7 Most Overlooked Aches and Pains in Dogs

Dog with red eyes
Your dog might have a corneal ulcer if his eye is bloodshot or has a bit of discharge. He also might show his discomfort by pawing at his eye.

3. Corneal ulcers. Around the height of summer I almost poked my eye out with a chopstick. Wow, did that hurt! The funny thing is that the initial insult to my eyeball wasn’t the most impressive part. The fact that I felt like the chopstick was still in my eye 24 hours later was the larger concern.

Luckily, we humans can speak our minds and get the relief we need. Dogs? Not so much. A little squinting is as much as some will ever display. Others may have a bloodshot appearance to the eye, a bit of discharge, or they may show their discomfort by pawing at the eye.

Once an eye exam (often with the help of fluorescent stain) confirms the diagnosis, a dog is usually given something to control the pain and a topical eye medication. In more severe cases, a dog may need a trip to the OR.

4. Disk disease. Ever thrown your back out? “Slipped” a disk? Know someone who has? Then you probably have a decent idea how your dog feels when she stands there shivering, unwilling to eat, jump or hunch her back to evacuate her bowels.

Dogs with disk disease often have trouble walking and, depending on the location of the problem, may even drag their rear limbs. X-rays with contrast medium may be needed to definitively identify the location of the problem. Some dogs may be managed with anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants and rest, but severe cases may require emergency surgery.

5. Tooth fractures and dental disease. I’ve covered this issue extensively. For this veterinarian, little rankles more than an owner who knows his pet’s teeth are infected and rotting but is unwilling to concede that his dog is experiencing pain as a result.

The not-so-subtle signs: redness and inflammation where the teeth meet the gums; gunky buildup on the teeth; loose, discolored or missing teeth; difficulty chewing; and bad breath.

“When she stops eating, I’ll start thinking about that dental, Doc.”

Makes me almost wish the owner gets a wicked cavity.

6. Otitis. Simple ear infections are one thing. After all, dogs tend to get ear infections that affect the outer, less sensitive part of their ear canals, not the delicate inner workings (as children do). But when ear infections are allowed to smolder for long periods, deeper ear structures can get infected, too. And the severe pain of that process can last a lifetime for some unlucky pups.

Dogs with outer ear infections often shake their heads, scratch their ears and exude a yeasty odor that can be detected from across the room. If the infection gets past the eardrum, the dog may have a head tilt. Veterinarians often treat the ear infection with anti-inflammatory medications and antibiotics, but for many dogs, underlying allergies may need to be addressed as well.

7. Osteoarthritis. This is almost certainly the most overlooked cause of pain in all pets — cats, too! How many times do I have to say it? If a pet starts to have trouble walking, running or jumping as he ages, he’s probably feeling some sort of discomfort. Why would you wait for an animal to communicate his misery clearly before addressing it? Especially when there are plenty of medications and foods that can help relieve the pain, not to mention the positive effects of weight loss and low-impact exercise?

Sure, there are plenty more painful conditions. These, however, should serve as perfect examples of problems that tend to either appear nonpainful or evade detection altogether. But now that you know what they look like, you’ll be less likely to overlook the not-always-so-obvious evidence of your dog’s pain.

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