Recognizing When Your Dog is in Pain

When we are in pain, we tend to make it known. Whether we yell out when we are jolted by pain or we hurt ourselves, whether we complain about backaches or curl up when our stomach’s bother us, and whether we retreat to a dark room and lay in silence when our head is pounding or limp when it hurts to put pressure on our leg, we have all sorts of signs that communicate to those around us our pain or discomfort.

We care about our dogs and want to keep them safe and happy, but unlike our human children who will let us know when something is bothering them physically, dogs often suffer in silence. They may limp or favor a paw to let us know something is off, but most of the time careful attention is necessary to inform us that the dog might be in pain. Most of these signs are based on changing behaviors, so we must know how our dog typically behaves in order to detect differences.

When dogs hurt, they communicate it in different ways. Here are just some of the signs to take a mental note to indicate that the dog is hurting.

Perpetual Localized Grooming

The expression of “licking their wounds” actually comes from the widely noticed habit of animals to lick the area that causes them pain. When a dog is hurting, instinctually they constantly lick the area that's bothering them. If the wound is external, it can be visible, but when the pain is coming from inside their bodies, they are still drawn to lick the area to try to soothe it away. Dogs will also lick their paws, a method of soothing themselves, and if they are bothered by their eyes, they will lick the paws, and then rub their eyes with them.

Having A Tough Time Getting Comfortable

Keep an eye on how your dog is resting. They will usually be in a similar position when they sleep, but if you notice them laying down in an unnatural state, it could indicate that pain is preventing them from lying comfortably in their typical position. They may shift around and have a hard time staying in one place. If you notice a dog lying down or sitting down, then immediately getting up and moving around again, it can be a sign that the resting position is just too painful to endure. A dog owner should be able to tell the difference between a dog’s typical level of restlessness and one that is out of character.

Changes In Eating, Drinking And Sleeping

Much like a human that is sick, dogs tend to lose their appetite when they are ailing. They may also consume less water, or conversely, depending on their condition, they may drink significantly more, while not eating much. Because the pain is much more present when awake, dogs will often be asleep for notably longer than usual. Sleep does help to heal pain, just like in human bodies, so dogs instinctively take advantage of the downtime when they don’t have to consciously deal with bothersome pain. If your dog is typically an affectionate animal, but then one day it is not by keeping its distance, keep a closer eye on the pup’s condition, and maybe get them checked out.

More Vocal and Aggressive

A quieter dog may get more vocal when in pain. Their growling, snarling, yelping, howling, or even whimpering can become excessive. These behavior changes are an indicator that something is off. Dogs may act differently towards you. A typically happy dog who is ecstatic when he sees you arrive home may go into hiding more and keep out of sight, wanting to be left alone. Increased aggression is sometimes also present as the frustrated animal could lash out at those around it due to misdirected expression of their pain, becoming more likely to bite and injure anyone who might approach.

Bodily Changes

It is important to pay attention to a dog experiencing bodily changes. If the dog's paws, legs, or face are swollen it can be a sign of anything from an infection to cancer. The dog’s posture may change as well, as they assume a rigid stance. Some dogs will keep their front legs all the way on the ground, while their hind ones stretch out in the air. This is usually a sign of abdominal discomfort. This type of ‘stretch’ allows the abdominal muscles to expand, reducing the pain.

Irregular Breathing Patterns

A dog in pain tends to have an increased respiratory rate or may pant frequently. This panting can be persistent, especially in cooler weather conditions, as cold temperatures can exacerbate muscle or joining aches. If your dog has just been racing around a park and exercising, such panting for a short period of time is not unusual, but if this happens without exercise preceding it, it may be a cause for concern.

Eye Changes

Eye problems can often cause a dog to squint more, with pupils getting smaller, while pain in other parts of their bodies could make their pupils dilate and have their eyes look bigger.

Shaking/Trembling

If the dog is experiencing shaking or is trembling a lot, it is unlikely due to it being cold. Dog’s bodies are well equipped to handle various temperature levels, but persistent trembling can be a sign of kidney issues, pancreatitis, or even poisoning. Dogs get into things they shouldn’t frequently, and like the experiment with what they eat. Of course, consumption of compost, chocolate, or any number of other toxins to a dog’s body could produce severe muscle spasms. Don’t shrug these off. If these are noticed, the dog really needs to be seen by a vet.

We take care of our friends when they are hurting or in pain. Dogs are known as our best friends, just the kind that have trouble communicating their discomforts. That's why, as owners, the onus is on us to pay attention to irregularities in their behavior that could lead us to identifying potential pains and bothers to our furry friends. That way, we can act quickly to help them feel better and medicate them as the vet recommends.