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What is The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain in Dogs?

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    It can be difficult to tell if your dog is in pain as they hide it, and acute and chronic pain in dogs can present the same in the beginning stages. Pet owners sometimes associate their dog’s suffering with his or her incapacity to move or activity level; nevertheless, lower activity levels may imply higher pain. Although this is true, pain can manifest itself in a variety of ways other than movement, such as via conduct. Dogs are notorious for hiding their suffering, displaying only little physical and behavioral indications. This makes it more difficult for you to detect that they’re in pain, perhaps extending their agony. 

    Acute and chronic pain are the two main forms of pain in dogs. Continue reading to learn more.

    What is Acute Pain in Dogs?

    Acute pain is defined as pain that has only just arisen or been present for a short period of time. Acute pain is often associated with short-term illnesses, injuries, surgery/surgery recovery. It tells the brain which part of the body to protect so it can heal. When dogs are presenting with acute pain, they often have behavioral changes such as being less social, hiding, reluctance to be touched, etc. Dogs are doing these behavior changes to protect themselves in order to heal what hurts. Acute pain usually goes away within the first three days of the incident that produced it, although it might linger during the healing process (up to 3 months).

    beagle with acute pain

    What is Chronic Pain in Dogs?

    Chronic pain is a type of pain that continues to be present and possibly increases in severity over a longer period of time. Because it doesn’t appear to have any protective function, this is referred to as “maladaptive pain.”  One example of chronic pain is arthritis in dogs as it can’t just be cured like an injury. It often progresses over time without proper treatment and prevention leading to a lifetime of chronic pain. Chronic pain can worsen if it is not recognized and managed properly, sending pain signals to the brain from many places of the body and even when no pain-inducing stimuli are present. One of the most common causes of chronic pain in dogs is osteoarthritis which occurs in nearly 40% of dogs.

    Can Acute Pain Turn Into Chronic Pain?

    Many causes of chronic pain in dogs started as acute pain depending on the cause. Acute pain that isn’t addressed properly can also turn into chronic pain as the cause changes and develops. For example, a cut is a form of acute pain but when left untreated, it can become infected and lead to chronic pain. Joint pain also usually starts as acute pain and transitions into chronic pain.

    How is Acute Pain Treated?

    Acute pain is frequently managed with a mix of veterinarian-prescribed pain medicines and rest, depending on the intensity and cause. It’s dependent on the cause but can be as minor as rest or as major as surgery such as to fix a torn ligament. 

    How is Chronic Pain Treated?

    Many causes of chronic pain in dogs, such as osteoarthritis, cannot be cured or treated but it can often be managed in an effort to reduce the amount of pain the dog is in. Chronic pain may become debilitating if left untreated. A nerve signal intended to communicate a little quantity of pain might become so sensitive to pain that it is regarded as much more painful by the animal’s brain. To avoid this exaggerated type of pain perception from forming, it is critical to recognize and manage pain as soon as possible.


    If you believe your dog is suffering from either acute or chronic pain, it’s imperative to get them to a vet quickly to ensure the pain does not progress and become worse. If your dog is already suffering from chronic pain, you can find a pain management specialist in our specialist directory.

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    How to Identify the Subtle Signs of Chronic Pain in Dogs

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      Acute and chronic pain in dogs are both debilitating but many dogs rarely show the signs of being in pain. This is usually due to an evolutionary instinct to not show weaknesses. It’s up to us as dog owners in the end to pick up on the subtle signs of pain in our dogs.

      What’s the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain in Dogs?

      Knowing the difference between acute and chronic pain in dogs is the first step in helping your dog. Dr. Lindsey, Fry, veterinarian and owner of Red Sage Vets in Colorado explains that acute pain is usually very obvious. This may be crying and other types of vocalizations, obvious limping, changes in mobility, or known events such as surgery or an accident. It is believed to have protective properties, but is often accompanied by redness, swelling, or fever. She’s explained “sometimes the pain is no longer protective. It has become the disease itself, and the symptoms look very different.”Chronic pain is often insidious, and your dog may have to endure it for a long time if the owner doesn’t notice the first signs.

      How Can You Tell a Dog is Suffering From Chronic Pain?

      “It is difficult to diagnose chronic pain because dogs usually do not have obvious signs associated with acute pain. “It’s very individual, so we try to peel back the layers that have developed and find the primary sources. It’s rarely the same between two patients.”, according to Dr. Fry. Changes in behavior are often the most important indicator of a pain problem. Sometimes these changes are noticeable and become big warning signs. Perhaps your normally voracious dog has stopped eating. Or, in general, affectionate dogs may growl, curl up, or hide when they try to touch.

      Older dogs are more likely to have signs of chronic pain, usually from a condition like osteoarthritis so as dogs get older, it’s imperative to keep an eye out.

      Severe chronic pain can cause depression and anxiety in dogs just like humans. Your dog may become noticeably more withdrawn and less likely to communicate or make contact. Older dogs are more likely to suffer from chronic pain. However, owners often associate subtle changes in behavior with natural age-related deceleration.

      They may not want to go that far while walking, or they may have trouble jumping into cars or going up and down stairs. Dogs who used to like toys may no longer play with them and may struggle to become more sleepy or comfortable. Even things like excessive licking or small changes in posture sometimes cause pain.
      As Dr. Fry puts is,“the brightness and strong engagement owners recognize in their dog’s face starts to disappear. There’s more of a disconnected, glazed over blank stare.”
      cattle dog laying down with an icepack on their head

      How Do You Diagnose Chronic Pain in Dogs?

      Chronic pain is usually complex and multifaceted. However, experienced veterinarians like Dr. Fry say, “It’s easy to spot specific reward patterns associated with specific types of pain. Whether it’s an old ACL rupture, hip arthritis, or neck pain, we’re seeing some classic signs. So we are trying to categorize their pain into different categories, which will help get started developing treatment plans.” They will focus primarily on neurological, inflammatory (eg arthritis) and myofascial causes.

      How Do You Treat Chronic Pain in Dogs?

      Arthritis is one of the leading causes of chronic pain, especially in older dogs. Dr. Hannah Capon founded Canine Arthritis Management to better educate owners and fellow veterinarians about this disease and treatment options.
      According to Dr. Capon, “I had been working as a vet for around 12 years when I became very conscious of how many dogs are euthanized for “going off their legs”. I was also aware that, as a vet, I actually knew very little about soft tissue ailments and felt I needed to offer my clients more than just anti-inflammatory medication and leash rest”.
      Introducing a multimodal chronic pain treatment plan can often significantly improve a dog’s quality of life and long-term prognosis. There are many “game-changers for owners that cost no money and have huge benefits,” she emphasizes. Capon. Your veterinarian can not only provide you with medications and rehabilitation therapies for dogs like acupuncture and hydrotherapy. These are important factors, but owners should also be proactive about their dog’s lifestyle and home environment.

      She also recommends making simple adjustments at home, like “ensuring your dog isn’t injuring themselves further on slippery floors, blind steps, steep staircases, or elevated sofas.” Introducing additions such as ramps, orthopedic beds, and rugs around the home are all small changes that can make a big difference.

      Why is Weight Important for Dogs?

      According to a 2018 comprehensive survey, the Pet Obesity Prevention Association estimated that more than 56% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. Dr. Frey said, “being overweight isn’t just a physical burden on the joints, but fat tissue itself is also inflammatory. Having a lot more inflammatory tissue is going to make something like arthritis, that’s inflammatory in origin, much harder to control. This means that weight loss is a critical part of the conversation. ” She also realizes that it can be a challenge. increase. It’s about proper, partial nutrition and delicacies, and proper physical and mental affluence.
      overweight poodle sitting down

      When Should You Visit a Vet?

      For dogs with persistent chronic pain problems, it may be beneficial to seek help from a pain management or rehabilitation specialist. “General Practitioners are wonderful and essential, but they often have very limited time,” he says. fry. “Managing something like chronic pain is challenging and time-intensive. Having access to so many pain management options really lets us fine-tune the treatment for the dog.”

      Adapted from “The “Subtleties and Seriousness of Chronic Pain in Dogs” written by Gemma Johnstone for