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Do Canadian Pet Owners Recognize the Signs of Pain in Their Dogs?

A survey of 2,000 Canadians reveals that many dog owners do not recognize when their dog is displaying behaviours associated with pain.

A new study by dog food delivery service Kabo Fresh Dog Food has revealed an interesting trend among Canadian dog owners when it comes to recognizing pain in their dog. September is Animal Pain Awareness Month and there are a few things that pet owners need to know about recognizing pain behaviours in their dogs.

A double blind study was conducted where 2,000 dog owners across Canada were asked to answer a series of questions surrounding canine pain behaviours to determine if they could recognize the corresponding symptoms.

Results of the study revealed that many dog owners do not recognize the signs of pain in dogs, with almost 50% of respondents answering incorrectly. Interestingly, the older demographic of dog owners were able to identify pain symptoms more consistently. The percentage of correct answers in the quiz increased proportionately with age. These results show that ownership experience may play a factor in the recognition of pain symptoms.

“Dog ownership is a learning experience and the results of this study reflect that,” says Andrea Geiger, R&D Scientist and Canine Nutritionist, “The proportion of pet owners who could correctly identify behavioural signs of pain in dogs increased linearly with age. Overlooking symptoms of pain may be the result of a lack of ownership experience in the younger demographic of dog owners.”

Dog laying in brown bed looking lethargic

Pain behaviours in dogs may vary depending on a dog's age, breed, activity level, health status and background. However, there are a few common behaviours that dogs typically project when they are experiencing pain such as:

  • Limited mobility/unwillingness to do certain movements
  • Low/crouched body posture
  • Panting
  • Crying
  • Shaking
  • Licking
  • Flattened ears
  • Aggression

Regarding pain symptoms Dr. Suzee Camilleri, Kabo’s resident veterinarian, says, “Eating behaviours can also change in dogs who are experiencing pain. If dogs are hesitating to go to their bowl, chew or drink water, that’s a sign of pain in the mouth, around the teeth or under the jaw.”

The study also revealed that dog owners are quick to jump into action when they determine that their dog is in pain. The first thing dog owners do when they see their pet in pain is call their veterinarian or book an appointment. However, while 38% of pet owners seek veterinary help with pain, they are unlikely to take their dog to the emergency vet. Only 12% of owners were willing to seek emergency care for signs of pain.

Many dog owners take their dog to the vet for pain without even realizing it. Behaviour and pain are very closely linked and a lot of negative or odd behaviours may be associated with pain even if owners do not recognize it. 

According to Clinical Veterinary Behaviouralist, Dr. Karen Machin, the majority of behavioural cases in dogs stem from pain. “80% of cases that come into the clinic for behaviour problems are related to pain,” says Machin. “If owners believe that their dog is experiencing sustained, chronic pain it is helpful if they can capture video evidence of behaviours to share with their veterinarian.”

Vet checking and listening to heart and lungs of Piebald Dachshund

The good news is that regardless of household income, dog owners are equally likely to seek a veterinary solution for their dog's pain. The results of the study showed that even in low income households, cost is not a factor when it comes to owners helping their dogs.

There are many solutions for helping dogs cope with pain. Whether that’s prescription medications, holistic/natural supplements, or naturopathic medicine, pet owners are open to finding treatments for their dog’s pain. The survey revealed that most pet owners opt for prescription medication for severe pain, with natural supplements coming in at a close second.

Regarding solutions to pain Vino Jeyapalan, CEO of Kabo, says, “It becomes more imperative for preventative care to ensure we look beyond visible symptoms of pain to provide the best care for dogs.We’ve heard from many pet parents that there is need for supplements and alternative health solutions, such as CBD, to address the growing needs of senior pets”

Pain is something that most pet owners will have to deal with at some point throughout their dog’s life. One Canadian dog owner shared her story about how her dog started experiencing back pain and the steps she took to help relieve her dog’s discomfort. 

Jazz is an 8 year old papillion from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He is a very active little dog that loves to run, play and compete in dog sports. Jazz usually loves fetch and enjoys playing flyball but his owner Breanne noticed that he was starting to show signs of stiffness and limited mobility. 

Black and white papillion jumping over an obstacle course

At first Breanne thought that Jazz was just getting older and starting to slow down a bit. However, Breanne began to notice a few other things. When she was petting Jazz, he would have muscle twitches in his back and in his leg. Jazz was also beginning to display a bit of a head tilt. 

Breanne made the decision to bring Jazz to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon where they saw Dr. Kira Penney, one of the veterinary rehabilitation specialists. Dr. Penney did a full exam and carefully manipulated all of his limbs. 

The doctor recognized that Jazz had a few ribs out, soreness in his lumbar spine and iliopsoas. It was recommended that Jazz see a chiropractor to do an adjustment in order to get the ribs back into place. As treatment, Jazz was given a massage and wet heat was applied to his back and ribs. He was also given laser treatment to help with inflammation and healing.

Black and white papillion wearing black eye protection at vet

Jazz was sent home from the vet with rehabilitation homework filled with different exercises and stretches. Meloxicam, a veterinary analgesic medication, was also temporarily prescribed to use as needed.  Even though treatment was expensive ($70 per chiropractic visit and $80 per rehab visit), Breanne was willing to do whatever it took to get Jazz feeling back to normal. 

Black and white papillion propping himself up on purple cushion

Since his diagnosis, Jazz has continued to see both Dr. Penney and the chiropractor periodically. This story has a happy ending and as result of his owner’s decisions, Jazz is no longer experiencing pain.

Overall, this study showed that there are inconsistencies in pet owners' ability to recognize pain behaviours in dogs. This September, dog owners new and old are encouraged to take some time and learn more about how their dogs may be trying to communicate their physical pain. After all, dogs are incredible animals and they deserve to live their lives pain free!

This study was conducted with 2,000 dog owners in Canada through TapResearch

Dog laying on floor staring at a ball
Dog laying on floor staring at a ball

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February 20, 2024
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