Some dog breeds are more prone to back pain and arthritis.
Cold and heat therapy are ways to relieve a dog's back pain.
Be aware of the symptoms indicating that your dog is suffering from back pain.
There are preventative measures to take to relieve a dog's back pain.
Whether your dog is suffering from osteoarthritis or recovering from surgery, there are ways to relieve a dog's back pain. Owners often turn to medication, but there are natural ways to help your dog overcome their pain.
Certain breeds are prone to back pain. If you have one of these kinds of dogs, be aware of the potential problems they face as they age. Despite genetics, find tips in this article that help you relieve a dog's back pain.
Causes of Back Pain in Dogs
There are a few different contributing factors that may cause a dog to have back pain. If your dog falls into any of these categories, be mindful that they may have an issue with their back.
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) involves the cartilage's degeneration between the spinal column's discs. This cartilage absorbs shocks between the vertebrae and spine, and it's painful when it begins to deteriorate. It's often genetic, affecting breeds with long torsos and short legs.
The dog breeds that tend to develop IVDD and lower back pain includes dachshunds, beagles, poodles, Shih Tzus, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, and French bulldogs, as well as other large breed dogs.
Like in humans, being overweight puts excess pressure on bones and joints. This is especially true of those long-chested, short-legged breeds. Their bodies aren't made for carrying that extra weight. This condition is easily preventable by monitoring their diet and eating habits.
When dogs reach their senior years, some develop hip and joint pain. This is particularly true of large-breed dogs. Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are age-related diseases that commonly cause neck and back pain.
Dogs get into all kinds of situations and might easily injure themselves. Even during play, going after a frisbee and landing the wrong way might cause them to tweak their back or neck. If you notice signs of pain after a round of play at the park, they may well have an injury. Monitor them closely and look for other symptoms listed below.
You know your dog, and you know when they're acting like they're feeling well. You may see your dog acting abnormally but aren't sure what the cause is.
Michigan Avenue Animal Hospital lists symptoms to look for that indicate your dog might be suffering from neck and back pain.
Yelping or whimpering during certain motions
Muscle spasms or twitches
Avoidance of movement
Inability to look upward
Behavioral changes (e.g., uncharacteristic aggression)
Change in appetite (especially if not accompanied by other GI symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting)
If you notice your dog displaying any or a combination of these symptoms, get them to your vet as soon as possible. A back injury or sickness is nothing to trifle with.
When your dog is in pain, your first reaction may be to give them something from your medicine cabinet to relieve their discomfort. This is often a dangerous thing to do. Dogs are not simply smaller humans. They have different physiology that doesn't always mesh well with human treatments.
However, there are some approved medications that help dogs manage pain.
People and pets take nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs, commonly called NSAIDs, for pain and the reduction of inflammation. Humans may take aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen to reduce inflammation, but the FDA warns against using them for your pet. These medications are NOT meant for your dog.
As of September 2022, these are the currently marketed FDA-approved NSAIDs for dogs:
These are active ingredients marketed under a variety of generic or brand names. Any NSAID sold over the counter online or in a pet store without a prescription from a veterinarian is not FDA-approved. This means they aren't researched enough and proven safe and effective for your dog.
Acetaminophen -- more commonly known as Tylenol -- is one exception to the rule against human meds. Dogs may take it for the relief of pain. However, it doesn't have anti-inflammatory properties. As the dosage increases, dogs are also prone to liver damage from its long-term use.
NSAIDs are good at reducing pain, but if your dog needs other options, your vet might prescribe Gabapentin or Tramadol to relieve their pain.
Consult your veterinarian before giving your dog any NSAID or other pain medication or supplement.
Medication may reduce swelling and inflammation for some back problems, but medicine isn't always the best answer. Sometimes, it only masks the pain but doesn't solve the core issue. There are natural remedies to reduce the pain, prevent back problems from occurring, or at least lessen the severity.
As soon as you realize your dog has back problems, restrict their activity as much as possible until you take measures to correct it. You don't want to make the problem worse.
Try to keep them from jumping up on furniture or the bed. If possible, keep their bed, food, and water on ground level to avoid using the stairs. Limit their interaction with other animals as well.
When you take them to the vet or animal chiropractor, provide support under their chest and back legs as you carry them and keep them level. Learning to carry a dog with back pain correctly is essential, so you aren't causing them more pain or putting pressure on their spine.
Medication makes a dog feel better, but it may only be masking the symptoms of the core issue. Without pain, a dog might return to regular activities and injure themselves.
The team at Meridian Vet Care advocates avoiding medication as the first line of treatment for a dog with back pain. Instead, they use "integrative medicine" with positive results.
"The first treatment that I use on a patient with a painful back is a very gentle spinal adjusting technique called VOM (Veterinary Orthopedic Manipulation). Using low force spinal adjusting equipment, the nerves and muscles of the spine are reset out of the chronic spasm cycle. This procedure is extremely safe, well tolerated and very effective."
It's imperative to note that only professionals use this type of treatment. Manipulating a dog's back is dangerous and may result in further injuring your dog if you don't have the training to do so.
After the VOM, they sometimes use acupuncture and finish with laser treatment.
Acupuncture and Laser Treatment
Acupuncture is the insertion of tiny needles at specific points where nerves and blood vessels converge. It's a form of healing used for thousands of years in humans. Laser treatment uses deep-penetrating light that stimulates the release of endorphins and accelerates the healing process of injured cells.
If you have arthritis, you know that weather changes affect the condition. The same is true for dogs. A dog with arthritis may benefit from a warming pet mat during winter.
Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, is a traveling board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA, and Western New Jersey. In an article for Pet Health Network, he discusses using heat therapy.
"The application of heat," he says, "is used to reduce stiffness and muscle spasms, increase blood flow and relieve pain. Unlike cold therapy, heat therapy is applied after the initial swelling and inflammation (a.k.a. irritation) stage of an injury. Typically, cold therapy is used for the initial 72 hours."
Zeltzman says to use cold therapy the first three days after an injury or surgery and then heat therapy. Apply it to whatever body part where damage, strain, or spasm occurs. Hold the pack or device against the affected area for 15 minutes. Repeat every six to eight hours.
Make your heat pack by filling a tube sock with uncooked rice and tying the open end. Microwave it and then shake it around to distribute the heat. Feel it before placing it on your dog's skin. You want it warm but not hot.
You don't want to burn your dog with whatever device you're using, so place a towel between the device and the skin. If your dog shows signs of discomfort, remove the pack. A dog often falls asleep when using a heating pad, showing they feel soothed.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are two structural components of cartilage, which cushions the joints. These are available as supplements in chewable tablets, treats, and dog food. If you have a senior dog, putting them on senior dog food is a good idea. This food contains these supplements and is more palatable for older dogs.
Many owners claim they saw a significant improvement in their dogs' movements after regularly using these supplements. Large-breed dog foods usually contain sources of these components as well.
CBD oil and hemp oil receive these kinds of owner testimonials as well. There isn't much research to prove their effectiveness, but some dog owners swear by them. If nothing else, it is also known to calm their nerves.
A dog with back pain likely has anxiety associated with their illness. Being in pain is uncomfortable and may prevent them from having a good night's sleep. Give them some calmness and relaxation with calming treats. They use natural ingredients to help your dog get some rest.
Calming Dog Bed
You probably already know that sleeping on a hard surface is uncomfortable, especially with back pain. If you've ever slept on a memory foam mattress, you know how soft yet supportive it is. The Calming Cuddle Bed Plus Memory Foam is excellent for a dog suffering from back or joint pain.
You probably aren't around your dog 24 hours a day so you aren't always going to prevent bad things from happening. You also aren't going to stop genetics. There are things to do that help prevent injury, though.
Running and jumping is excellent exercise. The impact is painful for a dog prone to back, hip, or other joint problems. Your dog gets the necessary exercise in the water without putting pressure on their spine.
Avoid Slick Surfaces
Some dogs are constantly moving as fast as their legs take them. If you have wood, tile, or linoleum flooring, they easily slip as they're running through the house. Lay down runners or limit their access only to rooms with carpeting to prevent falls.
If you live in an area with snow and ice, use pet-friendly ice melt on your stairs and sidewalk to prevent slipping. Many commercial ice melt products cause painful splitting and cracking of your dog's paws, so clean them off when you come in from your walk.
Harness vs. Collar
Some dogs pull a lot when walking. This puts a lot of pressure on their necks and may cause injury. If your dog is a puller, use a harness instead of a collar for their walks. The harness distributes pressure more evenly and is better for dogs recovering from any type of back injury.
Don't Hold Back from Relieving Back Pain
When you have a large-breed or senior dog, arthritis or back pain might be a fact of life they must deal with. That doesn't mean they have to live in pain. There are many treatment options to try with your dog, and your vet may offer others.
If your dog is recovering from an injury, do whatever possible to ease their pain and make them comfortable. Treat your dog with care and compassion, and they're sure to be on the mend and back to getting into mischief once again.
As your best friend, your dog always has your back. Now it's time that you have theirs.
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