Is Your Dog in Pain?

Raise your hand if you can’t stand to see an animal in pain? What if I told you that most of the time you don’t even know that a dog is in pain. A dog never says ouch. A dog that is ill or in pain tends to become more subdued and quiet, until they are too sick to hide it anymore. Dogs suffer in silence. You will even get affection, tail wags, and kisses from a dog who is pain.

How can you tell if your dog is in pain if you can’t see an injury and they are hiding their discomfort? As pet owners, we have to learn how to read our dog’s body language and behaviors.  In animal rescue we often don’t have any medical history, and we do not immediately know what is normal behavior. Rescue dogs tend to be stressed in the shelter and when they initially arrive in foster care. They need time to decompress and to show us their true personalities. We need to observe our pets very carefully.

Establish a baseline for your dog’s behavior, because any noticeable change in behavior can be cause for concern. Just pay attention. 

All of these are signs that your dog may be sick or in pain: 

Changes in Activity Levels – Limping, stiffness, reduced activity levels are a good indicator of discomfort.

Changes in Sleeping Habits – Dogs that are in pain sleep more. It may be difficult or painful for your dog to move around.  

Pacing, Restlessness, and Inability to Sleep are all signs of agitation or pain.

Antisocial Behavior – If your dog is no longer running to meet you at the door, or is avoiding other dogs, something may be wrong. 

Aggressive Behavior – You know how when you are sick or hurt, you get short-tempered? Dogs do too. 

Changes in Eating and Drinking Habits – A loss of appetite is a big red flag that your dog is not feeling well. Difficulty chewing may indicate dental pain. (More on this below.)

Being More Vocal – Increased whining, growling, snarling, or howling may be your dog’s way of trying to tell you something is wrong.

Heavy Panting in a dog that has not been physically active or Shallow Breathing are signs that something is not right.

Excessive Grooming – Self-soothing activities such as paw licking may be a sign that something isn’t feeling right for your dog.

Shaking and Trembling can indicate that a dog has eaten something it should not have, such as chocolate or xylitol, and is having muscle tremors. Shaking can also indicate general pain, pancreatitis or kidney disease. 

If you notice any of these behaviors, call your veterinarian.

While I have you paying close attention to your dog…

Does your dog have bad breath?

Are you just ignoring it because you think that all dog’s have bad breath? They don’t. When is the last time you looked closely inside of your dog’s mouth?

Periodontal disease occurs five times as often in dogs as it does in humans. The majority of dogs over the age of three, at least 80%, have some form of dental disease. It begins with simple plaque and tartar build-up and mildly inflamed gums (gingivitis). If gingivitis is left untreated, it can develop into periodontal disease and the loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth. Periodontal disease hides below the gum line, and you can’t see it. Did you know that periodontal disease in dogs can be extremely painful? Dog owners are often unaware of their dog’s chronic pain. Dogs have evolved to hide pain. Their instincts are to hide any overt signs of illness, because members of the pack who show weakness are considered vulnerable. Bottom line, your dog may have painful, abscessed teeth and still eat just fine.

If left untreated, pets with periodontal disease are more likely to develop heart, kidney and liver disease because bacteria from the gums enter the bloodstream and sticks to the arteries around the heart? Taking care of your dog’s dental hygiene is an important part of taking care of your dogs health and preventing pain.

Let’s talk about your dog’s mouth, because mouth pain can result in significant changes in your dog’s behavior. 

Here is what to watch for:

  • Foul smelling breath – may indicate infection
  • Red, inflamed gums, particularly around the teeth – Gingivitis, could indicate an abscess
  • Yellow/brown material on the teeth – Calculus and tartar
  • Broken, loose, or missing teeth, or holes in the teeth – Caries 
  • Gradual loss of interest in playing with or chewing toys
  • Blood in the water or food bowl or on chew toys
  • Rubbing or pawing at the mouth – may indicate discomfort or pain
  • Fussy eating, favoring certain types of food, eating on one side only, dropping food or having problems picking up food
  • Salivating and drooling

You wouldn’t go years between dental exams and teeth cleanings, and neither should your dog. You brush your own teeth a couple of times a day, but maybe 1% of dog owners actually brush their dog’s teeth. Start off right, if you have a puppy, you should brush your dog’s teeth daily. If you have an older dog and you have not previously brushed your dog’s teeth….well, good luck. They may not let you. If there’s already gum disease present, brushing may be ineffective and even very painful. There are chew toys that are designed to help keep your dog’s teeth clean as well as dental treats. (Just search chewy.com for dental chews and dental treats for dogs.)

Please make sure you visit your vet with your furry friends for a regular health check that includes an annual dental exam and cleaning. Keep in mind, as dogs get older, they may need dental cleanings more often; it depends on the age and breed as well as the dog’s diet and home care habits (Smaller breeds tend to need more dental care than larger breeds.)

A full canine dental exam and cleaning is done under general anesthesia, because periodontal disease hides below the gum line. See the photo below – the black line indicates the amount of tooth that we cannot see. Periodontal disease hides below the gum line, and you can’t see it.

We have had several foster dogs that needed major dental work. I really wonder if their previous owners ever looked at their teeth, or ever realized how much pain their dogs were actually in? We could smell their dental issues from across the room. Ignoring this is cruelty and negligence.

After our foster dogs had their bad teeth pulled out, we noticed big changes in their behavior. They were no longer in pain. Please, take a moment to go look into your dog’s mouth, and always pay attention to changes in behavior. Don’t let your dog suffer in silence when a visit to the vet can relieve their pain.

Uno, Dos, Tres…welcoming three more legs

Just another day ay The Cecchine Hotel for Dogs…

I was just saying to my husband, you know what this hotel needs? A three legged dog. (We have 6 rescue dogs and two 8-week-old puppies on the way, but what the hell…)
This is Tres. He is a tripawd puppy. (Get it? uno, dos, Tres)…This seven-month-old lab-mix was found caught in a hunting trap last April. The man who found him didn’t know how to get him out of it and so he cut off his rear leg with a hot pocketknife. I can think of a lot of things I would do if I found a dog in a trap, and that is not one of them. This poor puppy must have been in so much pain. Tres was brought to a rural shelter in Many, LA and a vet had to amputate the rest of the leg due to infection. To add insult to injury, they took his balls too. (Well, he needed to be neutered.) Tres is doing okay on three legs and no balls but he has a long road ahead of him.

The Sabine Animal Shelter is full, and when I saw his picture (above) and read his story, I immediately knew that I had to help him get out.  NOLA Lab Rescue agreed to liberate this sweetheart and I am going to foster him.  You can follow along with Tres’s story on Iffy Dog, on my Facebook and on Instagram @danielle_at_pithypen.

NOLA Labrador Retriever Rescue is a 501c3 nonprofit animal rescue that is entirely run by volunteers.  NOLA Lab Rescue is dedicated to placing Labrador 
Retrievers into approved, loving homes and promoting responsible pet ownership. We receive zero government funding and we save these babies with the help of donations from people like you. 

Our mission is to provide:

*permanent adoptive homes for unwanted, abandoned or abused labs and lab mixes

*medical care and foster homes for rescued dogs

*education to pet owners regarding spaying/neutering and responsible pet ownership

*public information about irresponsible breeding practices and animal abuse in an effort to end both

Days 1 and 2: We am so excited to have Tres as a guest at The Cecchine Hotel for Dogs while he gets healthy and we find his perfect forever family. The shelter assured me that Tres is doing very well on 3-legs, but, we consider ourselves a 5-star Hotel for Dogs and we must fully prepare for our guest. We work hard to ensure all of our guest’s safety and comfort. I am, of course, referring to Housing Accessibility under the Americans with Disability Act and the Fair Housing Act, (ADA Title II), Facility Access. I will spare you the legalese. We needed a ramp.
My house, in the Broadmoor neighborhood of New Orleans, aka, ‘the Bowl’, sits 5 feet below sea level on the Mississippi River flood plain. Built in 1915, the year of a big hurricane (back before they named them), it was the same year that New Orleans’ first pumping station was built. You can walk to it from my house. Like many area homes, mine is elevated. We have steps up to the front porch and to the back deck. Trey is a young dog, and certainly will be capable of doing stairs, however, I am concerned about injury. Some of our guests crowd the stairs and do not politely take turns. Tres will be putting extra stress on his three remaining legs.
As a side note, my son James did an independent study in Geometry last year and his project was to design an ADA compliant ramp for a non-compliant building at his school. He was able to design, 3D print, and present his findings to the headmaster, who then took the opportunity to teach him about ‘grandfather clauses’.  So, I could have utilized my 12-year-old’s excellent math skills for this compliance project, but instead, I did what I always do. I turned to Amazon. We have installed a telescoping ramp of the sort that can also be used to allow dogs easy access to the rear of an SUV (that I need but don’t have).
Wondering what else I might need to ensure Tres’s overall wellbeing during his visit, I came across Tripawds, a user supported community for amputation and bone cancer care for pets. I have spent the morning learning about three legged dogs.

 Tips for three legged pets: 

 * Minimize activity during recuperation 

 * Do not over pamper your pet, they will do fine on three legs 

 * Be patient 

 * Use caution on ramps and stairs 

 * Provide non-skid surfaces to avoid injuries 

 * Ensure that your pet gets adequate pain control and keep your vet informed about how your pet is responding to 
   pain medication 

 * Consider a rehab therapy program with a licensed practitioner 

 * Keep your tripod lean and active. You want to avoid weight problems on their compensating joints 

 * Consider a quality joint supplement such as Cosequin

Tres is doing reasonably well. We will take Tres to the vet to discuss pain management. I do know that many pain medications cause constipation, so I’ve already looked into remedies for that.

You can add any of the following to dog food to alleviate constipation: canned  pumpkin (not spiced), steamed sweet 
potato, bran flakes, Metamucil, warm milk,  olive or fish oil (I use salmon and/or anchovy oil).  Works on kids too! 
(not the dog food, just the other stuff)

I’m assuming that this dog is going to have some pain. But wait, your dog can’t tell you he’s in pain, and pain medicine is complicated. Think about it, whenever you go to the doctor, you are asked to rate your pain from 1 to 10 by pointing to a chart of increasingly unhappy stick-figure faces. It’s not even close to an exact science. Some people are just unhappy and whiny, right? Dogs can’t put words to their discomfort, but observing their behavior can tell us a lot about how they are feeling. Is your dog acting normal? Does the dog sleep soundly, wag their tail, eat well, still beg for table scraps, and want to hang out with family. All of these habitual things indicate that your dog is doing well. When the dog is in acute pain, there is often an abrupt change in their behavior, and whining. Chronic pain, the kind that builds slowly over time, can be much harder to spot. Observe your pet. They will tell you in their own way when something just isn’t right. Watch for decreased appetite and or lethargy.

I’ve copied a chart used by professionals:


Back to Amazon. Tripawds suggests a special harness with a lift handle so that I can help Tres up and down the ramp and stairs. Got one. Hmmm…it says that rugs should be put down to keep him from slipping. This could be an issue. I do not like rugs. First of all, we have allergies, and it’s easier to keep hardwood floors clean. Second, the two areas that are carpeted in my house are pretty much the places that every puppy goes to pee (do they think they are hiding it in the carpet or something?) I needed an alternative. I kept looking… ta-da; Paw Friction applied to the dog’s pads will provide traction. Done. What else? A Rehab Therapy Program. Well that sounds awesome, and expensive. What can I do on my own? I can certainly get a book and learn a few stretches and exercises.
Kids are getting out school in a few weeks, what the $&*! am I going to do with them? (It hits me like a brick wall, every May.) I know, we have a wobble board. James used it with an occupational therapist when he was young. I’ll get a dog sized one and we’ll play catch. I can put a kid on one and a dog on the other. It helps with balance and all of the tiny muscle movements that are needed. I used  one in physical therapy when I tore the ligaments in my ankle. Good times.

How to use a wobble board:
 Place the board on a non-slip surface and sit your dog/child on the board. Use your foot to shift the board from one side to another while using a treat to ask your dog/child to look up, down, and from side to side. Work your way up  to having your child/dog stand on the board. Throw stuff at them. Fun, right? They try to balance and catch.

While we are at it, and since I’m on Amazon Smile and NOLA Lab Rescue gets a donation from every purchase I make, we definitely an ice pack. I used ice a lot for my pain. They make a dog fitting one. The delivery guys love me…

(If you aren’t using Amazon Smile, please pick your favorite charity and sign up!) Hey, pick NOLA LAB RESCUE! It helps Tres and others like him.

Look, he’s already smiling because you are helping him 🙂

Day 3: 

Day 3 is magic, and like all of our other guests, Tres has fully made himself at home here. The ramp is in place on the front porch office stairs. We started out assisting him. He would whine or bark at the bottom of the stairs and we would give him support on the way up the ramp. His harness has a handle for that. As of yesterday afternoon, Tres has not only learned to use his ramp, he has also managed to get himself up and down the stairs unassisted. He is determined not to be left behind, and he’s never far from my side. His determination makes me think that he will do well with physical therapy.

(Bailey, aka the Flying Squirrel, thinks the ramp is his personal trick ramp, and he does an amazing leap once he’s half-way down. It’s impressive considering his little legs, but he thinks he can fly.)

Today Tres had an evaluation at Southern Animal Foundation, one of New Orlean’s only low cost, non-profit animal hospitals. He was not happy to get in the car when I said vet. I’m glad he’s still easily liftable at 42lbs. When we arrived, he hit the tile floors and just splayed. He was intentionally going limp as I tried to walk him to the exam room. I wanted them to see his poor gait. After a very long stay in an animal hospital and shelter, he was not happy with the cold tile floors and the fluorescent lights. I don’t blame him. I’ll bet it smells a certain way to him too. He didn’t even want the treats I offered him.

Tres also did not enjoy the physical exam. I did my best to give tummy rubs while he was stretched and palpated. He was not amused, but submitted to it. The vet said that he has abnormal motion in his remaining rear leg. We talked about a local rehab option, SouthPaws, and she took him for x-rays.

Not good news.

Tres’s hip is not properly placed on his remaining rear leg. She shared the x-rays with an orthopedic specialist at SouthPaws on a phone consult. Trey is going to need hip replacement or specialized surgery on his remaining rear leg, and then physical rehabilitation. Good news, he is young and can live a full, wonderful life once we get him, err, straightened out. So, here’s the thing. I am in love with this boy. Look at him. He’s a doll. How can you not love him? He must be in chronic discomfort if not pain, but he is happy to be here his tail is wagging and he just wants to play with everybody here. He has endured the worst and still loves everyone and life. Tres has a really great life ahead of him. He was lucky. He was saved. Rescued twice. I am, therefore, going into full-on fundraising mode. We don’t know what the costs will be, but they will be substantial. I am confident that you all will fall in love with this boy too, and together we can give him the bright future that he, and every dog, deserves. I am happy to be his hotel and his foster momma until Tres gets back on his feet again, pun intended, but this boy needs a forever home. Please share his story, help me get him well, and then his hotel crate will be used to help another puppy in need!

I’m going to get him started on the pain meds and see if they help him out.

Update here: The Comeback is Always Stronger Than the Setback