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Unlike humans, dogs can’t verbalize when they’re in pain. They can’t walk up to their pet parents and tell them where it hurts. In many cases, pet parents might not even know a dog is in discomfort until the issue becomes more severe.
Dogs often conceal their pain out of instinct to avoid being perceived as weak. While this may work in the wild, things are different for domesticated dogs that have loving pet parents who want to ensure their health and well-being.
Despite trying to hide their pain, many dogs will show signs that there’s something wrong. Some of these symptoms are subtle and almost impossible to detect. Others are a bit more obvious. When pet parents can recognize the signs, they can get their dog the treatment they need to get them back to their healthy, happy self.
Like their pet parents, dogs can deal with acute pain or chronic pain.
Acute pain generally occurs as a result of an illness or injury. It happens quickly and often goes away after a short time. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is longer-lasting. While it may initially occur as a result of an injury or illness, it persists longer than six months and may continue to cause problems even after the initial cause is gone. Without treatment, the pain will linger.
Common causes of pain in dogs include:
Bone or joint injuries
Certain types of cancer
Dental complications such as periodontal disease
Skin infections and hot spots
Soft tissue injuries
Sprains or strains
Urinary tract infections
Dogs may try not to show their pain, but a variety of signs can give them away. Recognizing the symptoms can help pet parents get their dog care as soon as possible.
One of the more noticeable signs of pain in dogs is mobility issues. A dog may have trouble getting up from their bed, limp, or find it difficult to climb or go down steps. They may be more careful on hardwood surfaces or be reluctant to hop down from the couch. A dog may not show as much interest in chasing a ball or going on long walks anymore.
These symptoms may point toward arthritis — especially if the dog is older — or an injury.
Some dogs develop tremors as they age, but shaking and trembling aren’t always a sign a dog is getting on in years. In some cases, these symptoms can point toward pain. They may also indicate a serious health issue, such as poisoning or kidney disease. A dog may also shake or tremble if they’ve eaten something they shouldn’t have, such as chocolate or xylitol. In the case of chocolate ingestion, a veterinarian should be contacted right away.
In some instances, a dog in pain may take on an altered posture to make themselves more comfortable. They may take on a more rigid or hunched stance.
Some dogs, particularly those with abdominal discomfort, go down on their front paws and keep their backsides up to try to stretch the area. Dogs with arthritis may alter their posture to avoid putting too much pressure on the affected joints.
A dog in pain may find it difficult to get comfortable for long periods. If they continually get up and lay down, pace back and forth, or seem agitated, they could be experiencing an underlying issue that’s causing them discomfort.
Any noticeable changes in a dog’s behavior generally indicate that there’s a problem. For instance, pet parents may notice that their dog no longer greets them at the door enthusiastically when they come home. Instead, they may find the dog on their bed, almost indifferent to their presence.
In some cases, a social dog may become more withdrawn or even aggressive. The dog may hide in the other room, shy away from visitors, or snap when someone touches them in a painful spot.
In many cases, dogs in pain will lose their appetite. Pet parents might notice that their dog isn’t scarfing down their breakfast or dinner anymore. Instead, they’re picking at it, leaving most of it in the bowl. They may even sniff at it and walk away or won’t come to the kitchen when they hear their food being served. Some dogs may also drink less water than usual.
Panting is typically a normal behavior for dogs, especially in hot weather. Instead of sweating, dogs pant to regulate their body temperature and keep themselves cool. However, loud and excessive panting can point toward a health concern — particularly if the dog hasn’t been running around. More shallow breathing can also indicate a problem, such as trouble breathing.
One of the first things dogs do when they’re hurt is to lick the wound. Licking is an instinct, and the action functions to clean and care for the affected area. While pet parents might notice a cut or other marks on the body, sometimes, the pain is internal. A torn muscle or joint injury won’t be visible to the naked eye, but the dog may still lick where it hurts.
A dog may not be able to communicate with their pet parents using words, but they could still try to tell them that something isn’t right. Some dogs vocalize their pain by howling, yelping, growling, or snarling. For example, if a pet parent pets their dog on a painful spot, the dog might growl or yip, alerting them to a problem.
Pet parents should consult with a veterinarian for the appropriate course of action for their dog's health care. Treatments may include medication, dog health care products, lifestyle changes, therapy, or surgery. They can help to alleviate the dog’s discomfort, allowing them to feel more like their old self. They can also address a pet parent's dog behavior questions and general dog health questions.
An online vet is able to triage and recommend an appropriate treatment plan or provide further guidance for an in-person appointment. Pet parents can speak with a member of Fuzzy’s veterinary team with our 24/7 Live Online Vet Chat. Sign up to become a Fuzzy member to get dog health advice and other dog tips from real live vets today.