As dog moms, we care for our dogs as if they are our children. When they’re in pain we’ll go to extreme lengths to help them. Personally, I have tried everything under the sun to help my dogs when they need it. Lola, who passed away in 2016, had bad joint pain and other issues towards the end of her life. I explored every possible solution for her from prescription drugs to acupuncture and a special diet. After everything I went through, I thought it would be really helpful to give you, my lovely readers, an idea of what to ask your vet when your dog is in pain.

With Lola, nothing seemed to be working and I felt helpless. I started looking online for alternative treatments and many nights I went way down the rabbit hole of online forums and random websites. You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, so a lot of that was a waste of time. Before you do that yourself, take my advice and make sure you get a professional evaluation of your pet’s health from an accredited veterinarian.

Since I had so many questions about Lola’s treatment, and I still have questions come up when Lucy gets injured, I thought it would be great to ask an expert about what questions, concerns and treatments should be brought up during our vet appointments. Heather Loenser, DVM is the Veterinary Advisor for the American Animal Hospital Association. I met her at the BlogPaws conference and was instantly impressed with how knowledgeable and approachable she is. Here’s Dr. Heather with just one of her dogs, Calvin. Lucy would love to run around with him!

Dr Heather and Calvin

What To Ask Your Vet When Your Dog Is In Pain

First off, Heather, tell us about your own pets!

Aside from the partridge in the pear tree, I have one cat, two dogs, three box turtles, two fish and six hens….I know. Occupational hazard!! Most are rescues (including the box turtles!)

We all love puppies, but everyone’s dogs get older eventually. If I’m worried that my pet is getting older and in chronic pain, what are signs I should look for to tell my vet about?

  • “Slowing down” is the most common sign of chronic pain. That can mean anything from having trouble climbing the stairs, refusing to walk for long periods of time or just not meeting you at the door anymore when you come home.
  • “Crankier” than he used to be, especially when being petted on the head or back. This could be signs of dental pain (incredibly common since 80% of pets older than 3 years old have signs of dental disease) or arthritis (especially of the spine, hips or knees.)
  • “Messier” when eating or drinking because of dropping food or slurping their water which can also be a sign of dental pain.

Are the same prescriptions good for chronic pain from something like joint issues versus pain from a one-time surgery? 

Yes. For dogs, the medications used for post-operative pain management can also be used for chronic pain. This is not the case for cats.

Dog moms can get a little crazy about our babies and we always want to make sure our pets are getting the right treatment. Would you recommend getting a second (or third) opinion when your vet prescribes a pain management plan? 

It depends on how the dog responds to the initial therapy. Aside from pain pills, there are injections, acupuncture, physical therapy, and chiropractic care for pets.

There’s so much in the news about opioid medication abuse among people. I know that opioid drugs are prescribed to pets in some cases. Should I worry about the extreme side effects and addiction problems I’ve heard about people having when administering this drug to my pet?

Fortunately, no. We don’t have data showing that dogs develop dependency or addiction. However, once a medication has been started, you should stay in constant communication with your veterinarian regarding side effects. Do not discontinue any medications (including pain medications) without speaking to your veterinarian first as your pet could suffer significant consequences.

If I’m not sure the prescription is making a difference for my pet how long should I allow to see results before asking my vet about alternatives?

No more than a day or two. Your veterinarian will want to know if your pet isn’t responding to the initial therapy because none of us want pets to suffer.

Do you recommend alternative treatments? I tried a bunch of these with Lola, with varying degrees of success.

  • Physical therapy?  Yes, as long as it is performed by a professional who has completed specific training  and has the letters CCRP or CCRT (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner/Therapist) after their name.
  • Acupuncture?  Yes, without hesitation as long as it is performed by a trained veterinarian who has completed additional training and is certified in veterinary acupuncture (CVA).
  • Chiropractic adjustments and massage? Maybe, as long as it is performed by a veterinarian, not a human chiropractor or masseuse who occasionally practices on animals.
  • Infra-red laser therapy?  Yes.
  • Turmeric supplements, raw food diet or essential oil therapy? No. There is no data to prove that these modalities can provide pain relief. Using these treatments instead of proven therapies can waste time and increase a pet’s suffering.

Any other expertise you’d like to share with my readers?

  • Never use human pain medications unless speaking with your veterinarian first. Common medications like ibuprofen, Aleve, and Tylenol can be toxic to dogs and cats.
  • While medical marijuana has been used to treat chronic conditions in people, there is no data yet that provides us with a proven dose range that works for specific conditions.
  • Familiarize yourself with the American Animal Hospital Association’s Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats.
  • Not all veterinary hospitals are accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association. Find out if yours is by visiting www.aaha.org/locate. Accredited hospitals adhere to over 900 standards of veterinary excellence and are regularly evaluated to make sure they continue their dedication.

What to ask your vet when your dog is in pain

I hope that you enjoyed this diversion from style and DIYs to what to ask your vet when your dog is in pain. I feel like this was a very important topic to cover since I had so many questions about it towards the end of Lola’s life with me. Thank you so much to Dr. Heather and everyone at AAHA for the wonderful resources and insights on how to best care for our best friends!