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The Silent Signals: How Pain in Dogs Can Manifest as Behavioural Issues


As a dog behaviourist, ruling out medical causes for behavioural changes and challenges is really important. By working in partnership with the dog's vet and other professionals involved in the dog's life as well as the owners can give a holistic picture of the behaviours that are being displayed.


Dog's often speak to us in subtle ways, using their body language and behaviour to communicate their needs. Sometimes our dogs express themselves through less obvious signals. One such indication is behavioural changes, which could be early warnings of underlying pain. In this article, we'll explore how pain in dogs can manifest as behavioral problems and why it's crucial for pet owners to recognise these signs.


Understanding Canine Pain:

Before delving into the connection between pain and behavioural issues, it's essential to understand how dogs experience pain. Just like humans, dogs can suffer from various types of discomfort, including acute pain from injuries, chronic pain from conditions like arthritis, or even internal pain caused by illnesses. Unlike humans, however, dogs can't verbalise their pain. Instead, they rely on non-verbal cues to communicate their distress.


Behavioural Changes as Indicators:

Dogs are masters at masking pain, often displaying subtle changes in behaviour as their only way of signaling discomfort. These behavioural changes can manifest in various ways, including:

1. Reactivity: A typically friendly dog may become irritable or reactive when in pain. This irritability could be directed towards people, other animals, or even inanimate objects, as the dog attempts to protect itself from further discomfort.

2. Withdrawal: Pain can cause dogs to become withdrawn or seek solitude. They may retreat to a quiet corner of the house, avoid interaction with family members, or display decreased interest in activities they once enjoyed.

3. Changes in Appetite: Dogs in pain may experience a loss of appetite or exhibit changes in eating habits. They may refuse food altogether, eat less than usual, or show reluctance to chew on hard objects due to oral discomfort.

4. Restlessness: Unable to find a comfortable position, dogs in pain may exhibit restlessness. They may pace around the house, repeatedly shift positions, or struggle to settle down for sleep.

5. Vocalisation: While some dogs may become quiet and withdrawn when in pain, others may vocalise their distress through whining, whimpering, or excessive barking. These vocalisations may be their way of seeking attention and relief.

6. Changes in Grooming Habits: Pain can interfere with a dog's grooming routine, leading to changes in their appearance. They may neglect grooming altogether, resulting in a dull coat, or over-groom certain areas in an attempt to alleviate discomfort.

7. Licking, Chewing, or Biting: Dogs may lick, chew, or bite at the source of pain in an attempt to soothe themselves. This behaviour is particularly common in cases of localised pain, such as injuries or skin irritations.


Why Recognising These Signs Matters:

Recognising and addressing behavioural changes in dogs is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, identifying pain early allows for prompt intervention and treatment, preventing the condition from worsening. Additionally, untreated pain can lead to secondary issues such as anxiety, depression, or even present as aggression, further exacerbating behavioural problems. By understanding the connection between pain and behaviour, we are able to look at the full picture and support dogs with the care and support they need to live happy, pain free lives.


Our dogs may not be able to tell us when they're in pain, but they often show us through their behaviour. By paying attention to subtle changes in demeanor, appetite, and activity levels, we are able to recognise the early signs of pain and take appropriate action.



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