Whilst working as a vet I constantly treated animals in pain. My MSc dissertation was then on detecting pain in rabbits and rodents. So detecting pain is an interest of mine. Some people think it’s a bit of a weird interest and think I have a morbid fascination with pain. The reality, animals can’t speak for themselves so making sure they are as pain-free as possible should be a top priority.
Dog’s don’t always cry out in pain
Contrary to popular belief, if your dog is in pain it may not make a sound. Only when pain shocks a dog or if in severe pain do they yelp and they still may not. It’s just like when you’re in pain you don’t always scream.
So, when looking for pain in dogs you should look for other signs. This is the mistake owners make. Owners presume because their dog isn’t limping, is eating and not crying they’re not in pain and don’t need treatment. However, this may not be the case.
So what are these signs?
Hiding or laying more
- Dogs may hide behind sofas. They also often go and stay where there aren’t many people or other pets.
- Like people dogs want to be alone and not to be messed with when in pain so retreat to somewhere quiet.
- They may stay close to a radiator, heater or fire as heat can often help those achy joints and be soothing.
Stop Jumping or won’t jump as high
- Jumping often increases pain so they just don’t jump as high or as often and sometimes they stop jumping altogether
- If they usually jump up at you when you come home they may stop greeting up by jumping up.
- They may walk more stiffly and slower. Their movement tends to improve the more they move.
- If the pain is in their hips they may also drag their feet along the floor a bit too. However, if they do this be careful and get them checked by a vet as it may be a sign of nerve or spinal damage.
- The exception to this rule is if they have a condition or previously injury which means they can’t walk normally.
- If your dog starts limping out of the blue there is an almost 100% chance that the leg they are limping on is painful.
- Not all dogs who limp but the majority of them are in pain.
- Walking with their back more bent
- Their back may be arched and remains like that as they are walking
- This can be due to pain in their back legs, hip or spine.
- This can be more common with older dogs
- If they have belly ache they may also stand with their back arched
They may sleep more
- Being in pain is tiring and walking with it is more tiring
- Often they sleep more due to having less energy left
- This means they may be in their bed more.
They may become more aggressive
- Just like people, your dog won’t want people doing anything which may cause pain so they do all they can to stop this.
- This may mean your dog becomes more aggressive and may even bite.
- you or other animals especially if they are touching a sore area.
- Moving and playing hurts, even stroking may hurt
They may not want to eat
- Sometimes pain can reduce appetite
- Pain can also cause your cat to feel nauseous.
- Tooth problems may cause pain when eating.
- All these lead to many dogs not eating as much though this is not seen in all cases; some dogs will still eat normally even with have excruciating dental pain.
Changes to Breathing or Heart Rate
- Now most owners don’t go checking their dog’s heart rate constantly but when dogs are in pain you may notice their chest going up and down more as they breathe quicker
- With severe pain some dogs may start panting, however, remember panting is often because they are anxious, excited, hot or because they have just been running around.
- If you are very observant, and depending how much hair your dog has, you may also begin to see their heart beating faster just behind where their elbow is when they’re laid on their sides.
- A vet is likely to pick up on this change during an examination of your cat so may then look more specifically for something causing pain.
- This may be seen when dogs are in severe pain or when pain surprises them.
- This can sometimes be used to track down where it hurts if a dog yelps when you touch an area however it isn’t fair to purposely do this.
- Even if a dog is yelping it may be difficult to tell where the problem is so usually your vet will have to look for other signs of pain along with your dog crying.
The Praying Position
- This is a very specific sign of pain and isn’t seen in most cases
- The praying position is where your dog is stood up fully on their back legs but their front ones are parallel to the floor as if they are laying so together it looks like they are praying.
- This is seen in some, though not all, cases of pancreatitis, a condition where the pancreas (an organ in the front of their abdomen) is very swollen and painful.
- Most types of pain do not show this sign.
Licking/ Grooming Excessively
- Your dog may be excessively licking or biting one area of their body
- This is most commonly seen in the leg joints or feet
- Biting the skin over a joint may be a sign that they have a problem in that joint causing pain.
- If they are nibbling the feet check there’s nothing stuck in there like stones in the hair or thorns.
- Whilst this is good at helping you to find where the pain is it can quickly lead to skin damage and infections which causes your dog even more problems.
I think my Dog is In Pain, What do I do Now?
The first step is recognising pain. The next step is helping your dog deal with it. Now you have to think about taking your dog to see a vet.
Vet checks may be scary for both you and your pet but they are the only way for you to find out exactly what is wrong and to find the best ways to treat it, not only for your furry friend but also for you.
Don’t worry, some of these treatments may not involve forcing tablets into their mouths as some are liquids but work with your vet to find out what is wrong and the best way to treat it.
The main signs of pain in dogs are them yelping or crying, eating less, wanting to be left alone, sometimes becoming aggressive, being quiet and having difficulties walking or jumping. Sometimes their posture changes too with their back arched or, in rare cases such as Pancreatitidemonstrate demonstrate the praying position.
If you’re not sure take them to the vet and they can help find the problem and advise what else to do.
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