Health & Wellness

Identifying and treating your pet's pain

It’s easy to spot symptoms

A sore neck and back is all too common amongst us humans — you’ve likely felt that shooting pain that comes with even the smallest movement at some point in your life. Our pets, especially dogs, also experience that same pain in the neck and back. How can you tell? They yelp or whimper when they move in a certain way. 

There are several reasons why your pet might be in pain, and many ways you can help them feel better. We reached out to Dr. Aliya McCullough for some much-needed advice.

What causes dog back pain?

Neck and back pain in dogs is most commonly caused by intervertebral disc disease, a long name for what most people would call a slipped or bulging disc. 

This is caused by the breakdown of disc material. This part of the body acts as a shock absorber between the vertebrae and spine, so as it breaks down, your pet is left in a lot of pain. But this isn’t always the cause of back or neck pain. If your vet rules out this cause, ask about trauma, infections or tumors. 

Certain breeds are at higher risk, too. Any dog with a long back and short legs has an anatomy that is susceptible to back pain. Unfortunately, adorable Dachshunds, Shih Tzus, and Lhasa Apsos are among breeds at higher risk. However, any dog can certainly experience back pain at some point in their life.

What are the symptoms? 

These are the specific symptoms that you should watch out for, according to The International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management:

  • Posture: Has your dog’s posture changed all of a sudden? If they start arching their back, drooping their head or tucking in their abdomen more than usual, they might be compensating for the pain. If their neck hurts they may not eat well, since it’s too painful to lower their head to the food bowl.
  • Temperament: Everybody has bad days, but if your dog starts acting aggressively, avoiding social interaction or even hiding from people and other pets, you can suspect pain of some kind. Similarly, if you notice your cat that usually spends time with the family suddenly passing the day under the bed or in a closet, they might be in pain. 
  • Vocalization: Although much more rare than other signs, some pets will actually cry out when they’re in pain. If your cat or dog voices a complaint, don’t wait. Take your pet to the vet or emergency hospital. 
  • Movement: Sometimes moving as little as possible helps pets manage their pain. So if you notice your cat or dog sitting or lying down most of the day, take note. More severe cases of neck pain may cause a dog to limp on a forelimb as pain shoots from their neck to their leg. Less frequently — but more seriously — some dogs can show neurologic signs with weakness or paralysis.
  • Appetite: When usually hungry pets suddenly don’t want to eat, you know something’s wrong. Decreased or no appetite is a strong signal to get to the vet.
  • Grooming: Your cat usually takes pride in their immaculate coat. So if you’ve noticed they’re not as clean and well-groomed as usual, they could be restricting their movement to avoid triggering the pain.

How to treat your pet

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from neck or back pain, take them to your vet as soon as possible.

Most cases can be managed with anti-inflammatory medication and strictly enforced rest. Under no circumstances should you give your pet over-the-counter pain medications made for people such as Ibuprofen or Tylenol.

Rarely, some dogs will require surgery to treat this painful condition. Thankfully, pet health insurance covers this, along with other hereditary and chronic conditions.

You can take some proactive steps to help prevent neck and back pain. The number one thing a pet parent can do, especially for an "at risk" breed, is to make sure your dog stays lean and fit. When they’re carrying some extra weight, there can be some extra stress on a long back. You can’t stop disc disease from occurring — that is likely decided by genetics — but you can help to minimize the external strains on your dog’s back.

The best pet insurance, period.

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Dr. Aliya McCullough


Pet Health

Pet Insurance

Neck Pain


Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

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