CANINE ARTHRITIS MANAGEMENT (CAM) Conversation with Trixie Howard about the influence of pain on behaviour
28th March 2018
What is your background for dealing with dogs with arthritis?
I qualified as a veterinary nurse at the Royal Veterinary College, London in 1996. Since then I have worked in a variety of small and large animal practices in the UK and Australia. I completed a Diploma in Nutrition, qualified as a veterinary nurse assessor and trainer and then began studying canine and feline behaviour. I have completed the COAPE advanced diploma in companion animal behaviour and training and am a member of the CAPBT (the COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers) and have completed the APDT (the Association of Pet Dog Trainers) foundation course.
What is your current line of work?
I now run my own pet behaviour business, offering dog and cat behaviour consultations and training, teach ‘Puppy Life Skills’ socialisation classes, and run the behaviour clinics for a local veterinary group in the Brighton and Sussex area. I also head up a team of veterinary nurses at Nestle Purina, assessing dogs for their pets at work scheme. I am also occasionally involved as an expert witness in dog related court cases, write articles on various aspects of dog and cat behaviour, and give talks on various subjects as a visiting lecturer.
Do animals feel emotions like humans?
Historically many philosophers and scientists have argued that animals lack consciousness and therefore do not feel pain. Last November there was public outrage as the UK parliament decided to reject pleas to carry over current European Union animal welfare legislation that recognises animals as sentient beings into UK law following Brexit. I am pleased to say that this incident turned out to be misunderstanding and sensationalism by the media, and that the government do acknowledge that animals feel pain and experience emotional states. This certainly demonstrates that there has always been differing opinions and confusion regarding the subject of pain and emotions in animals. Dogs do have a similar range of emotions to humans, although they do not experience some emotions such as shame or guilt. It is often easy to ascertain whether your dog is feeling happy, sad, frustrated or scared. Dogs use body language as their main method of communication, owners can learn to understand their dogs feelings by observing body language. Behaviour is an expression of emotions.
What sort of short term behaviour changes would be seen with acute pain?
Acute pain is part of the body’s defence system that is essential to survival. In the brain it stimulates a reflex action away from the painful stimulus and motivates us to withdraw and protect ourselves.
What sort of short term behaviour changes would be seen with chronic pain?
With conditions such as arthritis, the pain may persist intermittently for years and result in many behaviour changes. In humans the most reliable method of assessing pain is to talk to them, we can’t do that with dogs so observation of their behaviour is critical. There are many signs and symptoms that may be observed in a dog. Examples of some of these signs are;
breakdown in toilet training
decreased social interactions with owners and other dogs
clingy behaviour to owners
aggressive behaviour such as growling, snapping or biting especially in response to being touched
Are these behavioural signs just associated with arthritis?
Although these signs are indicative of pain, they are not necessarily an indication of arthritis. These changes in behaviour may be symptoms of other medical conditions such as canine cognitive dysfunction or a stroke. Therefore it is important to ensure your dog has a full clinical examination with your veterinary surgeon to enable them to diagnose correctly.
What sort of long term behaviour changes would be seen with chronic pain?
Stress is a normal adaptive response to events in everyday life. Mild stress can be advantageous in motivation and focusing attention. However, long term exposure to psychological or physical stress can lead to more severe behavioural problems such as;
Dogs that are unable to perform simple movements such as standing up or being able to access their food, or experience pain when trying to walk or their owner touches them are likely to feel stressed. When the stress response is activated it releases hormones to prepare the body for fight or flight. The primary function of the brain and nervous system is to ensure homeostasis and survival. The neuroendocrine system controls reactions to stress and regulates many physiological processes.
Some symptoms that indicate that your dog may be stressed are:
Tachycardia (faster than normal heart rate)
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Rapid shallow breathing, panting
Muscle tension, piloerection
Diaphoresis (sweaty paws)
Urination, defecation or vomiting
Yawning, stretching, Lip/nose licking
Stress can lead to other long term health problems such as heart disease, diabetes or obesity, but it also affects emotions and reactions and therefore behaviour.
How is frustration related to chronic pain and behaviour changes?
Frustration may be experienced due to inability to perform breed/type specific behaviours such as chasing, hunting, playing, digging or chewing. These behaviours are innate in dogs and trigger a release of dopamine in the brain resulting in the dog feeling happy. Therefore if a dog is not provided with outlets or is too painful to partake, the result can be frustration. It may also cause the dog to attempt to seek other methods of relieving frustration, for example, chewing furniture or licking self. If a dog is unable to find relief from frustration, they may become withdrawn, anxious, stressed or depressed.
How is depression related to chronic pain and behaviour changes?
Depression is thought to be caused by low serotonin. This neurotransmitter is important in regulating mood, sleep, arousal, learning, pain impulsivity and reactivity. Low levels may result in problems such as antisocial behaviour, irritability, anxiety, confusion, lethargy, reactivity, lack of enjoyment. If a dog’s mood state is low, he may perform behaviours in an attempt to increase his own mood such as excessive sleeping and overeating leading to obesity and excessive grooming leading to self-mutilation. These behaviours have the potential to become addictive.
How is aggression related to chronic pain and behaviour changes?
A dog that is in pain may feel anxious about social interactions with people or dogs, or being handled because it may cause more pain. The emotion behind this is fear. Fear can be a useful emotion as it motivates an animal to avoid injury/death and ensure survival. A dog’s behaviour is determined by the hazard avoidance motor pattern in response to fear, stimulating activation of the survival system in preparation for action. The dogs response may be to avoid or escape (flight) however, a dog that is less mobile cannot do this easily, therefore may respond with aggressive behaviour (fight). The dog is motivated to perform the behaviour because it relieves the fear and anxiety. The aggressive behaviour is reinforced by the feeling of relief that the dog feels when the potential threat backs away. The dog learns that aggressive behaviour is an effective strategy.
How do you recommend management of pain and behaviour?
Osteoarthritis can have a massive impact on the quality of a dog’s life. The condition not only causes physical limitations, but also changes in behaviour. The onset of some behaviour problems may present rapidly whilst others will develop over time due to the chronic nature and emotional impact of the disease. In the long term most dogs affected by arthritis will experience stress, frustration and perhaps depression. A comprehensive treatment plan will incorporate many different approaches and methods deemed appropriate for each individual animal. It is essential to consider the dogs mental health. Therapies such as massage and T Touch benefit the dog both physically and mentally. A program that incorporates environmental enrichment, mental stimulation and social interaction is ideal. This can be achieved by providing low impact physical exercise every day such as short walks or swimming, less chasing balls and toys but instead providing scent games such as the Seek’n’Treat snuffle mat, interactive feeding toys and dog puzzles to satisfy innate hunting/chasing desires to reduce frustration and prevent under stimulation. The Chase’n’Tug can also be used in the home giving gentle controlled exercise The overall aim is to keep stress levels at a minimum and increase the basal mood state of the dog to ensure a good quality of life
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