these areas of pain. Furthermore, the compromised biomechanics may lead to secondary disorders, pain and discomfort.
Chronic low-grade pain will increase irritability and defensive behaviours. Thresholds for reactivity will be reduced.
A dog that feels pain whilst playing with another dog may then associate playing or that specific dog with pain. Aggression or reactivity could be the behavioural effect of that underlying pain.
Another common example is a dog that is asleep on the sofa. A person who sits down next to them and jolts the sofa as they sit, move the dog as well and that movement will cause pain in affected muscles or joints. The dog then associates a person or that particular person approaching with pain and become reactive.
The stress that pain can put on the body, especially long term, is immense. The stress hormone cortisol will be produced in volume which can lead to further issues such as a suppressed immune system which will hamper the body’s ability to repair the issue.
Chronic pain (on-going, long-term) is maladaptive – the prolonged stress it places on our dog’s body maintains high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to multiple detrimental effects including suppressing the immune system, reducing the ability of body tissues to heal and maintaining the pain.
Dogs are very good at masking pain and many will still go about their daily fun and activities – this is due to the motivation to go for a walk or play with another dog, being so high.
The behaviour changes seen when a dog is in pain will vary from dog to dog and each individual dog will have different thresholds of pain. The behaviour seen will be down to the dog adapting to live with the pain so sleeping activity, our dogs gait, eating and toileting habits as well as vocal signs – these behaviours reflect the animals coping ability to reduce stress and maintain a physical and emotional balance. Just like us the dog will protect itself should these strategies not work or we fail to read them correctly.
Possible behaviour changes that could indicate pain:
- Seeking hot or cold surfaces / objects
- Changes in sociability – dogs may still want to sit close to you but not want to be touched.
- Changes in sleeping, eating or drinking (including the position in which they do them)
- Unwillingness to go for a walk or to go upstairs, in and out of car etc.
- An increase in appeasement signals such as tongue flicks, rolling over
- Displacement behaviours such as chewing, licking
- An increase in noise sensitivity or the development of other phobias
There is a never ending list of behaviours that could be indicative of pain, this is not an exhaustive list.
Behaviour is context-specific, there may be many reasons for your dog displaying a change in behaviour, including those above BUT ruling out pain should be your first port of call.
So as previously stated changes in behaviour can often be linked to pain or disease and if in the initial stages can often be missed by a physical veterinary examination and by X-ray, MRI or an Ultrasound if no structural damage change has yet occurred. This is where we at SyncCanine come in.
Specialising in DITI (Digital Infrared Thermographic Imaging), SyncCanine’s technicians will scan your dog without sedation, daily hospital admission and stress for both you and your dog. We use 100% non-invasive and safe technology- it will be just like having their picture taken. The data will then be sent to our specialist team of qualified veterinary surgeons who are trained in interpreting the thermographic images to help diagnose potential issues.
DITI works by assessing the patient’s subjective feeling of pain through thermographic patterns. We can interpret the body’s reaction to variety of conditions such as nerve, musculoskeletal, joint, bone and other issues. The thermograms map the body’s temperature and based on an increase or decrease in infrared radiation being emitted from the body surface our team of vets can give you a picture of your dog’s physiology. Dogs, horses and humans have a high degree of thermal symmetry in a normal state of homeostasis hence subtle abnormalities in the asymmetry can be easily identified. This happens as the skin surface temperature reflects an inflammatory or neurological process.
It is important to remember that DITI is an additional aid as a diagnostic modality and is best used with other traditional tools. We can isolate the areas of dysfunction to minimize the veterinary work up and investigations- which usually means- less or no sedation for your dog will be required. If you are worried about the changes in your dog’s behaviour- please contact our team for a free consultation.