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What Pet Parents Should Know About Myofascial Pain In Dogs & Cats

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Lindsay Butzer, DVM
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Dr. Lindsay Butzer
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Long haired Dachshund closing eyes as pet parent massages myofascial trigger point on back

Every pet has their quirks, and many are harmless features of our pet’s unique personalities. But did you know that some quirky behaviors can actually indicate a chronic pain disorder called Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

In honor of Animal Pain Awareness Month, learn about the weird behaviors that can point to pain, and what to look for if your pet might be experiencing this uncomfortable phenomenon.


What is The Myofascial Pain in Pets?

To understand myofascial pain, it’s essential to understand how this structure works.

Fascia is a network of stringy tissue, primarily made up of collagen, that surrounds every muscle, bone, and organ in your pet’s body. It’s often compared to the white pith that surrounds each section when you peel an orange.
Fascia tissue is strong and flexible, allowing components within your pet’s body to move around smoothly while staying securely in place.

Myofascia refers specifically to the muscles of the body and their surrounding fascial tissue.
All animals, including dogs, cats, and even humans, have fascia. The majority of people and pets will experience acute fascia pain at some point, while some experience chronic myofascial pain that can cause pain and stiffness in day-to-day life.
At times, the fascia can become tight, or it may develop knots, also known as trigger points. When a trigger point is agitated, either through movement or direct pressure, there may be localized pain, and there can also be stiffness and muscle spasms.


Symptoms of Myofascial Pain in Pets

Retriever looks up as pet parent touches the back of his head

Does your pet twitch or grimace when you touch a certain spot? It might be a trigger point - not just a quirk.

It’s important to note that myofascial trigger points can cause referred pain, which can affect a part of the body far away from the trigger point, usually radiating outwards from the center of the body. For example, a trigger point in the lower back can cause pain in the legs, knees, and feet.

Trigger points are typically found along the back, pelvis, or shoulders. You may notice unusual twitching, pain or stiffness that may come and go, or your pet may sometimes have unexpected reactions to petting, massage, or getting picked up.


Signs of Myofascial Pain in Pets can include:

  • Yelping or screaming when handled
  • Anxious temperament
  • Avoiding being pet or picked up
  • Restricted range of motion, unusual posture or gait
  • Jumpy or twitching reaction when trigger spot is touched
  • Frequent rolling over on back
  • Lack of kinesthetic sense, pet may seem clumsy or have poor balance
  • Muscle spasms when trigger spot is touched, especially along back
  • Stiffness upon waking that may improve throughout the day
  • Tingling or numbness in limbs, may manifest as paw-licking


What Can Cause Myofascial Pain in Pets?

Myofascial pain can be acute or chronic. In pets with an acute myofascial pain issue, symptoms may be noticed following a traumatic injury like falling off a bed or getting hit by a car. Acute pain can become chronic when an injury does not heal properly. Musculoskeletal issues like osteoarthritis or intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) can also contribute to the development of chronic myofascial pain.


  • Repeated strain on muscles and joints, like jumping on and off furniture
  • Repeated overuse, especially in working dogs or animal athletes
  • Poor posture, possibly from unclipped nails (in dogs) or from use of a poorly fitted harness or collar
  • Dehydration
  • Vitamin D or folate deficiencies
  • Chronic infection
  • Metabolic issues like hypothyroidism
  • Traumatic injury like a fall or car accident

While causes of myofascial pain are often inevitable, it’s helpful to make sure your pet gets plenty of rest after intense exercise or anytime the muscles may be overworked. Always make sure their collar, harness, and other equipment fit properly. If your pet suffers an injury, or may be suffering from previous injuries, even unknown injuries that may have occurred before you adopted your pet, seek professional care to prevent, diagnose, or treat existing pain.


How Is Myofascial Pain Diagnosed and Treated?

Myofascial pain is not well understood and can be difficult to diagnose and treat. If your pet suffers from pain, stiffness, muscle spasms, or other concerning symptoms, your veterinarian can conduct a physical exam, usually using gentle pressure to find trigger points, and may use radiographs or other tests to rule out potential causes.

To treat myofascial pain, the affected fascia must be gently stimulated to help deliver oxygen and hydration to the stiff, stressed tissues. Massage, stretches, water therapy, acupuncture, and laser therapy are some of the therapies utilized to help release trigger points. Pain relievers can also be used to manage symptoms as needed.

Many pet parents report not only improved mobility and less pain in pets after treatment, but also more energy and a happier, friendlier, more easy-going pet overall. If you’re wondering if your pet may be suffering from myofascial pain, start by making an appointment with your veterinarian or scheduling an online televet appointment today. Always work with a professional, as attempting to treat an undiagnosed pain issue at home can cause your pet’s condition to worsen.



Every pet deserves to live a long, happy, healthy life.