If your dog experiences acute pain, the signs are usually easy to recognize. A pet in acute pain typically will vocalize, limp, and look at the affected area. However, signs indicating that your dog is suffering from chronic pain are not as obvious, and may be mistaken for a behavior issue. Our team at Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital wants to help you determine if your dog’s change in behavior is caused by pain.

Effects of chronic pain on your dog

Pain that is ongoing for more than three months is considered chronic pain. As opposed to acute pain, which serves a protective purpose to prevent further damage, chronic pain is no longer protective, and places stress on your dog’s emotional and physical wellbeing. This prolonged stress results in elevated cortisol levels in your dog’s bloodstream, causing decreased immune function, improper digestive ability, delayed healing, and sleep deprivation. Arthritis is the most common cause of chronic pain in dogs. Other conditions that can cause chronic pain include intervertebral disk disease, cancer, neuropathies, and myopathies.

Behavior changes related to pain in dogs

Behaviors that you may attribute to your dog’s quirkiness could in fact indicate that they are experiencing pain. These behaviors include:

  • Sudden behavior changes — Once dogs reach maturity, at around 3 years of age, their personality rarely changes. If your dog is suddenly less energetic, seems depressed, becomes restless, or becomes clingy or aloof, they could be experiencing pain or discomfort.
  • Uncharacteristic aggression — Dogs experiencing pain may anticipate that interactions with humans will cause or exacerbate pain, and they may respond defensively. They may be less willing to remove themselves from an unwanted situation and rely on body language, such as growling or baring their teeth, to communicate their displeasure.
  • Avoiding normal activities — Dogs affected by pain may be unwilling to participate in activities they previously enjoyed, such as:
    • Jumping on furniture
    • Taking walks
    • Playing with humans or other dogs
    • Navigating stairs
  • Periodic grumpiness — Dogs suffering from chronic pain can have good days and bad. They may be their normal selves on their good days, and exhibit grumpy or aggressive behavior when the pain is exacerbated.

Body language related to pain in dogs

Your dog uses their facial expressions and body postures to communicate with you. If your dog has chronic pain, these signs may be subtle, but can include:

  • Panting when their environment is not hot
  • Moving slowly
  • Standing stiffly
  • Hunching their back
  • Tucking their tail under their body
  • Excessively licking an area
  • Keeping their ears flat against their head

Helping dogs who suffer from pain

If you notice a change in your dog’s behavior, your first step should be to schedule an appointment at Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital. Our veterinary professionals will perform an extensive physical exam and run diagnostics, including bloodwork, urinalysis, and possibly X-rays or ultrasonography, to help determine if your dog is in pain. If your dog is painful, we will devise a treatment protocol based on your pet’s condition. Recommendations could include pain medications, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, or rehabilitation exercises. 

Your dog’s weight can exacerbate their pain, so ensure your dog is at a healthy weight. Extra weight places a larger physical burden on joints and soft tissue structures. Fat tissue also has inflammatory properties that make conditions with an inflammatory origin, such as arthritis, harder to control. Losing weight may be challenging if your dog is reluctant to move because they are in pain. In that case, our team at Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital can provide nutrition counseling, and help you formulate an appropriate portion-controlled diet.

Other steps you can take to help your dog are placing rugs around your home to help prevent falling on slippery floors, and providing ramps to help them access furniture, and orthopedic beds to help them rest easier. 

Precautions to take around dogs in pain

If your dog is in pain, they may act defensively to prevent exacerbating the pain. 

  • Let them rest Avoid approaching your dog when they are resting. You can invite them to interact with you instead, to allow them to decide if they are up to the encounter. If they do not accept your invitation, walk away and try again later. Your dog will realize they have a choice in the matter, which will help their outlook on the situation. 
  • Watch their body language Pay close attention to your dog’s body language, and heed their warning if they signal they no longer want to interact. This can prevent someone being bitten. 
  • Consider therapy If your dog has started to associate a certain activity with pain, they may continue to have an aversion to that activity after the pain is alleviated. If they continue to show fear or aggression with a particular activity, such as clipping their leash to their collar for a walk, they may need behavior modification therapy to counter this response.

Your dog does not need to suffer if they are experiencing pain. If you believe your dog may be affected by pain, do not hesitate to contact our Fear Free team at Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital to schedule an appointment.