When you suspect your dog is in pain, it makes sense to look for the usual suspects – a limp, a cut, a spot that makes your pet yelp when you touch it. However, dogs instinctually tend to hide pain as long as possible, so oftentimes symptoms go unnoticed.
To stay as in-tune with your pet’s well-being as possible, always watch for changes in behavior – almost any change could signal an injury or illness. Here are a few often-overlooked signs that your pet may be in pain.
Grouchiness or Moodiness – We always want our pets to be happy and carefree, and when they’re in good health, it’s usually easy to tell they’re content. However, if your dog starts getting “testy” with things he didn’t mind before – maybe he growls at his canine friend when the other tries to play, or even snaps at a human when they reach down to pet him – it could be a sign that something is wrong. Arthritis could make usual games painful on his joints, or maybe an inflamed organ makes the usual cuddle session uncomfortable.
Having “accidents” indoors – While it’s normal for puppies and newly-adopted dogs to take a little time to get used to the concept of going outside to use the bathroom, sometimes pets that have been successfully housetrained for years can start having accidents indoors. This could be an indicator of any variety of issues, including obvious ones like a urinary tract infection to Inflammatory Bowel Disease. It could also be a sign of other issues, however – perhaps your pet doesn’t want to climb down the stairs to the yard 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.
Panting – even in the dead of winter, sometimes dogs will pant. If they just went on a long walk or are sitting next to a roaring fire, this makes sense – but panting can also be a sign of pain and stress.
Different sleeping habits – If your dog usually jumps onto the bed to sleep with you, but suddenly stops doing so and seems to prefer the floor, this could actually be a sign that jumping up is painful for her. Also, sometimes pain can cause a dog great anxiety, since they can’t understand where it’s coming from or how to make it stop. This anxiety can lead them to try to “hide,” perhaps under a desk, the bed, or in a corner of the yard. If your dog suddenly seeks a hiding place, it could be a sign that they aren’t feeling well.
Drooling – Dogs often hypersalivate when they are in pain or are anxious. Some dogs (we’re looking at all you Newfies and St. Bernards) are naturally drooly, but keep an eye on those jowls. If they get extra-slobbery, it may be time for a trip to the vet.
Lethargy – It’s common to see an older dog moving slowly down the street. Usually, we just assume it’s because the dog is older… But let’s look closer at the cause. When an older human moves slowly, why is that? Usually because they have arthritis, their muscles are sore, or they are feeling weak. It’s the same in dogs! When a dog starts to move more slowly than they used to, there is a reason, and sometimes that reason is joint pain and stiffness. Even if a dog is older, it doesn’t have to mean it has to move slowly and be in pain.
Yawning – When a dog yawns, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s bored or tired. Yawning is a calming mechanism in dogs, used in stressful situations to calm anxiety – and we all know that pain can certainly cause stress and anxiety.
Stiffened body posture – when a dog has pain on one side of its body or the other, it’s easy to tell. Limping is usually a pet owner’s first indication that something is wrong. But what if the pain is central or bilateral, and doesn’t cause the dog to favor one side in particular? This is when it’s important to watch for a stiffened body, ginger walking, ears pulled back, “whale eye” (where the whites of the dog’s eyes show), hesitation to turn its head or bend its spine, and laying or sitting tensely.
Change in Appetite - Pain can cause many changes in dog behavior, and a common one is that your dog won't want to eat any more. It could be painful to get to the dog dish, or the pain could be making your dog nauseous, or the anxiety and stress caused by the pain just causes your dog to lose his or her appetite. If your dog has just had surgery, especially, it may not want to eat - check out our post about dogs that won't eat after surgery.
In the end, you are your dog’s best friend, #1 advocate, and closest ally. You know your dog’s behavior best, so if anything seems out of place, visit your vet (don't necessarily try to treat your dog with human painkillers - definitely talk to your vet first), and remember that the Assisi Loop can help with inflammatory issues and can help bring your pet back to optimal health.
For a more detailed investigation into veterinary pain management, check out Assisi's interview series with Dr. Erin Troy - part one explores Dr. Troy's pain management certifications and how it can be difficult talking to pet owners about pain.
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