What my dogs have taught me about pain and behaviour change

by 18 May, 2022

Limon has just turned eight years old, and she is perfect. We always joke that she trained herself because she had a natural recall, she never chased anything in her life, and just didn’t exhibit many typical ‘border collie behaviours’. I used to take her everywhere with me; she thrived in busy cities, in the countryside, on public transport – and all with very little work on my part. She is just the best.

A couple of years ago, Limon started exhibiting strange fear responses towards flies. It started off as something subtle, so I brushed it off, thinking that she had maybe been startled on one of our walks. However, it escalated quickly, and in a matter of months, Limon was unable to go outside without having a full-blown panic attack if there was any sign of a flying insect, a flying leaf, or a gust of wind. The fear displays became so extreme that we’d have to carry Limon home as she was unable to walk by herself. The dog who had spent countless hours walking with me through forests, fields, and busy cities was now unable to use her own front garden to wee in peace! Something was not right.

We took Limon to see the vet for a thorough physical examination to try to get to the bottom of what was wrong. After extensive investigation and visits to several specialists (Orthopaedic Surgeons, Neurologists, etc.) poor Limon was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease, and was likely experiencing neuropathic pain. She was put on pain medication, and within a matter of days she was keen to go outside again. She will still flinch at a fly on a bad day, and is very good at telling me when she is and isn’t up for a long walk. But she is functional, settled, and happy.

Chief, my young border collie, has just turned two. At the ripe old age of four months, he started having some digestive issues, and was soon diagnosed with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). For those of you that have experience with EPI, it is inconvenient, but it can be controlled, and dogs can live fairly normal lives. So, when Chief started experiencing some behavioural challenges (extreme difficulty settling in the house, aggression towards other dogs, etc.) I felt like a failure. Surely this was because I’d failed to train him, or because I wasn’t meeting his needs, right? Wrong.

Numerous visits to several different vets and Internal Medicine specialists uncovered that Chief was also suffering from inflammatory bowel disease and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in addition to his EPI. A fun combination, I have to say! Well, he was put on more medication to help get his conditions under control (he has his own personal pharmacy in our house), and his behaviour improved within days. He actually started sleeping. We were able to unload the washing machine without him vocalising like a soul possessed. He became social with other dogs once more. The change was quite extraordinary.

The moral of these stories is that all too often, there is a link between pain and ‘problematic’ behaviour. Honestly, if Limon had not been through what she did, I would have approached Chief’s issues as training problems. He was a young dog, and had just received one diagnosis. It would have been all too easy to assume that all else was ok. Sudden changes in behaviour often point to an underlying condition, so if in doubt, have a vet thoroughly examine your dog.

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