“Listen to your body.” It’s become a buzz phrase in our culture. And it’s typically good advice! But what about our furry family members who don’t have a voice to communicate their needs, and often aren’t fully in charge of what their bodies get to do?
In this episode, Dr. Buzby shares 7 examples of how YOU can listen to your dog’s body and what your observations might mean.
Behaviors and postures discussed in this episode are:
2. Arched/hunched back
3. Limp tail (covered fully in episode 17 of the Buzby Dog Podcast)
4. Cervical disc disease (neck pain)
5. Ear pain
6. Squinty eye(s)
7. Obsessive licking
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Welcome to the Buzby Dog podcast, where our passion and focus is proactive care and longer, healthier, happier lives for our dogs. Here’s your host integrative veterinarian, Dr. Julie Buzby.
Dr. Buzby: (00:33)
Welcome to this week’s episode of the Buzby Dog podcast, where I have a true confession to make. I went to bed at six o’clock last night. So that is suboptimal when you have eight kids and three dogs and leave dad in the middle of dinner. But I had taken a dose of allergy medication. I usually don’t take any medications and it just wiped me out. I was nonfunctional. So this morning I had to explain to several people why I had unfulfilled obligations, unanswered texts, unanswered emails and so on. And the most common, very gracious response that I received was I’m so glad you listened to your body. And this is something I’m definitely getting better at the older I get. And when I do it pays dividends, I feel and look better this morning than I have in a long time. But my mind jumped to our voiceless dogs these precious creatures who depend on us to be their advocates, right?
Dr. Buzby: (01:27)
And as a veterinarian, I subconsciously understand just from observation over the years that certain postures or certain behaviors and dogs are usually associated with certain diagnoses. There’s a certain trail I’m going to follow diagnostically. When I see a certain posture or behavior in a dog basically that’s listening to the dog’s body. And then I got excited because this isn’t rocket science. I’m excited because I want to share this with you. And I think it might be very helpful to you, and I know you want the absolute best for your dog, that longest happiest and healthiest life. And so here are seven examples of how you can listen to your dog’s body and what it might mean. So number one is lameness or limping. If your dog is favoring a leg, and clients often come in with a dog that’s limping. And I’m surprised it’s a very high percentage of them that say, as they’re explaining, you know, and I wonder how long it’s been going on, that will say, I don’t think the dog’s in pain.
Dr. Buzby: (02:27)
I don’t think my dog’s in pain, but he is really not using his right front leg. Well, let’s clear that up right here. And know your dog’s in pain. If he weren’t in pain, he would be fully weight-bearing on that leg. The reason he’s not is because it hurts to do so. So if your dog’s limping I think it’s reasonable to wait, like, you know, 15, 20, 30 minutes and see if it resolves on its own. I don’t think dogs get stubbed toes, so to speak like we do, but they can have some sort of a transient injury, something that’s going to spontaneously resolve. They’re playing in the yard or something happens in the house. And then they’ll favor the leg for a little bit, but very, very quickly, they’re going to go back to completely 100% normal. And that’s your obvious sign that it was nothing to worry about.
Dr. Buzby: (03:14)
However, if your dog is limping for any amount of time, I’m talking hours, today and certainly onward, that is something that needs to be seen by your veterinarian. Please call them, make an appointment because I can promise you, your dog is hurting. Number two, is a hunched back. So picture this, in your mind and has different names of roached back and arched back, but basically the, the backbone, the top line of the dog being a little hunched, if this is a sudden onset problem. So sometimes we see very senior dogs with arthritis and they have sort of a roach or a hunch to their back. Certainly it’s not normal in them either, but it’s just a part of who they are. And as addressed in their pain and mobility management program, I’m talking about a dog who basically has a normal top line. And then one day doesn’t. Two things we think about that…
Dr. Buzby: (04:08)
I’m sure back pain has jumped into your mind. And that is accurate when they have back pain specifically, a disc issue often will change the way that they carry their back. But the other thing is tummy pain, gastrointestinal problems, pancreas inflammation called pancreatitis stomach issues. When that happens, often the dog will change their posture either by hunching their back or sometimes preferring to get into a position. I think it’s called the, preacher position in yoga downward dog, or they’ll have their haunches up in the back. And they’ll go down into a praying position in the front and they’ll do that to relieve pressure off of their GI tract. So whatever symptom you see of the ones that I’ve just mentioned, it can be associated with a problem in the dog that’s typically, again, very painful back pain, tummy pain hurts and it red flag, and you need to call your veterinarian.
Dr. Buzby: (05:04)
Number three is kind of a strange one. It’s called dead tail. I did a whole podcast on it called Dead Tail And Dogs, you can find that on our website, toegrips.com. It’s something that I never learned in vet school. I learned it through trial and error, basically having a dog who was misdiagnosed early early in my practice. And then seeing a fair amount of it after that, including in my own dog. And this goes by many synonyms, I’m just going to name a few: cold tail, broken tail, limber tail, swimmer’s tail. Basically the bottom line is that the tail just kind of hangs limp at the hind end of the dog. The dog may look fairly normal, and then you get to your eye scanning the dog, you get to the back where the tail is the base of the tail and boom, that tail’s just hanging limp.
Dr. Buzby: (05:55)
There’s little to no warnung that it’s happening. And it’s because movement is very painful. If you go to touch around the base of the tail, it’s very painful. And last week’s podcast was about my family’s evacuation from the path of hurricane Florence. And when we got out of the car, my husband said, what’s wrong with Jake’s tail? And I immediately, without even, and looking at him thought, oh, my heaven, he’s got dead tail because I can’t imagine what else would cause my husband to say that. And indeed, I looked at him and then his tail was hanging low and he wasn’t really moving it. So I went over and touched him. He had just gotten out of the car after a several hour evacuation journey. And I got out with him and he was on the leash and I just palpated it.
Dr. Buzby: (06:37)
I just pressed gently and manipulated my hands around the base of his tail. And he wasn’t painful. So that was a good sign. So I just took the leash and offered him a short little walk and some words of encouragement. And within a few paces, he was back to wagging his tail and it was up and he was happy. So I think he was holding the tail that way, as a result of just the emotional toll that evacuation has on everyone. But that’s the first thing that I thought was, oh, this limp tail was that something’s wrong with his tail. This is going to be dead tail. This is a super painful condition. My sister had this with her dog and I go into the whole details on this other podcast. I just mentioned, but that was her assumption. She said, oh my heavens, my dog has broken tail.
Dr. Buzby: (07:18)
He’s like broken bones in his tail and that’s not the case at all, but it was in that situation. And I think typically that’s a common thought because of the way it presents. And I guess it’s physically possible for a dog to break bones in the tail. I’ve never seen that, but it’s dead tail. And it is sometimes called broken tail. Does happen, it’s very painful. If you see something wrong with your dog’s tail, contact your veterinarian. All right. I just mentioned that tail pain. The next thing I’m going to mention, number four, is one of the most painful conditions I see in veterinary medicine, it’s cervical disc disease. So let me translate that into English. Cervical is the neck area. So it’s pain coming from a disc issue in the neck, and it’s often excruciatingly painful. I would rank this as one of my top five, most painful things I see in pets movement hurts.
Dr. Buzby: (08:10)
And so to guard against that, and as a self-preservation mechanism, these dogs don’t really move their neck. And here’s what you’re observing when you’re listening to your dog’s body. So to speak, they will hold their neck very still, but they’ll look at you with their eyes. So they’ll, they’ll move their eyes to be able to follow you or follow the treat or whatever, you know, they’re interested in. And they may even move their entire body to reposition. So their eyes have a greater peripheral view, but they’re not really wanting to move that neck at all. So the neck and the head aren’t swinging around, they’re just following anything that they want with a tracking motion only with their eyes. And if you take your hands and gently feel down the sides of their neck, and typically one, if not both sides will feel hard as a rock.
Dr. Buzby: (09:00)
And that’s because of muscle spasm. This is a very serious condition. It can lead in a worse case scenario to paralysis, but again, just for the degree of pain involved, get the dog to the veterinarian right away, please. Number five, another painful condition. And that’s ear pain. We’re dealing with this now, while we were evacuated, we swam a lot in a pool. We went south to Florida. And so it’s a little strange to think we evacuated to Florida, but it was out of the hurricane’s path and we had access to a pool. We swam a ton and I have a child now who got “swimmer’s ear” while we were away. Oh, my heavens. He is so painful. His ear is so sore that if I accidentally touched it, I was giving him kind of the dog physical exam where I’m checking it and feeling it and he just burst into tears.
Dr. Buzby: (09:48)
And he was hysterical because he was in so much pain and he’s a pretty tough kid. So he’s now on day two of topical eardrops, or I guess day three, topical eardrops and antibiotics for the ear. But again, he’s still really painful. And so if your dog has a painful ear, you may see one or more of the following symptoms as you’re listening to your dog’s body when he is pawing at the ear. And I’ll just throw in here are parenthetically pawing at the mouth. It’s the same kind of thing that would indicate a mouth problem, mouth pain. So back to the ears, pawing at the ear, rubbing the ear on the ground or on furniture, holding the ear in a funny way. They have muscles that control the movement of the ear. And so they can hold it at kind of a funny angle or with a funny tilt.
Dr. Buzby: (10:38)
And then one of the most common is just shaking their head. If you see this, you’re going to gently pick up the ear. You’re going to look in there and see if you notice any debris, discharge or discoloration. If ear is red, it is inflamed and you’re going to give it the sniff test where you’re literally going to put your nose up to the ear, take a big whiff and see if anything smells, uh, funky for lack of a better word. Now you have two ears, so you can compare them. Sometimes dogs get bilateral ear infections, meaning on both sides. In which case, comparing them, doesn’t really help because they’re both abnormal. But if it’s just one side, you can clearly see the difference between the good side and the bad side. And again, call your veterinarian, explain to them what’s going on and get your dog seen because it hurts.
Dr. Buzby: (11:24)
And the faster you get treatment, the faster you’ll get it resolved. Number six is a squinty eye. Yes. I said squinty by that. I mean, the dog is not holding the eye completely open. And this is, is a symptom of eye pain. Most commonly a corneal ulcer. When I was in my first job as a veterinarian, it was very stressful. Apparently our profession can be rough and I was covering a ton of hours and oncall all the time. And seeing horses, cats, dogs, everything in between. And I just started grinding my teeth really badly at night. I think it’s because I was a new veterinarian and it was just a lot of pressure. So that manifested as my hair falling out in clumps and me grinding my teeth. Thankfully over time you, you develop. I’m sure all of us have, you know, new to our profession stories over time, we develop a little more mastery and a little more balance in our life and things are great.
Dr. Buzby: (12:25)
I love being a veterinarian so much. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but that first year was tough. So my point is I was grinding my teeth and in doing so I, you know, obviously was causing harm to my jaw and bite and all kinds of things. So I went to dentist who said, oh, no problem. I’ll make you a mouth guard. Well, this was twenty some years ago. She didn’t place protective eyewear on me while she was taking her drill and grinding down this plastic mouth guard and a piece of the plastic or acrylic or whatever, it shot off and ricocheted into my eye. And I felt it. And I’m like, oh, that really hurts. I think a piece of that got my eye. Well, she was obviously horrified. She canceled her appointments and personally drove me to the emergency ophthalmology doctor.
Dr. Buzby: (13:16)
And they were able to flush my eye and then manually with some sort of little tweezer-like instrument extract, this piece of plastic that was now embedded in my eyelid. So every time I was opening and closing, my eye was scratching my cornea. What’s my point in that long story? Well, my point is that the cornea has a lot of nerve endings and it was extremely painful and I was unable to hold my eye fully open because of the pain. I was squinting. Your dog will do the same. So if your dog is looking at you with two wide open eyes and you think the dog has a eye problem call a vet to discuss it. If your dog is squinting and continues squint, like we talked about with lameness, it’s not something that resolves in 15 or 20 minutes that you’ve got this continual squint going on.
Dr. Buzby: (14:06)
I would absolutely recommend having your dog seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible because eye issues can rapidly deteriorate and become emergencies fast. So again, your dog’s squinting. One of the eyes typically that’s indicative of corneal pain and I would recommend a vet visit ASAP. All right, number seven is the grand finale. This is probably common sense, but it’s repeated licking. So your dog’s just constantly and obsessively licking a part of his or her body. Sometimes we see this with allergies. This is actually the most common manifestation, a dog licking at their paws or their toes, or even kind of biting at or chewing at their paws and toes. And these dogs, if they’re a light colored dog, you’ll see what we call saliva staining. This brown staining that that will occur in the hair because of the constant exposure to saliva. And so that’s a problem.
Dr. Buzby: (15:01)
There’s a lot of really great new medications out there for treating dog allergies and dogs. Maybe I should give some to myself, but my point is, if you’ve had dogs in the past with allergies and you think, ah, you know, there’s really no option — that either have to go on Benadryl, which doesn’t really help, or they have to go on steroids. And I hate steroids because of all the side effects. You know, I’m just going to let my dog be as it is and hope for better days to come. When the weather changes, I can tell you that that’s the way it is. There are now some really cool, very specific medications in veterinary medicine that work really well and are much, much, much safer than steroids. And so I would encourage you to see your vet and talk about these things. If your dog has allergies, or if you don’t know your dog has allergies, but they’re constantly licking at their paws and their feet.
Dr. Buzby: (15:53)
But there’s some other things as well. If the dog’s licking over a joint consistently that can indicate pain and that joint, if it’s a female dog consistently licking the hind end end around the vulva I sometimes see that with a urinary tract infection in dogs who are, are licking around their anus. We see that with food allergies, we see that with internal parasites. And we see that of course, with anal gland problems and many dogs that lick excessively, just kind of randomly even lick the furniture, floor, things in the house and that can be a sign of upper gastrointestinal disease. So a gastrointestinal issue, all of these things, merit a veterinary visit because the dog’s not comfortable. Bottom line. We’re listening to our dog’s body and we’re saying, okay, this is abnormal. And it’s not just within the scope of abnormal that we can write off as a behavioral issue that is not acting in the best interest of the dog’s physical or emotional health.
Dr. Buzby: (16:56)
We’re saying this is abnormal. And it is likely associated with some sort of a physical problem that needs to be addressed both for my dog’s long term health, but also just because it may be painful or uncomfortable, and we don’t want our dogs to live like that. So I hope this is helpful. I hope you listen to your body because certainly this will help you live a longer, happier, healthier life. And we can work on that together, but we certainly owe the same things to our dogs. We owe them doing our best to listen to their bodies. And I hope that these seven interesting doggy behaviors will stick in your mind as red flags. If you ever see them you should make a point to have a visit with your veterinarian or a minimum, just call the office and discuss them with the doctor or one of the technicians there and decide at that point, how to triage the dog, so to speak and where to go from there. All right, there, you have it. Seven ways. You can listen to your dog’s body. Tune in next week, where we’ll dive deeper into other ways to help your dog live the longest happiest, healthiest life possible. Thanks.
And now a message from Dr. Buzby’s mailbag. Just wanted to send a quick note to say thank you and share another life changing story. Our lab mix, Pepper, is 15. He had been slipping and sliding around our hardwood floors over the past year. I just happened to see a friend’s post about ToeGrips and decided to try them immediately. There was in improvement in his walking and Pepper’s quality of life has been restored. ToeGrips are quite an amazing invention. Thank you for designing such a cool product. It really means a lot to us to see Pepper live his golden years more comfortably ~ Mike and Michelle Baltimore. For more info or to help your dog, get a grip, go to ToeGrips.com.
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