How to Tell if Your Dog Is Hurting
While it's easy to tell when our dogs are very happy or feeling severely ill, it may be more difficult to identify when your dog isn't at their best. Even if you suspect something's wrong, it's not always easy to know what's really hurting — and that's so frustrating! You really want to help your pup, but you don't want to overreact, either. Is he hurting? And why? What should I do now?
But there's a tricky catch — your pup can't verbally tell you what's up. (Wouldn't it be easier if he could?!) Since September is Animal Pain Awareness Month, let's explore how to identify when your dog is hurting and learn a few things you can do to help your furry companion to stop hurting.
Signs to Look Out for in Your Dog
It's not always easy to know if your dog isn't feeling up to par. (Have you ever asked yourself, "Wait — is this unusual behavior? I'm not sure!) And that uncertainty is so stressful. So, how can you help your pup and ease your mind? First, you need to recognize the signs that signal your dog may be hurting in the first place.
1. Just acting “not right."
Don't underestimate your knowledge of your dog's normal behaviors. Sudden changes in your dog's posture, routine and demeanor can all be caused by an underlying issue. A dog might begin to dislike physical activities they used to love or even become a little aggressive,1 like growling if anyone comes near or reacting when it's time for a brush. They might sleep more, or maybe less, depending on whether it eases or intensifies their uncomfortableness. If the behavior seems out of the ordinary, you're probably right.
2. “Ouchy" noises.
A low whimper or whine when moving around and a sigh or groan when standing up or settling down can be common signs that your dog may need help. These can be subtle, as dogs sometimes instinctively attempt to hide what's really going on and may attempt to avoid outward signs of discomfort.
3. Increased respiratory rate.
While your dog might pant naturally on a warm day, extra panting could signal something's amiss. Check your pup's heart rate — an elevated heart rate could be a sign something's up.
4. Not too hungry.
A loss of appetite might actually be an indication of a dental issue.2 Maybe he really is hungry, but it hurts to chew!
What to Do if You Suspect Your Dog Needs Help
Often, you feel at a loss when you realize your dog needs your help. But there's good news! You've got options to help give your furry BFF relief.
1. Schedule a visit to the veterinarian.
Once you realize your dog needs help, contact your veterinarian. Again, your dog's inability to communicate verbally is a challenge, but your veterinarian has a slew of tools to overcome this: a physical exam, X-rays and maybe an ultrasound or bloodwork.3And sometimes, with their years of experience, they may be able to suggest things to try over the phone!
2. Evaluate the treatment options.
This might include limiting certain physical activities for a time, like avoiding long walks or jogging. Your pet's veterinarian might prescribe medication or perhaps an antibiotic or other medicine to treat the underlying issue. Other treatments may involve physical therapy, surgery or perhaps chiropractic work.
3. Follow your veterinarian's instructions.
This is particularly important with medications, where exact dosage and timing can be critical. But it's important to follow all your veterinarian's advice, whether physical therapy work or limiting activity — they've given you the advice for a reason!
Making your dog comfortable
What a relief! Your veterinarian has identified the issue and suggested treatments. Now that you're home, you've got a few things you can do to help make your pup more comfortable while he's recovering.
1. Explore pet stairs.
Once upon a puppy time, your dog had no problem leaping from the floor to the sofa or onto your bed for a long nap while you were at work. But as he ages, he may not be able to jump up and down as much as he used to. If you notice this change in behavior, try offering a set of pet stairs — soft and padded to make it easy to climb up onto that favorite sleeping place. Giving your dog the ability to get up and down from furniture on their own might also keep your dog happier.
2. Be patient and reassuring.
A happy and reassuring attitude on your end may help your dog's spirits while he's recovering. Extra attention, a healthy snack or two and a gentle tone can help. In addition to offering reassurance, be patient with your dog during this difficult time. Your dog will appreciate all the extra compassion and love.
3. Offer extra comfort.
Keeping your dog comfortable is a priority, and inflatable dog beds like the K&H Air Sofa Bed make it easy to provide comfort and support. Since it's adjustable, you can set the amount of firmness your dog prefers to stay comfy. You could also try an elevated pet cot, as it may help relieve pressure on his joints.
4. Try a heated dog bed.
Sometimes warmth can feel good, even for your furry BFF. Beds like the K&H Thermo-Ortho Bed safely create heat from electricity, while others work passively to capture and radiate your dog's body heat.
5. Try a cooling dog bed.
You could also experiment with a cooling bed to see if your dog finds that more comfortable. A K&H Coolin' Comfort Bed uses water inside to help carry heat away from your dog's body. The bed features a soothing orthopedic foam core, which can be beneficial to support the joints and neck, and the cooling surface can soothe some skin conditions.
Trying to figure out the root of your pup's distress is challenging for any pet parent. But knowing what to look out for can give you peace of mind when you notice a change in your dog's behavior. Now that you're equipped with knowledge and tools, you can feel confident knowing you're taking the best steps to recognize when your dog may be hurting and help your dog feel better fast!
1. Weir, Malcolm, and Robin Downing. VCA Hospitals. “How Do I Know if My Dog is in Pain?" https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/how-do-i-know-if-my-dog-is-in-pain
2. Playforth, Laura. VetsNow. “Nine warning signs that could mean your dog is in pain." February 2021, https://www.vets-now.com/2017/06/10-signs-dog-pain/
3. Senestraro, Aja. PetMD. “How to Tell If a Dog Is in Pain and What You Can Do to Help." November 2019, https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/evr_dg_managing_pain_in_dogs