How to tell if your dog is in pain
Nobody wants to see their dog suffering and in pain or discomfort. At times, sometimes it can be very difficult to know for sure whether or not your dog is in pain. Sure, sometimes it’s quite obvious – a noticeable limp, large cut, or observed trauma, such as being struck by a car. But other times your dog’s signs of pain can be far more subtle. It’s at these times that people often need guidance on what to look for in order to know if their dog is in pain.
Looking for Bodily Changes
Watch for limping. One of the most obvious signs of pain is limping. Limping occurs when it hurts to put weight on a leg.
Keep an eye out for other mobility issues. Aside from limping, you may see other mobility changes. For example your dog may have trouble getting up or down. It might also move around more slowly than usual, or show a reluctance to do certain activities.
- If a leg is causing pain, they are less likely to use it, and sometimes may rely on the other three legs.
- Dogs in pain will also typically move around less.
Observe changes in posture.
- Hesitance to go up or down stairs, run, or jump can be a sign of pain.
Note the position that your dog holds its head or tail. Any change from normal posture, such as a hanging or tucked tail in a dog that normally has an active tail, can be evidence of pain.
Take note of your dog’s breathing. If your dog is in pain, you may see an increase in their respiratory rate or heavy panting.
- If your dog is holding a leg differently than it normally does, it could be a sign that it is in pain.
- Pain may also cause your dog to stand with its back arched or to be very stiff when standing or moving.
Check your dog’s eyes. Your dog’s eyes can tell you a lot about any pain it might be experiencing. If there is pain in the eye area, you may see squinting, redness, cloudiness, or a discharge.
- A dog that pants persistently, especially in cool weather, may be in pain.
- Your dog also may be rubbing at the area that hurts. If your dog rubs around its eyes frequently, this could be a sign of discomfort in this area.
- The eyes can also give you a clue about pain in other areas. Squinting can be a sign of pain in the eye area, but some dogs will also squint when they are experiencing pain elsewhere.
- Dilated pupils can also be a sign that your dog is in pain.
Looking for Behavioral changes
Beware of biting. Pain can change a dog’s behavior. Even a friendly dog in great pain will be more likely to bite.
Monitor your dog’s eating. A dog in pain may decrease its food consumption. If your dog suddenly has a decreased appetite, this may be a sign of pain.
- Even a dog that has never bitten before may bite when approached if it is experiencing significant pain.
- A dog in pain may also bite if you touch or move a painful area. The natural response, when a painful area is touched, is to turn toward that area. The dog may try to bite out of instinct.
- You may first see warning signs such as growling. A dog on the verge of biting may pin its ears back or show its teeth. This is a natural protection mechanism that a dog may use to try to prevent further pain.
Watch for signs of restlessness. A dog in pain may experience restlessness or an inability to get comfortable. Your dog may show this by pacing, repeatedly readjusting its position, or getting up and down frequently.Notice sleep changes. A dog in pain may experience changes in its normal sleep schedule. A dog in pain may either sleep more than usual, or have difficulty sleeping.Listen for changes in the dog’s vocalization. Unusual vocalizations including moaning, groaning, whimpering, yipping, and even growling can all be signs of pain.
- A dog with mouth pain may also drop food when it eats.
Look for avoidance behaviors. Avoidance behaviors, such as hiding or shying away from contact with people or other animals are common when a dog is in pain. These behaviors are efforts to avoid potentially painful situations.
- These sounds may be associated with particular movements, such as when first getting up. That can help to give you a clue about the nature of the pain.
- A dog that is normally vocal may also suddenly become quiet.
Pay attention to your dog’s potty habits. Being aware of your dog’s normal bathroom habits can help you recognize many different problems.
- If your dog moves its head away when you try to pet it or makes other moves to avoid touch, this can be a sign it is in pain. Take note of such behaviors if your dog normally likes being touched.
- These behaviors can go along with a dog being more withdrawn and less interactive than normal.
- You may also notice an attitude of depression or mental dullness if your dog is experiencing pain.
- Note that some dogs may seek more attention, rather than avoiding it, if they are in pain. You should take note of either avoidance or unusually high levels of attention-seeking behaviors.
- When a dog is in pain you may notice that it exhibits a different posture when it urinates or defecates. For example, a male dog that normally lifts his leg to urinate might not.
- You may also see a change in how often your dog needs to do its business. Or, your dog may have accidents if it is painful for them to get to the area where they usually go.
- Pain can also change the consistency of a dog’s stool, due to the related stress. It can also lead to constipation.