Recognizing signs of pain in dogs, especially in your canine osteopathic patients, is invaluable. Signs may manifest only at home, at home and in the office, or only in the office during treatment. It is of the utmost importance to recognize when your patient hurts.
Acknowledging areas of pain helps guide your therapy and provides a means to monitor progress. Track pain response and progress over time and provide owners with monitoring tools at home to help in therapy.
General signs of pain in dogs
Painful dogs can show a wide variety of signs. They fall on a broad spectrum of severity. Sometimes very stoic animals do not appear painful at all yet may have a severe injury. While others, sometimes specific breeds, huskies, for example, are a bit more melodramatic and more apt to demonstrate overt signs of pain, even with only mild disease.
Canine osteopaths need to recognize signs of pain in their patients
Erica Tramuta-Drobnis (2020) notes that the following are good indicators that the patient has pain.
It is critical to remember that even the sweetest dog may bite when painful!
Make slow and deliberate movements. Talking to the dog while treating assures that the pet always knows you are there. Make sure you make them aware of your touch and that they are ok with it before proceeding with any type of manipulation or treatment.
Remember that pain can be anywhere
Your patient may be coming to you because of an abnormal gait, poor performance in agility, or for other reasons. But always remember that underlying causes may not be specific to the limbs or musculoskeletal system.
Pain can occur from abdominal organs such as the pancreas in pancreatitis or the bladder because of urinary tract infections or bladder stones. The pet may have severe dental disease or chronic ear infections. These may have led them to carry their head differently or use muscles differently, creating a musculoskeletal manifestation of a systemic problem.
So, as a canine osteopathic practitioner, you must be mindful of other underlying diseases. These core conditions can contribute to discomfort in various body systems. This can cause higher levels of pain than the problem that brought them to you may dictate.
Critical point owners NEED to know: pain delays healing
It is your job to educate the owner. Inform them that pain WILL DELAY healing. We want adequately controlled pain. For many patients, canine osteopathy may provide sufficient pain management and resolution. Still, pain medication or canine physical therapy, AKA canine rehabilitation exercises, may also be warranted. Finally, modalities such as laser or ultrasound therapy, heat, or ice therapy, may need to be considered.
So, we must know how the pet does at home with the treatment. If our treatment is not enough, we need to intervene. Perhaps just modifying your protocol will be sufficient. Still, it may require a veterinarian’s advice and interventions to enable thorough treatment of the pet.
Client education: teach owners to recognize pain
As animal osteopaths, tracking patient progress is essential. Using several methods can be helpful, including detailed patient notes from one session to another and the inclusion of at-home observations by the owner. You can develop a pain assessment check sheet or a handout to give your owners. Use something with information showing signs of pain. Provide a record format for the owner to use at home. For example consider this checklist option from the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management.
Feel free to use this as a template listing signs of pain for which your owners should be on the look out. Modify it to fit your needs. Regardless, have your owner record a journal of findings throughout the interval between appointments. Have them note when the last appointment was, findings the night of treatment, and over several days, then again, following the next appointment. This allows your clients to be part of the treatment process. Encourage them to monitor and participate in their pet’s care.
If it IS working, great, pat yourself on the back. BUT make sure to re-evaluate the whole patient. Because of your work, you may have altered body posture and, in turn, improved the body’s biomechanics creating different troubled areas or awakening new issues.
Suppose your protocol is NOT providing pain relief, gait improvement, or other noticeable improvements in quality of life. In that case, you need to re-evaluate the pet and determine a new plan of attack.
Identify the owner’s thoughts and concerns about therapy progress. Are they satisfied? Have they noticed new signs of pain they had not before? Are they noticing them because they are now looking or because something changed?
Monitor the patient’s overall pain score throughout treatment—your perceived pain level on examination as well as the owner’s at home. When the pet’s pain is appropriately controlled, any oral pain medications or other therapies may be tailored, decreased, or even discontinued over time.
What your owners should monitor at home
Monitor for any changes in behavior
Aggression (i.e., snapping at a child they had usually tolerated)
Hiding or anti-social behavior
Overly affectionate or turning away from affection
Sleeping more or sleeping less than average
Increased vocalization at varying times or for no apparent reason
Overly grooming a body part (especially one that may have been previously injured)
Panting when not hot and no recent exercise
Restlessness/not settling (cannot get comfortable, may change positions non-stop or every few minutes)
Monitor for certain postures/positions
Holding up a leg
Shifting leg-lameness (lameness that shifts from one leg to another over time)
Tail posture changes (not wagging it, holding it limp)
Not entirely putting weight on a leg
Prayer position (both front legs on the floor with back legs standing; often stretched far forward; eyes wide or unfocussed,
The prayer position (see Figure 1.)
Note the eyes, the ear position, the tail position
At a brief glance, this can look like a play bow, so it is critical to look at other body cues and overall posture
Often indicates abdominal pain but can occur with other types of pain or referred pain
The play bow
Relaxed, loose body position
Playful eyes, normal eye position (not sunken or wary)
High tail wag
Ears at a neutral natural position
May bark or vocalize playfully
Looks like a happy dog
A dog that wants to play is less likely painful, but it doesn’t rule out the pain. It just means that it’s not enough to stop playing
Stiffness/ trouble getting up
Hesitating to go up and down stairs or on/off furniture
Squinting the eyes, blinking a lot (Can indicate pain of the eyes, but also general pain/discomfort)
Give owners homework
Make sure your pet owners know how to monitor for future signs of pain. Sometimes osteopathy alone can treat an injury or medical problem. But it is often one tool out of many to treat and support long-term conditions, such as arthritis
The goal is, of course, a cure. But that is not always feasible. So, we need to ensure owners have the tools to monitor for subtle signs of pain. This will allow them to be proactive with their dog’s care in the future. Ensure owners recognize that seeing subtle changes suggestive of pain is important. We want owners to seek intervention and re-evaluation before the pet becomes too painful, chronic pain occurs, or wind-up develops.
Help owners prevent wind-up pain
Make sure your owners understand that we want to treat pain in the initial stages. Letting it go too long can lead to chronic inflammation, chronic pain, weaken the immune system, and increase stress to the body. Osteopathy may be sufficient but advise clients they may need a combination of manual therapy, pain medications, exercises, even other treatments to help the pet.
Untreated pain can lead to wind-up pain or central sensitization. This is the body becoming overly sensitized to pain to the point where the brain perceives non-painful stimuli as a threat. This, in turn, makes the pain worse and creates a vicious cycle that can be hard to break, negatively affecting the patient’s overall quality of life.
With central sensitization, the spine and brain are constantly flooded with noxious (painful) stimuli without pain management. So, say you lightly graze your toe against a table leg; it may feel like you broke it rather than just grazed it. Even just a light pet to the dog could be translated by the brain as painful rather than pleasurable. This increases anxiety, stress, pain and can occur in as short as one hour. So it doesn’t even require chronicity to develop (Mills, 2018).
Wind-up, thus, describes “the increased ease of transmission of impulses as they travel through the pain pathways to the brain” (Hudson, 2018). Therefore, teaching owners to recognize signs of pain, initiate intervention rapidly, and seek re-evaluation is critical. This lessens the chance the dog will develop wind-up pain and minimizes the pet’s pain and suffering
For those working in veterinary medicine in any capacity, recognizing signs of pain is a crucial part of the job. We need to both understand canine body language and communication cues and recognize pain to help minimize it and improve our patient’s quality of life.
Additionally, we need to recognize the signs of pain because just a gait abnormality or a tense muscle alone may not be the whole picture. If the patient demonstrates signs of pain, this may indicate
additional disease processes
additional areas needing treatment
Additionally, recognizing pain may serve as a means of caution – it means you must be careful when treating painful areas. Ensure you are not causing more pain. Safeguard that the animal does not react with biting, aggression, or other changes that could be harmful to you, your staff, or the patient.
Remember, pain delays healing. Pain unchecked leads to a cascade of problems, causing the frequent release of stress hormones and worsening your patient’s life quality. Additionally, do all you can to minimize wind-up pain and ensure owners understand how to prevent it.
Ensuring owner education is critical. You and your owners need to understand pain signs, continue to monitor patient progress over time, and recognize that pain can lead to aggression or erratic behavior.
Always strive in your practice to make certain you, your staff, and your owners recognize signs of pain in dogs. While treating your canine osteopathy patients, make certain that you are always vigilant for signs of pain, changing behaviors, and communication cues. This will ensure you and all involved remain safe, and that the pet gets the best benefit from your osteopathic therapy.
Figure 1. The canine “prayer position” suggestive of abdominal pain. Borrowed from
Intervertebral disc disease, or IVDD, is one of the most common spinal disorders seen in canine patients. These patients will commonly present with back or neck pain on physical exam. However, often owners do not actually appreciate this pain. Instead, owners see the pet hesitating to jump, not wanting to walk as far, or not wanting to play. Owners may miss a slightly off head carriage or an intermittent limp. They may not realize the different ways back, or neck pain can manifest. But they recognize that something is off, triggering them to take the pet to the veterinarian or osteopath for evaluation.
What is IVDD?
In IVDD, the intervertebral disc material in the spine ruptures, affecting the pet’s spinal cord. Think of the intervertebral discs as the cushions for the spine. Intervertebral discs, found between the bones (vertebrae) in the spine, act as shock absorbers helping to stabilize the spinal column (Béraud,2015; “IVDD In Dogs,” 2020).
The disc material or nucleus pulposus under healthy conditions is flexible and easily compresses to aid in the body’s movement. However, over time the material can become inflexible and brittle. Normally, bending with movement, these abnormal discs will bulge or rupture, putting pressure on the spinal cord’s nerves, causing various signs from mild pain to complete paralysis (“IVDD In Dogs,” 2020). While the disease progresses slowly over time, acute trauma to the spinal cord can suddenly cause this disc material to explode out of the space, sending the disc material fragments to the cord. This concussive action triggers the clinical signs (Béraud,2015).
Similar to when a human herniates a disc or ruptures a disc, IVDD affects various parts of the dog’s spine.
The cervical spine (neck)
Brooks (2019) reports that 15% of all disc herniations occur at the cervical spine level (neck). 80% of these cervical herniations (most commonly between C2-C3) occur in “dachshunds, beagles, or poodles” (para 8).
The thoracic and lumbar spine
Brooks (2019) notes that T11-T12 and L2-L3 are the most seen sights of herniation. However, we also commonly see low back pain L4-S2 in dogs. Extrusions in this area account for 15% of all cases of Type I IVDD in dogs. Continue reading for a review of the types of IVDD. In clinical practice, the author generally appreciates pain in 3 general locations: the neck region(cervical), around T13-L2, and the lumbosacral area (near the tail).
Causes of IVDD
In many cases, we have no idea what actually triggers the disc change at a specific moment. Owners may report that the dog fell off the couch or tripped down the stairs several days ago but had seemed fine. A day or even a week later started to limp or show other signs of pain or lameness.
Sometimes owners will report an episode where they heard the dog cry out. They may even have seen the dog limp for a day or two, and then it seemed to resolve on its own. But most of the time, we do not appreciate a specific incident to truly demonstrate a direct cause and effect.
Because dogs tend to tolerate pain differently from people, they often show it differently and may initially mask it. Perhaps there was a full resolution of clinical signs. Or maybe they simply didn’t start showing signs of pain until it became serious enough to cause them to do so.
In osteopathy, we look at the whole patient. Knowing what risk factors your patient possesses from the get-go, including any known injuries or traumas, recognizing the breed predisposition, and any previous history of the disease, all help improve your diagnosis and treatment plan development moving forward.
Any dog of any body type at any age can develop IVDD. That being said, there are some poster children that veterinarians and veterinary professionals automatically think of when discussing this disease.
Large breed dogs
IVDD is frequently seen in large breeds such as German Shepherds and Labradors. While Dobermans are the poster children for a specific neck condition called wobblers (Gregory, 2018; “IVDD In Dogs,” 2020).
Small to medium breed dogs
Common small to medium breed dogs we think of may include the mini or toy Poodle and Cocker spaniels
Beagles are genetically prone to a specific rapid-onset type of IVDD and second only to dachshunds in the occurrence of neck IVDD. If you see a beagle, make sure to warn the owners as they can quickly progress to neurologic deficits (problems) (Bagley, 2006).
Chondrodysplasia, a genetic abnormality secondary to abnormal cartilage growth, is common in several breeds. The bones grow at different rates leading to limb deformities and shortening of the limbs. These dogs can be disproportionately dwarfed in stature secondary to this abnormal growth. They can have additional abnormalities to various skeleton parts, including the ribs and spine (Cruz-Rincon, 2017,p.; Vetstream, n.d.). See Figures1b, 1d, and 1e for examples.
Classically many think of chondrodysplastic breeds first when they picture IVDD. While their confirmation alone can increase these types of dogs’ risk for IVDD, some dogs also have a genetic mutation. This mutation causes changes to the intervertebral disc’s metabolism, leading to early disc degeneration (Thomas, 2014).
These breeds often have long bodies on very short stubby legs with additional conformational issues that predispose them to IVDD. Dachshunds, Lhasa Apsos, Pekingeses, and Basset Hounds, for example, fit into this classification (“IVDD In Dogs,” 2020).
Dachshunds and beagles typically come to mind when thinking of IVDD for most veterinarians, but really IVDD can occur in any breed (Gregory, 2018).
Age of onset
While rarely occurring in dogs younger than1, it can occur at any age. It is often seen in ages 3-7 and then again in the older stages, ages 12 and up. Thus, age alone isn’t enough to suggest the presence or absence of the disease.
Hansen type I-III IVDD
The classification of the types of disc changes that occur have varied over the years but currently include Hansen Types I, II, or III.
Hansen Type I IVDD most commonly occurs younger in life and in chondrodystrophic dogs. Since genetics also plays a large role in this type of degeneration, it tends to affect younger to middle age dogs.
Type II IVDD tends to occur in older dogs secondary to normal aging processes and tends to occur in the larger breed dogs.
Type III AKA traumatic disc herniation, non-compressive IVDD, or high-velocity low-volume IVDD occurs at any age and in any breed. It causes the nucleus pulposus to suddenly shoot out a disc fragment into the spinal cord (Béraud,2015).
Some dogs with IVDD may demonstrate classic generalized signs of pain such as
Hesitancy to jump onto or off furniture or in going up/downstairs
Decreased energy or desire to play or exercise
Change in behavior
Change in appetite
Vocalizing – Remember to educate your clients. Inform them that lack of vocalization doesn’t mean they aren’t in a lot of pain. For example, Pitbulls are often very stoic and may not show pain unless severe. On the other hand, Huskies are often wimpy and may stub a toe and behave as if they tore off an entire foot.
Possible signs of spinal pain
Other signs may be more specific or suggestive of back or neck pain. These may vary depending on where the disc abnormality resides in the spine.
Additional signs of pain or spinal cord damage may include
Holding the tail low, not wagging it normally or as often
Crouching or hunching postures (can mimic abdominal pain)
Chewing on the tail or a leg(even to the point of causing trauma)
Chewing can occur far from the actual injury site. This occurs due to referred pain, neurologic pain, or because it becomes a means for them to handle the pain.
Merely being more guarded or not normally engaging with the owners or other pets in the home.
Suppose the damage causes compression of the spinal nerve root. In that case, it can cause pain (radicular pain) to be referred from the spine itself down a limb or other areas. Be aware that sometimes back pain presents as lameness in the hind-limb(s) without overt backpain (Rossmeisl, 2013).
This author’s own dog, Isabelle, a Rhodesian Ridgeback/Labrador mix, didn’t know she was a 4-legged animal. She was active, athletic, in ideal body condition. She was long and lean and loved to stand on 2 legs. For 6 months, she was intermittently lame in her left hindleg. Radiographs were non-remarkable. Her physical exam revealed only muscle changes and tension bands along the spine, left hind leg, and intermittent strains to the iliopsoas muscles in the pelvic/groin area.
Using a combination of laser therapy, ultrasound, massage, and physical therapy in addition to pain medications, she improved. It wasn’t until 6 months later that she even showed any back pain signs and was only evident with the spine’s deep palpation.
Then, she responded to therapy and barely had real pain to severe back pain and vocalization overnight. She required surgical intervention and, thankfully, recovered, never looking back.
So, back pain can manifest in many ways. All too often, veterinarians FAIL to evaluate for it. Just because your patient went to the vet and the vet found nothing overtly wrong, make sure that you evaluate their gait and palpate for signs of back pain thoroughly on your physical assessment. Not everyone appreciates subtle signs of pain or thoroughly assesses for back pain, so take care to ensure you do so.
Neuropathy – Neurologic signs associated with IVDD
Additional clinical signs may suggest that your patient has a neurologic component and help you lean to a diagnosis of IVDD. These signs may include
Varying degrees of paresis (weakness)or paralysis (inability to use a leg/legs)
Crossing over with a leg when walking
Dragging a limb
Traditional and holistic treatment options for IVDD
Traditional initial therapies
Medications and strict rest (2-4 weeks)
Medications such as
NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Pain medications)- The names of NSAIDs used in dogs varies from country to country. Ensure that you can recognize the medications your patients are on.
Steroids such as prednisone.
NSAIDs and steroids SHOULD NEVER BE USED TOGETHER in our canine patients.
Amantadine (which prevents and or treats wind-up pain aka central sensitization) – see pain blog for more information.
Tramadol (Alone, this medication provides insufficient pain control according to various studies and this author’s clinical experience. However, combined with other meds as above, it may be helpful as an adjunct) (Budsberg et al., 2018).
Indications for surgery may include neurologic deficits (described above), severe uncontrollable pain, or the progression of clinical signs
Thankfully, society is becoming more accepting of adjunctive treatments in the veterinary community and the lay population. Our clients want to avoid medications unnecessarily, and who wants their pet to have surgery if it can be avoided? Finally, these therapies provide a great addition to post-op surgical care.
Physical therapy (Physiotherapy) and rehabilitation exercises
Laser Light Therapy AKA Photobiomodulation– decreases inflammation and treats pain
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMF)
(Loria, 2017; Pancotto, 2020)
A multi-modal approach is a key to recovery
A combination of the various treatment options available should be employed to properly control pain and improve recovery chances. Sadly, factors including finances, access to services, dog acceptance of therapies, owner perceptions, and expectations play a role in what treatments are ultimately used and the success and failures of those therapies.
How can a canine osteopath help patients with IVDD?
A canine osteopath may be the first professional that an owner comes to see. The pet may have an off gait or simply be hesitant to exercise. So, the owner knows something is wrong but cannot discern where the problem lies. An osteopath can perform a physical and visual assessment and determine what parts of the body are painful, and discern probable causes for the problem.
An osteopath may localize the problem, provide manual therapy, and assist the pet in pain management and recovery.
In the initial stages of treatment and disease recovery, exercise rest recommendations are critical. Make sure to advise owners to leash walk only, taking the dog out to the bathroom and back (1-5 minutes) only. Additionally, cautioning owners to not allow the pet to run, jump, and play alone or with other pets becomes critical during recovery. Ideally, they should be confined to a crate, small room, or pen for a minimum of 2-4 weeks while undergoing treatment to prevent clinical signs from worsening (Carrera-Justiz, 2020).
Part of an osteopath’s job includes reviewing with the owner signs suggesting a worsening of neurologic function and pain.
Always advise your clients to seek care immediately (either with the local veterinarian or emergency room, depending on the time of day)
If signs are progressing or deteriorating rapidly.
If the pain becomes so severe that the pet is suffering.
Ensure they know that if deterioration occurs, prompt medical intervention could be the difference between never walking again or having a relatively normal ability to get around in the future.
Advise the owners that if they feel that the pain is not sufficiently controlled with your therapy and the other treatments being used, they should see the veterinarian.
Finally, advise your owner that you can not definitively diagnose this disease. Your diagnosis is simply a possible cause based on your physical findings.
Inform owners that we can use a Cat Scan (CT) or, more commonly, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or a Myelogram study for diagnosis. A myelogram is a series of radiographs taken before and after a dye is administered that highlights the spinal cord areas.
Are these tests necessary for a presumptive clinical diagnosis? NO. However, if signs progress or the pet requires surgery, advanced imaging will be required.
Alternatively, your pet may come to you already with a diagnosis of IVDD from a veterinarian.
They may be coming to you as part of the pet’s multi-modal pain management and care.
The pet’s signs may not be severe enough to warrant surgery.
The veterinarian may have recommended medical management, strict rest, and massage or osteopathic manipulation and treatment.
Finally, the pet may be coming to you for adjunctive therapy after post-surgical correction of IVDD.
Pain can occur due to disc disease, muscular, bone, meningeal pain (membranes that protect the spine), or radicular pain (travels along the spinal root nerve). So, while discussing IVDD specifically here, make sure to assess the whole patient as there could be more than one area of dysfunction.
IVDD could be the primary problem at, for example, the lumbar spine. But don’t forget to evaluate other areas for possible pain or dysfunction. When a dog attempts to compensate for pain, muscle tension and other biomechanical shifts often lead to pain in other regions of the spine, pelvis, legs, and musculature. These areas must not be forgotten as they too will significantly benefit from manual therapy, such that an osteopath can provide (Rossmeisl, 2013).
Prognosis with IVDD
There is no single-word answer for this. All cases differ. Various factors play a role in the successful recovery of a patient, including owner expectations, quality of life, remaining neurologic deficits, life-long limitations, or restrictions. Prognosis also depends on the owner’s commitment and willingness to follow strict adherence to the caregivers’ directions and recommendations. This includes the veterinarian, surgeon (if performed),osteopath, rehabilitation veterinarian, and others.
Critical to the patient’s recovery, all owners within a family need to follow all directions.
Some dogs may recovery 100% and never lookback. But many dogs will have a reoccurrence of the disease. Clinically, about 1/3of my patients have had reoccurrence at some point in their life. The presence of neurologic changes, uncontrollable pain, or an owner who fails to follow directions, a full return to function may not always be achievable.
NO MATTER WHAT WE DO, some pets will worsen and require surgical intervention due to clinical signs’ progression, worsening neurological function, or intractable pain.
Can IVDD be prevented?
Yes and no. Some animals are simply predisposed. Short of keeping them in a bubble and not letting them be dogs, well, we can never prevent it 100%.
Obviously, if you see a patient with this disease, we are a bit too late to prevent onset. However, with high reoccurrence rates, while we still want a dog to be a dog, there are a few steps that owners can take to lessen the chance of recurrence (Béraud,2015; “IVDD In Dogs,” 2020).
It is worse for them to jump off a bed or couch than jump onto something. It’s very jarring for the body to land on a solid surface.
Suggest doggy steps or a ramp to the furniture/bed if an owner insists the pet have access.
Better yet, have the owner provide a large, comfy, orthopedic-support dog bed instead.
Restrict stairs when feasible.
Do not allow running up and down.
Ideally, controlled walking up and down the stairs is key.
Some dogs may need to be put on a leash to control this and trained to walk slowly.
NO tug of war games.
Avoid certain positions for the pet –
Discourage the begging position, where a dog sits on its rump like Buddh
Discourage jumping up with the front legs onto furniture or counters or fences.
Avoid neck leashes, choke collars, choke chains, and pulling on the neck or spine when walking. Ideally, use a safe walk harness where the leash attaches to the chest/ sternum area.
These provide the owner the most control and minimize pulling and jarring to the spine.
For IVDD, anywhere on the spine, neck collars, neck leashes, and any type of pulling could cause trauma in any part of the spine and should be avoided.
Recommended harnesses may include various brands but will depend on where you reside in the global community. Ask your local veterinarian what brands they recommend.
Provide your owners with handouts. Client handouts are great to remind owners about your recommendations, including any exercise restrictions, at-home exercises, and MOST IMPORTANTLY. It provides something they can refer back to later. Exactly how much each owner retains is unknown, but we know that no one hears everything we say. This means that valuable information gets lost in translation. Additionally, not all family members maybe present at the visit, so the handout can educate them about what is recommended. This handout can help ensure the successful care of the pet.
What to include in your handout?
Include a description of your diagnosis, what IVDD is and what it means for the pet
Include a checklist of pain signs to monitor for at home, such as
Reluctance to move
Inability to use a leg, dragging a leg, or crossing over the legs (signs the brain doesn’t know where the legs are in space)
What the owners can or should do in case the disease worsens – list emergency veterinary clinics in the area or who to call in case signs progress or are concerned with inadequate pain management.
Dogs with back and neck pain commonly lead owners to visit a veterinarian or canine osteopath. Many owners fail to recognize pain signs and often cannot localize pain to the back or neck. Your job as a canine osteopath includes evaluating the patient and determining via gait analysis, physical exam, history, and clinical signs, what the primary clinical problem may be. The pet’s signalment (age, breed, sex) may aid in your diagnosis. But remember that any breed of dog, at any age, and even an animal with an ideal body condition may present with clinical signs suggestive of IVDD.
Osteopathic therapy compliments the therapy provided by veterinarians, rehabilitation specialists, and surgeons (if surgery is indicated). Osteopathic therapy provides a crucial role in pain management. It can significantly assist your patients’ recovery and prevent further disease reoccurrence.
Bagley, R. S. (2006).Acute Spinal Disease. Western Veterinary Conference 2006, Las Vegas, NV.
Recognizing Canine Communication Cues and Behaviours for the Safe Practice of Canine Osteopathy
By Erica Tramuta-Drobnis, VMD, MPH, CPH
Staying safe while practicing canine osteopathy
Understanding canine behaviour and communication cues is critical to ensure successful treatment outcomes in canine osteopathy. Osteopathy treatment addresses a wide variety of ailments. These can include orthopaedic injuries, arthritis, chronic pain syndromes, acute trauma, and surgical recovery. However, to effectively provide these management services, practitioners need to practice safe animal handling.
Becoming familiar with canine behaviour and communication cues is critical to your success and safe interactions with your patients. Animals do not talk quite the way we wish they could. However, they speak volumes with their body language. Recognising these cues and understanding what your patients saying can differentiate between a successful treatment or a trip to the emergency room.
Introduction to canine behavior
All interactions with animals, even by trained professionals, need to occur without harm. How to stay safe and have a mutually acceptable relationship with you and your patient depends upon your ability to recognize cues the dog demonstrates throughout your interactions.
When working with your patient, you may see signals indicating your patient’s different moods or acceptance levels. Acceptance of you, of the situation, and the therapy is critical to your osteopathy plan’s success. Remember that
You need to evaluate the entire body while assessing the dog’s body language.
A fine line exists between anxiety and fear signs. Recognizing this is critical to ensure escalation to aggression and harm does not occur.
Dogs can easily switch from anxiety to fear to aggression to contentment, sometimes with apparent changes in manners, but the change is often very subtle.
Always ensure you keep an eye on your patient, even if focused on treating a specific part of the body. This allows you to detect changes and respond appropriately (Tramuta-Drobnis,2019a).
Signs of a content dog
Table 1 Discusses common behaviors shown by a relaxed dog. Most people recognize the play bow and the loose tail wag.
Loose, tail wagging ***
Relaxed eyes, Soft
Rolling onto back,relaxed legs,
“Please rub my belly- like.”
Take treats/food willingly
Table 1 Signs of a content, calm dog. Adapted from (Tramuta-Drobnis, 2019a & Tramuta-Drobnis, 2019b).
Subtle Behaviors indicating stress and anxiety
Table 2 Shows various behaviors, and body postures often demonstrated in various degrees suggestive of stress and anxiety. Sometimes these behaviors occur all at once, or you may notice a select few. Once appreciated, take action to minimize the pet’s stress, and you should see the signs abate. If you continue with your treatment despite the signs, they can escalate, putting you and the pet in harm’s way.
Table 2. Behavioral indicators of stress and anxiety. Adapted from (Tramuta-Drobnis, 2019a & Tramuta-Drobnis, 2019b).
In addition to signs of anxiety and stress, fearful dogs may also demonstrate these actions in Table 3.
Standing low to the ground, tense
Weight shifted back
Whale eyed/plastered stare
(“Deer in headlights appearance”)
May growl or vocalize
Table 3:Additional signs of fearful dogs. Adapted from (Tramuta-Drobnis, 2019).
Please see Figure 1 for a visual image of some of the described behaviors.
Figure 1. Body Language of Fear in Dogs. A pictorial image of various signs of stress and anxiety in dogs. Obtained fromhttps://drsophiayin.comOriginally adapted from Dr. Sophia Yin,2015.
Your own body language matters
To discuss what the dog may do alone is to neglect the role you play. To succeed at practicing canine osteopathy, you need to understand canine anatomy and biomechanics. However, you must also understand how to interact with your patients safely and in a non-threateningmanner. Things to consider include
Standing to the side. Do not face the dog directly; stand with your body turned 45 degrees. This makes youl ess threatening.
Do not stand over the dog.
Let the dog initiate contact, coming to you.
Put your hand out at a lowl evel for them and allow the pet to sniff you. Do not attempt to grab at the dog.
Avoid direct eye contact, as this can be threatening.
Avoid reaching over the dog’s head or crossing over their body.
Move slowly—no sudden movements.
Do not hug the dog. After a brief interaction, stop and allow the dog to regroup. The dog may seek more affection or may turn away.
Always watch for signs of stress. If cues suggest stress, walk away, change your position, leave there for a bit, and then reattempt to connect.
When first getting to know your patient,perform a consent test. Start interacting, petting, giving treats, and then stop your initial interactions. See if the dog walks away or solicits additional contact. Allow the dog to be involved in the decision-makingprocess. Do not force the dog to be restrained or force the dog to interact until it is ready.
When petting the dog, pet
Under the chin
The side of the chest behind the shoulder area or
On the shoulders
Most dogs do not like having someone pet the top of their head directly. Avoid holding/restraining them by the collar or neck alone, and try not to hold the muzzle closed.
Patient Consent: Cooperative care
Cooperative care is a mutual relationship between you, the practitioner, and the pet. It allows the pet to participate in their care. The pet willingly decides to partake in their osteopathic treatment. This ensures a better outcome both medically and socially for all involved (Jones, 2018). See the resources below for additional information.
If you interact and force a dog to dosomething it does not want to, stress can ensue in both the osteopath and the patient. It can create long-lasting stress long after the situation.
If the pet requires a muzzle, muzzle training at home before the visits may be warranted. Using cooperative care training,the owner can train their dog to readily accept a muzzle and associate it with good things. The pet can then come muzzled or readily allow the owner to muzzlethe pet for safe handling.
Anytime the pet’s behavioral cues escalate,demonstrating an increase in anxiety, take a step back. That pet is saying no.
Slow and steady wins the race
Have owners monitor the dog even before they get to you for signs of stress. While in the waiting room, if the owner appreciates nose or lip licking, low ears, yawning or whining, even panting,the pet is demonstrating signs of stress. Knowing this ahead of time is key to preventing escalation.
You may not be able to do your canine osteopathy treatments on the first, second, or even 5th session. Owners may have to do some work at home after making the initial osteopathic diagnosis via observation and gait analysis. You may not institute your treatment plan untilt he patient learns to trust you over time. See additional resources below.
At any time, a stressed, anxious, or calm dog can become aggressive. You must always be vigilant, always paying attention to sudden changes in behavior. Monitor for slight changes in ear position, tail posture, and eye changes to ensure you can anticipate the unexpected!
Remember that you need to use your senses too. It is not just one body part that you need to monitor. The individual signs they show are taken collectively with their overall body posture,demeanor, and cooperation or lack thereof.
Never force the dog to do something they don ot want to. Allow the pet to take part in the decision to accept yourt reatment. Remain calm. A painful dog may behave differently than he/she would typically.This may trigger the pet to become stressed sooner rather than later.
Learning to recognize the signs of stress will help you protect yourself and your staff and keep the pet safe and minimize anxiety. By doing all this, you can ensure your treatment is successful and that your osteopathy therapy provides the needed relief the pet and owner seek.
Stay tuned for our next blog, reviewing signs of pain in our furry canine friends. Canine Osteopaths need to understand and recognize signs of pain to properly treat their patients and monitor therapy response.
Muzzle use training: The MuzzleUp Project aims to educate and train on the safe use of muzzles and animal behavior.https://muzzleupproject.com
Cooperative Care resources
Cooperative Care: Seven Steps to Stress-Free Husbandry, by Deborah Jones Ph.D., ISBN-13: 978-0578423135