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Fact Checked By
Dr. Jamie Whittenburg, DVM
All pet parents want to ensure that their dogs are living a happy and pain-free life.
But do you know how to tell if your canine companion is in pain?
It is well known that dogs hide their pain from the world, and there is actually a reason for this behavior.
Descended from wolves, domestic dogs continue to hide their illnesses and injuries as their predecessors did, so that they will not be seen as weak.
Evolutionary-wise, this was essential to keep them from being a target for predators.
However, this approach makes it hard for well-meaning owners to know when their beloved pet is hurting or needs medical care.
Luckily, knowing what to look for can enable pet parents to know when their dogs are hurting and when it is time to get help.
Panting is a very often misinterpreted behavior in dogs. Dogs cannot sweat and use panting to help cool off. However, panting is also associated with pain and anxiety.
If a panting dog is in a cool environment and has not been exercising, pain should be considered as a top cause.
Often, shaking is seen in addition to panting and can range from a slight tremor to all-over body shaking.
Dogs that are experiencing pain will often withdraw from their daily lives and families.
A once exuberant, happy pup, when in pain, will be found hiding in the back of the closet, under the bed, or behind the shed in the backyard.
Reluctance to be around humans and even other animals is a red flag that the dog may be painful.
Dogs are a person’s best friend, and they love to be petted and played with.
However, a dog in pain will show puzzling behavior changes that often manifest in a grumpy dog that just doesn’t seem himself.
This painful pup may shy away when a human comes near or may duck his head or back when he’s petted.
Painful dogs may even nip or bite those who try to pet or touch them.
Unable to communicate that they are in pain and the touching is hurting them, they are left with no other way to tell anyone to stop.
This behavior may also be directed towards other humans in the house or animal friends who come too close.
When a dog is in pain and not feeling well, the last thing on its mind is food.
Whether it is their stomach that hurts, or something else, it is typical for one of the first signs to be a reduction in their appetite or an outright refusal of food.
Some dogs can be picky eaters and show these behaviors from time to time normally, so it is essential to know your dog.
If the inappetence is out of character or goes on longer than expected, it can be a sign that something is amiss.
A dog in pain is many times also a dog that cannot be still.
Pain causes restlessness as the pet cannot find a comfortable position, and the pain doesn’t relent, even when they try to rest.
Standing up and lying back down over and over, circling, pacing, and pawing at bedding can all be signs that your pup is hurting.
Just as in humans, a limp seen in a dog means that something hurts. Limping can be a sign of an injury to a leg but can also be seen with neck and back injuries.
The cause can range anywhere from a sticker in a paw to nerve damage to broken bones and more.
If a dog is in enough pain that it is causing a noticeable change to its gait, it is something that needs to be seen by a veterinarian.
Sadly, our canine companions cannot talk to us and tell us what is hurting them or where it hurts.
However, many times if we pay enough attention, they will tell us without words.
Dogs tend to lick the areas of their body that hurt. This is true for wounds as well as musculoskeletal injuries and arthritic joints.
Many times, even if we do not see the dog licking, it is possible to identify areas of pain by looking for salivary staining on the fur.
There can be other causes for licking, from allergies to anxiety; however, if a dog begins to lick in a new area or was not previously prone to licking, pain should be considered as a cause.
What To Do Next:
If you have determined that your dog may be in pain, rest assured that you have already taken an enormous step in the right direction just by being aware and paying attention to your furry friend.
The first thing to do is determine how severe the situation is and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
Your regular veterinarian can see most cases as a scheduled appointment, but if your dog is in severe distress, has difficulty breathing, is bleeding, or has a broken bone, please immediately take them to the nearest emergency hospital.
While waiting for your pet’s appointment, there are a few things you can do for your pet to help.
Always remember that you know your dog the best and he is counting on you for help when he is hurting. Watching for these 7 signs of pain can help both you and your pet enjoy many happy years together.
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