First and foremost, we need to realize that sometimes what our mind tells us is not the most reliable information.
What am I talking about here?
Well, in times of stress, for example when dealing with a dog cancer diagnosis or other pet-related trauma or illness, we tend to use “rules of thumb” to give us the info we use to make decisions.
Rules of thumb are not very good data sources.
Very frequently, a dog lover will be in the exam room at my veterinary hospital, and explain the following: “Well, my dog has been limping, but is not in pain or anything.”
And my thought is, “What in the world…..??”
Here’s why I have this thought. There are almost no medical reasons for a patient to limp without being in pain. Ok, maybe a couple, but these are incredibly rare.
99% of the time, the reason why a dog limps is that is hurts to bear weight on the affected leg! You do an orthopedic exam and these dogs, and get a pain response somewhere (foot, hock, shin, knee, thigh, hip, pelvis or back…or foot, wrist, forearm, elbow, bicep area, shoulder, or neck/back). These dogs hurt!
But what’s the problem here? Why do guardians believe that if a dog is limping, there is no pain?
It could be that there is the idea that there is no vocalization (whining, yelping, etc.). In other words, dogs who hurt make some noise or other.
That’s the rule of thumb being used- dogs in pain are vocal.
And this idea is true, but only part of the time. When a dog gets a sudden onset of acute, sharp pain, often there will be a yip or yelp. This is most common with sharp, sudden pangs of pain.
But chronic pain, extended over time, does not do this. As a matter of fact, you can look at the overall activity of a dog and sometimes a decrease in activity itself (“more sluggish”, “tired”) is a sign of pain! Here’s a good article about how a pain reliever increases dog activity.
And a relevant post for more on pain detection …!
When I am faced with a limping dog in my hospital, I always advise taking the steps to figure out the cause of the pain. Many times I will prescribe Apocaps, a reduced dose of NSAIDS, and if things are more severe, Tramadol and other steps like acupuncture or considering palliative radiation and pamindronate, depending on the cause of the problem.
For more on topics like these, check out The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.