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Talking to Dog Owners: When Changes in Behavior are a Sign of Pain

September 6, 2016

Changes in a dog’s behavior often appear when they are in pain. Clients who know the signs to watch for may be able to provide their veterinarian with a better understanding of the condition of their pet. The following information highlights observable behaviors that are principal indicators of pain.

How to Tell if a Dog is in Pain

Canine Pain

There are many health conditions that can cause pain in a dog, for instance:

  • Arthritis
  • Bone disease
  • Dental problems
  • Allergic reactions
  • Infections
  • Cancer
  • Poisoning
  • Sprains
  • Broken bones
  • Bruising.

Changes in Behavior in a Dog

Explain to clients that they should notify their veterinarian immediately if they observe any of the following changes in their pet’s normal daily behaviors:

  • Development of new behaviors, for example:
    • Hiding
    • Doesn’t want to be held or picked up
    • Aversion to grooming
    • Withdrawing from social interaction with family or other pets
    • Unwillingness to play
    • Increase in time spent sleeping
    • Reduced activity levels
    • Diminished tolerance for exercise
    • Decreased greeting behaviors
    • A normally aggressive type dog may appear docile and act quiet
  • House training
    • House soiling
    • Reduced frequency of defecation
    • Increased frequency of need to urinate, straining when urinating
  • Facial expression
    • Excessive panting even when resting
    • Enlarged pupils
    • Vacant stare
    • Grimaces
    • Flattened or pinned back ears
    • Eyes appear glazed
    • Wide-eyed or looks sleepy
  • Vocalizing:
    • Whimpering
    • Yelping
    • Groaning
    • Whining
    • Howling
    • Grunting
    • Growling
  • Grooming
    • Over-grooming of an area
    • Licking
    • Matted fur
    • Decreased self-grooming
    • Hair may stand up in places
  • Eating
    • Decreased appetite
    • Refusal to eat
    • Dropping food when eating
    • Mouthing air after taking a bite of food
    • Changes in drinking water
  • Mobility
    • Limping
    • Gait abnormalities
    • Difficulty when standing or when walking
    • No longer runs or jumps
    • Shows reluctance to walk on slick surfaces
    • Difficulty going up or down stairs
  • Sleeping
    • Increased sleeping
    • Decreased sleeping
    • Constantly shifting to find a comfortable position
  • Posture
    • Hunched posture when standing
    • Hindquarters are raised with the front end down on the ground
    • Lowered head
    • Sitting or lying down in an abnormal position
    • Difficulty standing
    • Doesn’t put weight on a limb
    • Abnormal placement of weight on its front legs
    • Placement of the front legs are under the chest and not at the shoulders
  • Pain-response actions
    • Licking, biting, chewing, or scratching a specific area
    • Shaking its head
    • Scooting
    • Showing aggression or irritability when approached or when touched
    • Seems to find it difficult to get in a comfortable position
    • Circling before lying down
    • Restlessness
    • Reluctance to move
    • Lays on its side
    • Has trouble getting up
    • Trembling, circling, or lying very still
    • Repeatedly gets up and lies down
    • Seeks reassurance or more affection than usual.

Whether the signs are distinct or subtle, when a dog acts out of character the cause can most often be attributed to pain. Since a dog spends most of its time at home, veterinarians should educate the family on the signs that indicate their pet may need veterinary attention.

Discuss additional ways to talk with canine clients about pain by calling your Covetrus  representative at 855.724.3461.

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