If you are a dog owner, you know that dogs are emotional animals. They experience joy, sadness, fear, and even pain. When it comes to pain, though, dogs may not show obvious signs. A dog in pain won’t necessarily cry out, walk with a limp, or show any obvious signs of discomfort.
Let’s go over some of the reasons why your dog may be hurting, how to recognize signs of pain in dogs, and steps you can take to help your pet.
Why Is My Dog in Pain?
As much as we try to protect our dogs, it’s highly likely that they will experience some form of pain in their lifetime. Pain can be caused for a variety of reasons, including sudden injuries, illnesses, and chronic diseases.
Traumatic events, such as altercations with other dogs, falls, and playtime injuries can all hurt our beloved canine companions. Acute illnesses (e.g., pancreatitis, gastroenteritis) and infections (e.g., ear infections, anal gland infections) also cause pain in dogs.
Dogs may also develop chronic diseases over time that are painful to them, such as dental disease or osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a progressive, degenerative disease of the joints. It can occur in any breed, size, or shape of dog, and can become more and more painful as time goes on. It may cause them to move more slowly, limp, and have trouble getting up or lying down (1). In addition, many dog breeds, such as Dachshunds and Basset Hounds, can suffer from back pain due to their anatomy (2).
6 Sneaky Signs a Dog Could Be in Pain
While some dogs may show obvious signs of pain, such as whining, limping, or shaking, others are more stoic and hide their pain (1). This may be due to their ancestry of living in the wild, where only the strong survive. If they show weakness, they may be more vulnerable to an attack. Here are six sneaky signs to watch out for that may indicate a dog is in pain:
Change in social interaction
Dogs in pain may avoid or even hide from their family (3). They may also become quiet and withdrawn. This may be because they are trying to protect themselves from further pain by staying isolated. If your dog is sleeping in odd places, avoiding contact with others, isn’t interested in playing anymore, or otherwise not acting like themselves, pain could be to blame. Keep in mind that every dog is an individual, which means some pets may do the opposite and become clingy and want to be near their owner. The key word here is “change” in the way they behave or interact with you. What are they doing that they didn’t do before or what are they not doing that they used to do?
Sudden onset of aggression
Dogs that suddenly become reactive or aggressive may also be suffering from pain (3). Again, they may be trying to protect themselves from further pain, or they may be trying to tell you to stay away. If your dog is acting aggressive, you should reach out to your veterinarian—especially if this behavior is uncharacteristic of your pet.
Reluctance to jump, climb stairs, or run
Many times, dogs that are experiencing some sort of back pain or orthopedic pain may not perform everyday tasks like they used to (3). For instance, dogs in pain may hesitate to go up or down stairs or jump up on the couch—or they may avoid doing these things altogether. They may also have a tough time lying down or getting up after lying down due to pain and stiffness. A dog in pain may not want to run around or play fetch in the backyard as usual either.
Oftentimes dogs in pain will experience reduced appetite (4). If your dog is ordinarily a chow hound, it will be easy to tell when she is not feeling well if she chooses to skip a meal. If your dog is a grazer or has always been a little picky, however, it might be more difficult to detect if she does not want to eat as much. There are many other potential causes for a decrease in appetite, such as upset stomach, foreign body ingestion, or pancreatitis, so it’s best to contact your veterinarian if your dog isn’t eating.
Change in walk and posture
If your dog is suddenly walking or standing in a strange manner, your pet may be in pain. You may notice your dog slowing down or lagging behind on walks, or stiffness in your dog’s back legs. Abnormal posture, such as hunched back, could indicate back, neck, or even abdominal pain (4). Dogs in pain may tuck their tails between their legs or sit with their back legs kicked out. Other potential signs of discomfort may include squinting eyes and flinching on touch.
Excessive licking or chewing
Pain can manifest in many different ways, and dogs may not completely comprehend what is going on when it happens. They may repeatedly lick or chew at the affected area to try to alleviate the pain (3). If your dog is compulsively licking or chewing at herself, she could also be suffering from a behavioral problem or skin condition.
If your dog is displaying any of the signs discussed above, consult your veterinarian to determine the cause of your dog’s behavioral or physical changes.
How to Help a Dog in Pain
If you are even a little bit suspicious that your dog is in pain, the first thing you should do is contact your veterinarian. Do not administer any pain relief medication without being instructed to do so by your vet. It is especially important that you don’t just reach for human over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, because these can do more harm than good. Your vet will make sure that your dog receives the right type of pain relief and at the right dose. He or she will also check if your dog has any health conditions or is receiving any other medications that can make taking pain relief medications more risky. There are pain control products, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), that have been developed especially for dogs. Your veterinarian will advise you if other therapies can be practiced at home, such as a cold or warm compress or cage rest. Self-treating your pet may increase the risk of further injury or illness, so please talk to your veterinarian before administering any sort of treatments to your dog.
- Sharkey, Michele. “The challenges of assessing osteoarthritis and postoperative pain in dogs.” The AAPS journal vol. 15,2 (2013): 598-607. doi:10.1208/s12248-013-9467-5
- Packer, Rowena M A et al. “How long and low can you go? Effect of conformation on the risk of thoracolumbar intervertebral disc extrusion in domestic dogs.” PloS one vol. 8,7 e69650. 24 Jul. 2013, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069650
- Mills DS, Demontigny-Bédard I, Gruen M, et al. Pain and Problem Behavior in Cats and Dogs. Animals (Basel). 2020;10(2):318. Published 2020 Feb 18. doi:10.3390/ani10020318
- Hernandez-Avalos I, Mota-Rojas D, Mora-Medina P, et al. Review of different methods used for clinical recognition and assessment of pain in dogs and cats. Int J Vet Sci Med. 2019;7(1):43-54. Published 2019 Nov 18. doi:10.1080/23144599.2019.1680044
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