Aggression and pain in canine patients

Updated: Feb 24

So just a quick post this morning, but have been dealing with an interesting client as part of my canine physiotherapy work and thought I would share.

This gorgeous boy is Kane, he's a one year old Rottweiler who didnt have the best start in life, and when the vet referred him on to me he mentioned that he may have aggression issues which I would need to be mindful of...

Now when I say Kane didnt have the best start in life, he was the sole survivor of a litter that the mother rejected, and had to be hand reared - as such he had to be taught how to be a dog by his incredible carers. When his owner took him on as a youngster (his third home) she was fully aware that he may have some behavioural challenges, and she has done an amazing job to ensure that Kane is a friendly, happy, well balanced chap - however, every so often he will have an aggressive episode - one second happy and content, and the next rearing up, snapping and growling, without any apparent trigger. Possibly because of his background the owner has been told time and again that its a behavioural and/or training issue, however she was unconvinced and so consulted her vet, who was unable to diagnose any underlying pathology but referred him on to me, thinking that physiotherapy or massage might help.

On my first physiotherapy visit Kane was an absolute puppy dog, and although there were a few aches and pains, some muscular tension and a few gait irregularities, there was once again nothing that stood out as being an underlying cause of pain and therefore aggression. I completed a full body massage, used low level laser on some areas of pain and gave him a really good stretch just to make him more comfortable.

Second appointment however was a different story entirely...

Now anyone who works with dogs in physiotherapy knows that they have lots of different ways to tell us that they are uncomfortable - sometimes its just nudging a hand away from a particular area, occasionally if the physiotherapist doesnt get the message it might be a growl, or moving away, and Kane gave me a few indicators during our session, and at one point did give me a full on "back off" type of warning. Because he was telling me he was uncomfortable in the hind limbs I decided to focus my attention on his chest and forelimbs to give him time to relax.

It was at this point as I am palpating his pectoral muscles that Kane hits full on aggression - it was as if i'd zapped him with a cattle prod! I consider myself relatively brave, but kneeling next to a 42kg Rottweiler in full on Berserker mode is pretty humbling to say the least. Thankfully neither Kane nor I took it personally, and we were able to finish the physiotherapy session. What triggered the aggression? Scar tissue, deep in the transverse pectoral muscle, probably the best part of 4 cm long which I hadnt been able to locate during our 1st session. The owner had mentioned that as a pup Kane had some kind of mishap getting out of a van, and it seems likely this may have torn the muscle at the time but it wasnt picked up, and the second I touched it Kane reacted (some might say badly, I say naturally).

So the reason for this somewhat rambling post, is that it strikes me that in horses it is quite well understood that aggressive episodes can be indicators of pain, but is the same consideration given to dogs? All too often unprovoked aggression can be seen as a behavioural issue, whereas there may be a physical reason why a dog behaves in a certain way from time to time, and no amount of training will take away the fact that they are reacting to a pain stimulus. As physiotherapists not every client we see will be well mannered, and canine behaviour will always present challenges, but we also need to look past that to understand if there is an underlying physical cause, as opposed to just a psychological one.

I am still undecided how best to progress treatment with Kane, any kind of therapeutic ultrasound alongside manual techniques to break up the scar tissue may result in me having to re-attach some fingers at the end of the session, and I wont ask for a dog to be muzzled unless its an absolute last resort, but I am certain that with time, patience and the dedication of the owner we can make progress.

#veterinaryphysiotherapy #caninemassage #dogmassage #dogtherapy #caninetherapy #caninepsychology

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