Pain Should Never Be Used as a Restraint


In no circumstances should we be refraining from using pain medication because we fear that the dog will feel TOO GOOD and re-injure themselves.

It is unethical and cruel to leave an animal suffering when we have the option to provide pain relief. It is our responsibility, as their carer to take steps to contain an animal that has injured themselves either physically or through the use of chemical restraint, if required.

If your dog is sensitive to pain medications, then there are many alternatives that we can use to manage painful stimuli, such as manual therapies, TENs or therapeutic exercise as part of a balanced pain management program.

Pain also leads to compensatory changes within the body to try and avoid causing pain. This may be limping, recruiting other muscle groups to perform a job, or immobilizing a region of the body. These all have significant impacts on the speed that we can progress through rehabilitation.

If we do not quickly control pain there can be sensitization and dorsal horn wind up. This means that receptors are more easily stimulated to send the signal that there is painful stimulus. It also means that the pathways going up to the brain are getting a better work out, and they become more strongly connected and so better at transporting the pain signals up to the brain. In some situations we can get adaptations to chronic pain that can make even a gentle touch be perceived as pain.

Getting control of small amounts of pain before it gets worse is easier and requires less medication than waiting and trying to gain control of pain once it is a significant problem.

Dog's can't tell us that they are behaving in certain ways due to pain, so we need to look out for the signs. There are times where the best route forward is a treatment trial of pain relief so see if the signs resolve.

Here are a few specific cases where pain has had retrospectively obvious signs:

  • A puppywho stopped doing zoomies at 9 months of age.
  • A dog who started dropping bars occasionally during agility.
  • A dog who stopped jumping up on the bed to sleep of a night.
  • A dog who stopped was reluctant to walk up the stairs to go to bed.
  • A puppy who started saying when being picked up.
  • A puppy that avoided pats on the head
  • A dog who constantly licked at a joint.
  • A dog that became aggressive toward other dogs within the household.

Here are some of the key signs where I always want to rule out pain as a contributing factor:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Limping
  • Hiding
  • Not eating
  • Crying
  • Guarding with tight muscles
  • Licking

If there is one area of your dogs rehab program to be generous with it is pain relief. If you think your dog is in pain then you need to get that addressed before rehab or conditioning can happen effectively. You need to talk to a veterinarian in a timely fashion to ensure your dog is not in pain and take charge of their care to keep them from being goofballs while on pain medication. 

Dr Jaime Jackson