Determining if the dog is in pain is not easy, and evaluating how serious it is can also be a difficult task. It is important to know that, although many signs of discomfort in animals are easy to see, the symptoms themselves – whether they are single or multiple – are not unequivocal evidence of pain.
However, we assume that an injury that would cause pain to a human, also causes corresponding discomfort to our pets.
Acute or chronic pain
It is important to know that the symptoms of acute and chronic pain in animals may differ. Severe, acute pain can manifest itself in dilated pupils, restlessness or apathy. The dog may also show personality changes, such as increased or decreased physical activity, self-harming behaviors and excessive barking.
Other signs of acute pain include increased salivation, increased respiratory rate and heart rate. Tests can also show changes in blood values, such as blood sugar, cortisol, ACTH and catecholamine levels.
Chronic pain can cause your dog to exhibit protective behaviors. This means adaptations to the pain, which you can often see in the animal’s posture and movements.
Animals usually try to avoid aggravating pain, and will carefully avoid touching sore areas. If your dog suffers from chronic pain, it is common to notice signs of stress, such as weight loss and loss of appetite.
To evaluate how bad the dog is
The methods we have for evaluating how much pain the dog has are based on behavioral changes. Experts have designed a number of surveys that veterinarians and owners can use to evaluate certain parameters and get a score based on the answers. The results are then measured against a pain scale, which helps the veterinarians to decide which treatment to start.
Typical signs that the dog feels discomfort include changes in posture and changes in energy levels. For example, the dog may refuse to move, or it may have difficulty lying down or changing position. You may also notice a difference in how it moves, if it barks or whines more than usual, if it urinates, poops or eats differently than normal, or if it reacts to touch and pats.
There are currently several different approved pain scales used. It should be noted, however, that none of these scales can be considered an “official” reference point when it comes to evaluating whether your dog is in pain. Examples of pain scales that are specifically developed for dogs are, for example, the Melbourne and Glasgow scales.
Changes in the posture of a dog in pain
It is usually quite easy to determine if a dog feels discomfort in one side of the body. The first symptom is often that the dog is lame, but you may also notice a stiff, unnatural posture.
If the problem is central or affects both sides of the body, the dog will not prefer one side of the body. In such cases, it is important that you carefully observe the level of stiffness. For example, the dog may walk with stiff legs and ears pressed down against the head. It may also seem reluctant to turn your head or bend your spine, but instead sit or lie down with tense muscles.
Changes in the dog’s social behavior
An important factor to consider is the social environment. In herd animals, it is often an early sign of illness or pain when they isolate themselves from the group. Therefore, avoidant behavior is common in dogs that do not feel well. The animals’ instincts make them want to hide their discomfort when predators are close so as not to seem vulnerable.
There is a possibility that humans can be seen as predators, and then the dog may be afraid to appear weak in front of its owner. On the other hand, dogs that suffer from pain often show more affection for their owners, and often want more attention than usual.
Ultimately, you are your dog’s best friend, and you know him or her better than anyone else. You are one of the few people who can decide when something is wrong, and take steps to help your pet in the best way.