When it's medical, not behavioral.
Today we had a 10-something year old dog come in to see us for sudden increase in aggression. He'd had a tough time lately: just moved back to the states, crazy little boys running around, an anxious sister, and a patchy history. He has a lot of baggage and, considering that, he does a great job of taking care of himself.
The family was obviously concerned about the safety of their child. Any self-respecting parent would be. They do a fantastic job of managing their household and preventing problems. They noticed things like in
creased irritability after more exercise, sporadic limping, less activity that before. Things have been changing and they've asked several veterinarians for help. No one listened.
The theory goes that a dog this age is probably about 70-80 years old in human years. I'm not even in my 30's yet and I can tell you I frequently have pain in my foot and ankle. I limp periodically. It's not enough that I'm going to make a big deal out of it; it's just part of life. So now we have an elderly dog who is sporadically lame, has increased aggression, and no one, NO ONE, except the owners seem to think it could have anything to do with arthritis pain?
This is not the first time we've have clients come to us with issues that are based mostly out of pain. Another pain case was surrounding the star of Admiral's Advocacy, a fantastic non-profit organization in our area. Admiral came to us with a similar history: sudden increase in aggression. Turns out, he had a poorly amputated leg as a youngster and had been suffering with chronic pain ever since. There's another one, Forest, a middle age German Shepherd who has experienced horrible physical abuse and genetic abnormalities. Several surgeries later, no one seemed to think he could possibly be painful...
As veterinary professionals, we're constantly telling our clients that pets are stoic. They don't want anyone to know they're painful. How many times has a Labrador come traipsing into a vet clinic after being hit by a car, tail wagging, and not shown a lick of pain? You cannot possibly believe that dog is not painful. Why can't we take our own advice? We should be assuming that dogs experience pain under similar circumstances, in similar ways, and at similar intensities.
I think it's sad that a family needed to see a veterinary behaviorist in order to get the pain management their dog needed. We need to be doing better by our patients.