If you think you can spot the signs that your dog is in pain, you should know that I missed them, when one of my dogs was sick. Bear was my big, lovable, smart as a whip, 106lb. German shepherd. One evening after dinner, he sat down next to the sofa where I was sitting and starred at me. He wouldn’t take his eyes off of me the whole night.
The next morning, I took Bear to see our veterinarian. He was diagnosed with a fast-growing cancer called Hemangiosarcoma.
The warning signs that he was in pain were subtle and hard to detect. There was no whining or crying, pacing or agitation. Instead, my dog asked for help to relieve his pain with his eyes.
Dogs are masters at hiding their pain. It’s up to us as their guardians, to recognize the signs and get our dogs the help they need. And while the indicators of pain vary from dog to dog, all canines feel and show signs when they’re in pain.
It’s up to us to become experts at recognizing the physical symptoms and behavior changes that mean your pup is suffering.
General physical symptoms of pain in dogs
When dogs are in pain, they often exhibit changes in how they carry themselves. These physical signs of pain include:
Shaking or Trembling
If your pet isn’t generally fearful and doesn’t suffer from an anxiety disorder, trembling is a common signal that he’s feeling pain or discomfort.
Humans develop tight muscles from time to time after we’ve done too much yardwork or more exercise than our bodies can handle. Our canine companions can experience painful, tight muscles when they’ve exerted themselves or when they have a condition such as arthritis.
Holding head down below the shoulders
Holding the neck down below the shoulders is a common symptom of dogs with neck pain. This type of pain is related to a spinal cord problem or a degenerative disc disease like Intervertebral Disc Disease.
Arching the back more frequently than usual, is a common sign in dogs of back pain or a problem with the spine.
Some dogs show they’re in pain by panting excessively. The short, labored breathing happens even when the pet isn’t hot or thirsty.
According to The Merck Veterinary Manual, a decrease in activity and a new response to a game or a treat, can all be indicators of pain.
Changes in your dog’s gait
A change to the way your dog walks and moves is almost always a sign of pain. This can mean an obvious or subtle limp, an unsteady gait, knuckling under a paw or crossing of the rear legs. The cause can range from muscle or joint pain to an orthopedic problem or a neurologic condition.
Behavioral signs of pain in dogs
All dogs are unique and so are their individual behavior changes when they’re experiencing pain. To tell if you dog is showing symptoms of discomfort, watch for changes in your dog’s normal behavior. Most dogs don’t act like “themselves” when in pain.
They may display one or more of the following behavior changes:
- Increased vocalization
- Excessive licking
- Favoring one side of the body over the other
- Aggression that wasn’t previously present
Becoming withdrawn and disengaging from family members
Your dog may stop taking part in activities or even hide to protect himself from feeling more pain.
Signs to watch for:
- Reluctant to be held or touched
- Lack of desire to be involved in family life
- Lack of interest in activities your dog usually enjoys, such as going for walks
- Avoiding or having a hard time going up and down the stairs
- Hiding behind or beneath furniture
- Difficulty lying down, getting up from the ground, or walking
- Urinating in the house
Dog doesn’t want to play
If your dog is usually the first to initiate play, either with you or at the dog park, and he shows no interest in his usual game of fetch, something is bothering him.
Change in eating habits
There are many possible explanations for decreased interest in food. However, (acute or chronic) pain anywhere in your dog’s body can interfere with the appetite or your dog’s ability to reach his food and water.
A new dislike to being touched
If your dog has always loved being touched and develops an intense dislike for being petted or groomed, there is a good chance it’s due to pain. Like humans, dogs want to protect painful joints and limbs. Therefore, they avoid interactions where someone else might touch them and accidentally cause pain.
Change in sleep habits
Disrupted sleep is common in dogs who are in pain. Often lying in one position for an extended period puts pressure on joints. During the day, the stiffness or pain may be less noticeable because movement helps the joints stay mobile. Your dog may wake in the night due to pain and shift positions to get comfortable. If this happens several times during the night, you may find your pup sleeping more during the day.
Pain with mobility
Many dogs experience pain when they walk due to old-age, arthritis, hip and knee problems and diseases in the spine. It can cause severe discomfort when they move, climb stairs or get themselves up from a lying position.
If your dog has pain or trouble with mobility, she may be apprehensive about specific behaviors that once caused no problem. You could notice some of the following signs:
- Reluctance to go up or down stairs
- Hesitance to walk on slippery surfaces
- Becoming more careful about jumping up on or down
- Limiting running and jumping
- Using the front legs to stand up first
- Placing an abnormal amount of weight on the front legs
- Abnormal wear on nails
If your dog isn’t acting like himself, chances are he isn’t feeling well. Make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your vet will be able to determine the cause of the pain and the medical problem.
While waiting for your appointment, keep your pup as calm as possible.
Once your vet determines the cause of the pain, your dog will be able to start the road to recovery.
Story contributed by animal writer, Lauren Lee.