Physical comfort is very important for a dog’s life quality. When it comes to canine cancer, life quality is a central topic that deserves much attention.
Since the systemic cancers are so formidable and resist successful treatment, often increasing life span and maintaining a normal life quality are main goals.
Life quality can be evaluated systematically. I wrote about this in detail in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide as a part of overall treatment plan analysis. You want to do what makes sense for your particular dog, and for you.
Basically, life quality assessment is done by looking at everything that makes your canine companion happy, and then asking how many of these things are now gone. If most are gone, or the biggies are gone, life quality is probably not good anymore.
Being in pain is a major life quality negative.
So how do I know if a patient is experiencing pain? Well, the topic is debated a lot in veterinary medicine, since dog’s don’t have the means to tell us directly, and a lack of crying does not mean no pain.
Let’s look closer. We can divide pain up into acute (sudden) or chronic (long term) pain. Acute pain is the one that is easier to detect since there is a sudden change to reaction. The one that is harder to assess is chronic pain, which is more common in cancer patients.
Behavior, it turns out, can be used to assess pain. A dog will have different behaviors depending on where the pain is coming from.
Leg pain causes limping. Back pain causes a reluctance to go up or down, and less jumping. These dogs often yip suddenly for no apparent reason and may shift around a lot trying to get comfortable.
Neck pain often appears as a reluctance to move the head, such as difficulty dropping the chin to eat, or sudden yelping.
Mouth pain usually is seen as difficulty eating, or by dropping food from the mouth after it is taken from the food dish.
Pain in the abdomen often produces a “hunched” posture, where the front and back legs are brought a bit closer together and the back is slightly arched upwards.
Chest pain is usually seen as a reluctance to move, or sometimes by coughing.
Occasionally pain will be demonstrated by licking, scratching, or chewing at the painful area.
Bladder pain is seen as straining to urinate, urinating frequently with small amounts, and licking at the genitals sometimes. Colon pain is seen as straining to pass stool with little coming out, and the feces is usually soft or mucoid. Both bladder and colonic conditions causing pain can also cause bleeding.
One of the hallmarks of chronic pain is that the dog will become less engaged socially and just distance themselves, not wanting to be disturbed. We have to be careful with this since this is not specific, but if it is occurring, we should question whether it is due to pain.
Chronic pain also can be seen by not wanting to do normal physical activities, like turning back during a walk to go home.
Chronic pain can be seen as less energy and appetite as well.
However, it may be that, since each dog is different, whenever there is tissue injury and inflammation, pain should be assumed.
An interesting fact is that a dog lover’s take on whether their dog is in pain is just as accurate as any clinical inquiry. This is true when the person has been educated on what to look for. Now, you have been educated and you can make the call!
Try to have your vet localize the pain to be sure (find it on the body), just for confirmation. When meds are used, often the result is a big change in demeanor, which gives us information that a problem is being taken care of.
When controlling pain, the best approach is to use more than one type of medication. This usually has a higher effect, especially if the pain is difficult to control.
Life quality is so important for our canine friends, and it was this that prompted the development of Apocaps, which is designed to support normal life quality and life expectancy in dogs.
All my best,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.