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Can chronic pain really cause behavioural issues?

Updated: Feb 25

It certainly can, and at the least it can exacerbate them!


Before we start, I want to say a HUGE thank you to those who have shared videos and pictures for this blog. I really hope seeing things in action helps you understand what to look for. And yea, its a long one.....but I hope its not boring and most importantly if it helps just one dachshund family, then it's purpose is met.


I know I am constantly going on about this, but it is affecting my ability to help you and your dachshunds. Hopefully I’m gonna break it all down so its easier to understand the jargon. For more information on the various health issues seen in dachshunds please visit Home | Dachshund Health UK. To report a health issue please visit Submit a report | Dachshund Health UK.


Why this blog? Why now?


Sadly I am seeing more and more daxies that have odd movements or construction. I say odd, but some really are! But its not about them being perfect, we all have our flaws.  It is about whether these oddities are causing problems. I am certainly not a perfectionist, but we do need to pay attention to deviations from the expected skeletal structure.


Now before I start, I need to make it clear, I am not a vet!  I am not qualified to diagnose, and I wouldn’t presume to.  What may look like a luxating patella, may indeed be a dodgy hip, or it could be a thorn in their pad!  Vets are the only ones qualified, and legally are the only ones allowed to make a diagnosis. I do have a strong interest in this topic obviously, and will be expanding this knowledge further, but even then, I am not a vet! So please if you think there is an issue, don’t take to faceache, nobody is allowed to diagnose, even speculation is dodgy ground, please go and talk to a vet you trust! This blog is solely for the purpose of highlighting the huge impact chronic (long term/ongoing) pain/discomfort can have on behaviour. IF you want a proper assessment on movement, Marianne Dorn, The Rehab Vet, author of The IVDD handbook is fantastic. She helped me with Spesh via a remote consult. She has loads of experience with daxies! She can give you exercises to do with your dogs to strengthen weaknesses and make recommendations, If you are concerned, I'd highly recommend booking in with her. Here's the link to her site: The Rehab Vet – Veterinary rehabilitation and physiotherapy service in Herts, UK


How should they move?


When a dachshund trots it should be free and flowing.  Their stride should be long and push from the back. That means they should extend their legs forwards fluidly and should be rear paw drive.  From the front their legs should move parallel (i.e. side by side and having the same distance) to each other at the width of the shoulder and hip joints. Their movements should be forwards, they shouldn’t swing to the side or flick at the wrists. At trot their front and back legs should work in opposites and at the same time, e.g. front right, left hind and then front left, right hind. Each leg should take equal weight.


The very dapper, Cadbury; Ch. Sunsong Whisper A Promise

Standing wise, they should stand squarely, bearing equal weight on all four paws.



Cadbury; Ch. Sunsong Whisper A Promise

Now, I know there can be a bit of a stigma associated with show dogs...don't know why, I used to show mine, it was only time that stopped me continuing. I thoroughly enjoyed a day out with the dogs. It was far more than being in the ring! Anyway, the majority of people do not show their dogs.  BUT….correct movement is important for all of us. 


How often did your Nana say, stand up straight! Stop dragging your feet? How often have you said that to your kids. (I did and then said, god I sound like my mother!)  We know posture and movement is important!


Be warned the first video below contains barking.....shows can be loud! Please hit mute before pressing play!


Here's a video of good movement in the show ring.



(Charmer: Dajean Chocolate Charmer)


A lovely slo mo video of nice movement from a youngster on a walk:


(Gunner: Dolyharp Amadeus at Sidburyhill).



Good movement means they can do things like this:



and this:



The wonderful Show Champion Storm with my good pal, Dawn Seago at K9 Lifestyles. Tracking, mantrailing, barnhunt pro! Definately my go to for scent activities! (And handling for ringraft at that!)


Here's two videos of 2 different Dixies (yes I do mean Dixie, not Daxie!) - thanks to Jane and Trudie for the videos. They did make me chuckle! But hopefully show normal movement in a way that will be more familiar for the average owner.



Dixie 1 - she;s very suspicious!



Dixie 2: Is going to take off. Look how those front legs extend!


Movement issues?


After IVDD, dachshunds often become front paw drive, I.e they use their front legs to drive their movement forward.  This can lead to tension across the shoulders and highlights my point where if they do not move ‘correctly,’ i.e. how their bodies should move, it has a knock on affect.  Dogs after IVDD go on treadmills during recovery to encourage correct foot placements, to encourage muscle development equally after they lose muscle tone due to the disease.  Its important for their ongoing wellbeing! 


What happens when we don’t move “perfectly?”


Try it, try walking around the house in a way that is not natural, develop a fake limp, or walk with one leg totally straight for 10 minutes.  Crikey, even just kneeling awkwardly gives me pins and needles!  Ok, so my point is this, if we move in a way that is not natural for our skeleton it causes discomfort in random places. It’s the same for the dogs.


Even if that movement is ‘normal’ for them, deviations from the “perfect” movement or structure can have a knock on affect on the body. I’ve had a bad back for years (riding incident) and to compensate for the discomfort sometimes I walk differently, this then has a knock on affect on my shoulder and neck making me really sensitive to certain movements…and my son approaching me the lumbering, clumsy oaf that he is!


Many dogs have oddities (I use that word with affection btw), and that’s ok, my concern in particular is where the movement is not symmetrical.  If one front leg turns out at 45 degrees and the other is “correctly” pointing forwards, that’s a red flag.  If one hind leg appears to paddle or swing out, but the other does not, that is potentially an issue.  But, similarly if your dog seems to walk on tip toes rather than extending their leg under them, that is potentially an issue and could signify discomfort. Commonly we see them skip, and usually attribute this to a normal small breed issue. It is common, it is not normal. It may cause issues, it may not. But only a vet can confirm that for you.


The video below demonstrates the importance of a vets opinion. It shows what many would mistake as luxating patella, in fact its hip dysplasia on both sides. Whilst he lifts his left leg constantly, which may be due to habit, its his right leg that's more affected. He has weekly physio, walking on a water treatmill, and land based exercises including using wobble cubes. He also has laser and a heatbag along with lots of cuddles.



Now, lets think about bunny hopping, where they run with both back legs moving at the same time.  This is really common in puppies. Same as a puppy sit, its normal in puppies for them to flop to one side or the other.  However if an adult dog does this regularly, or does this instead of trotting it’s a red flag that there may be something going on under their fur that may be causing discomfort.


If your dog is protective over its space, and commonly this is in the evenings.  Or if they suddenly snap when you move them….again commonly in the evenings this is a red flag!

Many will say, oh but my dog isn’t in pain he’ll chase a ball all day. See the article I refer to below! This is incredibly common in dogs who have chronic pain!


Let me give you an example of need or desire overiding common sense and pain!  A couple of years ago in that blistering heat I had surgery.  I came home from hospital on strict advice I was not allowed to go on long walks or run anywhere (like that was going to happen!)  Anyway, some numpty fed my pony something that made him really sensitive to the sun resulting in awful sunburn on his snout!  I needed to put cream and suncream on his nose.  Now this pony is lovely….but I’m convinced he has a dachshund heart!  That is, if he doesn’t want to, he will avoid.  I managed to catch him, and forgetting I’d lost weight and couldn’t counter balance his determination and accidentally ran (got pulled) 50ft up the field whilst I tried to get the cream on his nose. Was I in pain? Absolutely! And yes, I got told off! But the need to help him overrode the need to help myself!


Similarly, I wanted to lose weight for years…..but the need for the bad food (hmmm chocolate), overrode the desire to lose weight! 


Does that make sense?


I know a few dogs, that are fine 99% of the time, but when they get an ear infection or their back gets a bit sore turn into snapping turtles.  This says to the owners, oh dear, lets pop you to the vet again.  Popi is like this, if she is starting to develop pneumonia she becomes really protective of her space with the other dogs.  Its why we can jump on it before the obvious symptoms start.  Every single time her behaviour changes, she has had some sort of infection.  As soon as it is treated, she turns back into her beautiful loving self.


Research says?

In this article Prof Daniel Mills, Vet Behaviourist, researcher, lecturer and all round guru (fan girling here) talks about the associations between pain and problem behaviour.  They found over 80% of the cases presented to the behavioural clinic had pain as a significant contributing factor to aggression, noise sensitivities, toilet training, and a whole host of other things.  He even uses a case study with a dachshund:

This dachshund had:

·        A 3-4 month history of lunging and snarling at its owner when resting in the evening or immediately before bed.

·        It would happen if the owner moved, but did not necessarily touch the dog

·        It was inconsistent, but 3-4 times a week.

·        The dog reported a reluctance to walk on lead.

·        The referring vet descried the initial consultation as unremarkable. Bloods etc were all normal

·        The dog had a history of intermittent back pain 4 years previously.

·        He had a stilted gait (stiff)

 

He was prescribed a course of 4 weeks on non-steroidal medication alongside physiotherapy.

They were advised to leave him to rest and avoid disturbing him, monitoring body language carefully.

 

·        2 months later, there had only been 2 incidents of aggression over 8-9 weeks.

·        The owner and dog walker noted improvements in the dogs interest in walking on lead.

·        No specific behaviour modification was applied. The resolution was solely based on understanding the dogs needs during this time and helping them manage their pain! 

 

 

The article highlights the need for a longer term trial on pain medication, a week will simply not be long enough for chronic pain.  If the issue is obvious your vet may recommend referral to a specialist.  This doesn’t mean they’ll need surgery, but simply a specialist will know exactly what options to discuss with you, and advice on how to address the issue.


Now what?


After all this, you may still need to work with a behaviourist.  If anyone has had an issue for a long time, you may need help to deal with the associated feelings that become habit over time.  But you must start here first.


As behaviour professionals we are not fobbing you off when we send you to the vet, but like us, if there is an underlying and untreated medical issue it is an uphill battle.

Sometimes, one medication doesn’t seem to have an affect.  This doesn’t mean its not pain influencing the behaviour, it may mean it’s the wrong medication for the problem.  Its really important to go back to your vet to discuss this. 


Ways to help your vet

They only have a short amount of time to assess your dog, and in a clinic your dog may mask the pain or be very tense when examined. We all know dachshunds are very stoic!


  •   Get a few clear videos of your dog moving from both sides, the front and the back – trotting pace is the easiest I’ve found to help identify gait issues.

  • Keep a diary so you can show them any patterns – e.g. evenings or first thing in the morning when resting they are more likely to show signs of avoiding contact.

  • Write down a list of the behaviours without emotions.  E.g. snaps when moved, goes stiff when approached.  Try and video it for them, but please don’t create a scenario for a video!

  • Let them know if their advice seems to help and talk to them if it doesn't!

 

Sometimes we are just so used to seeing them walk a certain way we just think it is normal.  Sometimes it is subtle.  A lot of the time their deviation from “ideal” does not cause an issue.  However from experience at the least it can contribute and it is so very important to address this. 


I have worked with so many people who have seen huge improvements in their dogs behaviours through behavioural modification.  However if there is an underlying medical issue it hampers that progress, sometimes significantly.


Some videos of movement gone wonky


Here are some videos of the start of IVDD. I am really grateful to the owners for sharing. Obviously IVDD is on most of our radar, and not every symptom will equal IVDD, but these are too valuable not to share. Remember here, the changes in movement are reasonably sudden onset, compared to the long term conformation issues you may see with angular limb deformity, hip dysplasia, luxating patella and so on. As people send me videos I will endeavour to add them to the end of this blog.


Big thanks to Maisie and Douglas's pawrents for sharing these. Taking videos like this are really helpful for showing the vets, but also to measure recovery by. Both dogs are well on their way to recovery!


Notice the reluctance to turn his head? The reluctance to move? Thats pain.



Bit unstable and rigid moving here.


Note the foot and unequal weight baring when she squats?


Reluctance to turn.


The typical drunken gait.


And you cannot talk about pain and behaviour without talking about Ted.


To end this blog, I am going to tell you the story of 4 year old Ted.  Everyone loves Ted.


Ted is a character.  He had a rough start with his wonderful human family, getting parvo at a young age which he survived, then getting beat up on by a few dogs.  Its easy to understand where his initial worries came from.  When he was young his owner raised a concern about his front leg and was told, he was "sitting with sass.” As a naïve owner his owner accepted this and didn’t pursue it, although it still concerned her.


As he grew, his behaviour worsened.  After a desperate post on faceache I reached out, and the rest shall we say is history, haven’t been able to shake his mum since! (Love her really!) Whilst his owner worked hard on his behaviour and there were improvements, they were inconsistent…..there was definitely more going on here.


I have had Ted for holidays, and having seen him away from his home environment, was sure his issues were more frustration related.  He was a good boy, and yes still had explosions but was pretty good overall.  He’d play intermittently with the other dogs, but his batteries ran out quickly. He enjoyed walks, but did tire exceptionally quickly for a young dog….he did still have that funny leg! But it was ok…..right? I remember a conversation about it, and we just didn’t have enough to support our argument that it was causing discomfort. 


As time went on his owner pushed harder this to be investigated, it was becoming more obvious it was an issue.  I will cut a long story short but due to an insurance ‘upgrade’ previous issues highlighted….including his 'sitting with sass' was excluded from cover. (Please check your vet notes before you change or in this case, upgrade, your insurance.  Just one wrong word can eliminate a historical question raised without thought!)


After a very emotional plea to the dachshund community his owner raised funds to see a specialist, and was advised a conservative treatment plan.  Unfortunately the leg worsened and was obviously far more than his being sassy.  Surgery was recommended.  A very kind anonymous donator topped up the fund to enable this surgery to happen.


He is now a couple of months post op.  I had him at Christmas, and whoa what a difference.  He was a pain in the proverbial bum.  So much more energy, really screechy excited screams, playing more consistently with the others, and whoa the change in his expression.  Bright wide eyes instead of a pinched frown.


His owner has started taking him out on short walks in line with the vets advice, and he is a different dog. Yes, he still has reactions, its early days, but wow so much less explosive and managing to get past dogs without drama is a HUGE step in the right direction.  Now all that training the owner did is starting to show.  Now, she has a chance to change the way he feels and help him live a full and happy life, the one she has always dreamed of.  Why? Because she advocated for him! I am excited to see how 2024 pans out for them all.



 

Whilst I absolutely wouldn’t wish pain or discomfort on any of your dogs, and I certainly do not want to cause a mass panic, I really hope this blog gets you looking and paying attention to your dogsIs it possible they may be uncomfortable.  Have you always had a niggling doubt? Have you not even noticed that their right foot sits at an odd angle? Have you not noticed your dog avoiding certain movements when on  a walk? Pay attention, and get professional advice.  I hope your dogs do not have an issue, but if they do, it needs looking at and treating.


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