by Katelyn Schutz, CPDT
Are you worried your canine might be in pain? If only they could speak to us and tell us what’s wrong! Instead, we need to learn how to watch our dog’s body language and demeanor to determine if they are ill. Some signs are quite obvious and easy to detect. But here are some common symptoms dogs in pain exhibit that are much more subtle. Learn to watch for some of these cues, to help you decide if your dog is in discomfort.
DISINTEREST. As a professional dog walker and pet sitter, it always concerns me when a pet is no longer interested in their favorite activities, like our walks and adventures together. This is a big sign to me to let the owner know something isn’t quite right with their pooch. Dogs often show pain through indifference, or no longer engaging in their favorite activities. Maybe they seem more detached, no longer curious or enthusiastic about the usual things. Perhaps your dog isn’t getting up to greet you when you arrive home lately. Or they refuse to eat that coveted treat, just out of the blue. Some dogs will sleep more than usual when they are in pain. As a general marker, any change in routine (especially a sudden, acute change) almost always signals something is off with your pet, and warrants more investigating at the vet.
PANTING. Excessive shallow panting is one of the most common pain symptoms owners miss in their dogs. Most people mistake panting for the dog being over-heated, or excited or stressed. Of course, dogs also pant for these reasons, so be sure to look around your environment to rule these out first. But if your dog is panting while laying down (or not exerted), this can be a signal that they are in pain. It’s fairly typical for painful panting to be accompanied by restless behaviors, such as pacing and the inability to get comfortable. If it’s unusual for you to have a panting pooch, they are probably trying to tell you something is wrong.
AGGRESSION. As a professional dog trainer who specializes in aggression and anxiety, red flags go up when a new client tells me their dog has “suddenly” become aggressive, particularly if the pooch is older, or has shown no aggressive history prior. Pain can make dogs act out of sorts, and the aggressive intent may just be self-protectiveness. Dogs in pain will often growl at owners for what may seem like no reason at all. Some pups will guard painful parts of their body, while other dogs may not want to be picked up or handled. Commonly, dogs will become reclusive and hide when in pain. If you reach in to retrieve the dog, he or she may warn you with a growl or snap, to indicate they are in pain and do not want to be bothered or moved.
Conversely, a known aggressive dog may become less reactive when in pain. It takes a lot of effort to exert aggressive intent, and when you do not feel well, you are more focused on expending your energy elsewhere. In my 8 years of veterinary medicine experience, I commonly saw dogs who were known to be aggressive with us during handling, allow us to do complete physical exams and work-ups without trying to bite us, because they were too ill to put up a fight.
When in doubt, call it out! If you see any of these symptoms in your dog, it’s best to have your pet seen by your trusted veterinarian to rule out pain. Happy healing!