April 9, 2009
Written by Dr. Laurie S. Coger DVM is a well known holistic veterinarian
Fluffy and Spots Painful Secrets
All too often, owners bring in their pets to their veterinarian for an illness that came on “overnight.” Suddenly, the pet is very thin, or not walking, or unable to eat. We often find that the pet’s condition is far advanced in these cases. How, you may be wondering, does this happen?
Wild animals naturally hide their pain to protect themselves from predators, and this behavior exists even in our domestic pets. Observing your pet’s behavior is vital to managing his or her pain. This can be very difficult when you see your pet every day, as subtle changes slowly progress. However, there are some “red flag” changes that can tip you off early in the course of a problem. Should you notice any of the following, a visit to your vet is recommended.
Change in chewing habits
Dropping food, slow eating, or chewing on one side of the mouth may indicate a dental disorder or other oral problem. Additional signs may include weight loss, bad breath or excessive face rubbing. Routine dental checkups are important to prevent and treat dental disorders and related pain. I believe in providing dogs the opportunity for natural chewing often. That means either raw or hard “recreational” bones. Feeding bones, such as turkey necks, chicken backs, etc. also is a great way to provide both a natural diet and natural tooth care.
Drastic weight gain or loss
Pain directly affects your pet’s weight and eating habits. Overweight animals have an increased chance of tearing ligaments and damaging joints. They also exercise less, causing them to gain weight. Pain can also cause animals to lose their appetites, which will lead to weight loss. Kidney, liver, and thyroid problems can cause weight changes, as can cancer. Whether your pet’s weight has increased or decreased, a change that occurs without you changing the feeding program is cause for concern.
Avoids touching or handling
Avoiding attention or handling may be a sign of a progressive disease such as osteoarthritis, Lyme disease, or other systemic problems. Even gentle pressure can be painful for these animals. They may shy away from a back rub, when it used to be a favorite thing. They may even hide or avoid interaction with people or other pets to avoid pain. Dogs especially may become “grumpier” and growl or snap when other dogs bump into them – a sign frequently described by the owner of multiple dogs when the “grumpy” dog is having a health problem.
Decreased movement and activity
Arthritis is the most common cause of pain in pets. However, other organ diseases as well as cancer can cause changes in activity level. This is the common sign owners report in the very stoic pet. Increases or decreases in your pet’s activity or energy level should always be investigated. I have seen Greyhounds with a corn in their pad show no other signs other than decreased movement. Removing the corn transforms the dog!
House training accidents
Pet owners often believe that “accidents” are a result of behavioral issues. Some even feel the pet is being spiteful. However, most pets do not lose their house training without a reason. Urinary tract infections, bladder stones, parasites, food allergy, and intestinal disease can all cause changes in urination and defecation. Behavioral problems are usually more common in senior pets and multiple cat homes. Changes and stress in the home situation, such as during a family crisis, moving, or merging/splitting of households often provoke behavioral issues.
Because of the natural tendency to hide pain and discomfort, many health problems can be missed until they are severe. Minor changes in activity and behavior can be the first sign of a serious problem. Being in tune with your pet’s normal habits and acting promptly when you observe a change enables early detection and treatment of disease. Don’t be afraid to call your veterinarian, even if your only observation is that your pet is not acting normally. Your prompt action will at the very least save your pet pain and discomfort, and in the extreme, can even save his life.