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Seeing our pets in pain is never a fun experience, and it’s something every dog owner dreads. Whether it’s a fresh injury or simply our aging elder-pups, we want nothing more than to help them. But it’s important to remember that they can’t always cry out to us when in need. Dogs aren’t humans, so they don’t speak our language. The best thing we can do to keep them comfortable is to learn theirs. Dogs display their pain in certain actions and behaviors that may seem subtle to us. Not everyone is a canine behavioral expert, but these five symptoms below will help you determine whether or not your loved one is in pain.
1. Excessive Grooming – It’s normal for dogs to lick and groom themselves, but it’s not normal for this to become an obsessive behavior. If you notice your pet tending to a localized area he’s never noticed before, or has just recently started spending a lot more time there, it could be a sign that he’s hurting. Pets will often groom places that are sources of pain in hopes to clean and care for the wound, even if there is no open wound present. Be sure to keep an eye on the area and inspect it gently.
2. Heavy Panting – Panting is normal behavior that shouldn’t surprise any dog owner. Even when the panting is heavy, certain circumstances allow for it such as extra hot days and strenuous exercise. But if you notice heavy panting out of nowhere, it could be stress-induced. This stress could be caused by pain your pet is experiencing. For whatever reason it may be, unexplained heavy panting should result in a trip to your veterinarian.
3. Inappetence – Lack of appetite is often the result of some sort of discomfort. You don’t feel like eating when you’re not well, do you? Our dogs don’t either. They simply just don’t feel like eating, especially when it’s painful to walk all the way over to the food bowl. If you notice any sort of inappetence in your pet, it’s important to seek veterinary attention right away, as this could be a symptom of many dangerous ailments.
4. Shyness & Aggression – You may notice that your dog is starting to become more and more antisocial. He may stop running to the door to greet everyone and avoids petting. Or you may notice that your little one doesn’t want you picking her up anymore, or cries when you do. If this happens suddenly, it’s reasonable to suspect pain as a probable cause. In some cases, you’ll find your normally overly friendly companion has become aggressive. If you notice your pup is hiding away and avoiding attention, be sure to check them for pain. It’s best to have a veterinarian do this, and it’s very important to remember not to take it personally if your dog does growl or snap at you. They aren’t necessarily trying to hurt anyone, they just have no other way to tell anybody it hurts and they don’t want to be touched.
5. General Behavior Changes – Besides shyness and aggression, you might notice that your pup doesn’t want to walk up stairs anymore, avoids jumping and climbing, or doesn’t want to chase after his beloved tennis ball. There are the obvious signs such as limping, but it’s important to also watch out for stiffness or arched backs. Dogs in pain often lay only flat on their sides, rather than curled up in their beds. They might be slower moving, sleeping a lot more and seemingly disinterested in things they used to love. Another sign is unexplained accidents in the house. It’s often very painful to get up from lying down (which you also might notice), and sometimes pets just aren’t able to make it outside fast enough. Sometimes the squatting to urinate and defecate is avoided, and you’ll notice that your pet will start leaving messes in her bed. All of these things can be attributed to pain – often in our older dogs, but sometimes in our younger ones as well.
Being able to identify early signs of pain can lead to a much more comfortable outcome for both you and your dog. With early veterinary care, you can often start treatment before the condition worsens, regardless of cause. If old age is the culprit, you’ll be more aware and educated on keeping your loved one comfortable and happy through his latter years. By keeping our pets happy, we keep ourselves happy too. And there’s nothing more important than sharing a peaceful, lighthearted life with our best friends.
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