While things like limping or whining every time they put pressure on an area are pretty sure signs of a dog in pain, symptoms aren’t always that clear. For dog’s wolf ancestors, showing signs of weakness made a wolf vulnerable – and being vulnerable was dangerous. Therefore it’s not in a dog’s nature to show when they are hurt, sick or injured.
As with many other aspects of caring for your dog, these signs will be more obvious to you if you have a good idea of your dog’s “normal” behaviours – this involves his attitude, energy level, thirst, appetite, sleep patterns and other behavioural patterns. There are a number of subtle things that you can watch for if you’re worried that your pooch might be hurting more than he’s letting on.
1. Excessive grooming
When dogs are hurt, usually one of their first instincts is to clean their wound by licking it. This is obvious if it’s a visible cut but even when the pain is internal, dogs tend to lick that area to try and fix the problem. If your dog is suffering with some sort of eye pain, look out for this sign too. Dogs will lick their paws to rub their eyes if this is the case. It’s not always obvious that something hurts, but it is usually easy to tell that something isn’t quite right when you catch your pup chewing and licking a certain spot.
2. Change in breathing
Is your dog panting even though he hasn’t been exercising? Dogs experiencing pain may have a faster and more shallow breathing pattern than normal. While panting is fairly normal for dogs, if they are panting at odd times or for no reason this can be an indication of pain.
3. Loss of appetite
If a dog is hurting they are less likely to eat normally. Watch for loss of appetite. If it lasts more than a day, a visit to the vet is in order. Also look out for excessive drooling as this can indicate nausea
4. Being vocal
Even if they’re trying to be tough, dogs in pain tend to be more vocal, but unless this is paired with a specific physical action, it’s not always easy to spot immediately. A hurt dog may express this vocally in a number of ways: whining, whimpering, yelping, growling, snarling, and even howling. Carefully examining your dog’s body may help you discover where the pain is. However a dog that is usually vocal may become quiet when it is in pain which is why it’s important to be familiar with your dog’s normal behaviour!
A dog with pain may become increasingly restless. Whether it’s pacing, repeatedly readjusting position or getting up and down frequently – these can all be cause for concern. Check them over if you notice they are sitting or lying in a strange position or if they keep trying to sit or lie down and almost immediately get up and move again.
6. Aggressive behaviour
If your dog suddenly shows aggressive behaviour, it may be because he’s in pain. Be especially alert to the sudden onset of aggression in a dog over the age of four, because dogs that age (or older) with no history of aggression rarely behave this way unless something is wrong. There are exceptions, of course, but out-of-the-blue aggression in an older dog can often be linked to pain. Remember that when injured, many animals will go into protection mode and try to get you to stay away because they’re worried you’ll hurt them. This may mean that your normally docile dog suddenly starts growling, pinning his ears back, and even biting if you do something that worries him.
7. Having “accidents”
While it’s normal for puppies to take a little time to get used to the concept of going outside to use the toilet, for other dogs, having accidents indoors could be an indicator of a variety of issues including obvious ones like a urinary tract infection to less obvious ones like inflammatory bowel disease. Perhaps your pet doesn’t want to climb down the stairs to the garden because his legs hurt, or straining puts stress on an aching back so your dog puts off “going” as long as possible until he just can’t hold it.
8. Change in posture
Dogs who are in pain may become rigid, while others may assume a position with their front legs on the ground, their bottom in the air, and a stretch throughout their abdomen. It looks like a bow, but is often a tell-tale sign they are in pain. These posture changes can be subtle too – whether it’s an arched or sunken back, or even a dropped or tucked tail in a dog who normally has a perky tail.
9. Eye Changes
The eyes can be great indicators of pain in dogs. They change both for eye pain itself and for pain elsewhere in the body. Often pain elsewhere in the body will result in dilated pupils, while pain in the eyes can result in either larger or smaller pupils – depending on the underlying injury or disease process, and whether one or both eyes are affected.
At the end of the day you are your dogs best friend and closest ally! You know your dog’s behaviour better than anyone else so if you’re concerned or if anything seems out of place, get them checked out at the vets just in case.