"Recognising When a Dog May be Suffering

"Recognising When a Dog May be Suffering

Health & Safety

Recognising when a dog may be suffering can be hard, especially if they have become a valued member of the family. Suffering is defined as being in constant pain and where misery is very much a factor. Although it can be extremely hard to accept that a pet may not be as happy as they should be, it is important for dog owners to have some knowledge and understanding of when their pet may be suffering a little too much, and as such would allow them to make a responsible and informed decision when the time finally comes to say “enough”.

How Dogs Deal With Pain

Pain is an unpleasant feeling for anybody to have to bear but for a dog and other animals, it's also crucial to their survival. When a dog feels pain, it teaches them to look out for and avoid any harmful stimuli, it allows them to recognise a sitution in the future and keep well away from it. Pain also helps prevent further injury or harm, and goes a long way in helping to speed up the healing process because pain makes a dog and other living things slow down and rest.

A dogs' neuroanatomy is very similar to that of a human being and this means canines feel pain in much the same way as we do. The only difference being a dog cannot tell us exactly where they're feeling the pain. However, by watching a dog, it is possible to recognise where they may be feeling some discomfort, and the better you know your dog and how they react to things, the better you will recognise there might be a problem.

Some Dogs Get Vocal When in Pain

Dogs will often vocalise the fact they are in pain and they do this by squealing or yelping. But they may also turn more aggressive and growl, and sometimes they may groan because of the discomfort they are feeling. However, it has to be said dogs are a lot more stoical when it comes to pain than humans could ever be, and will just bear the fact they are hurting in silence which is why it's so vitally important for pet owners to keep a close eye on their beloved pooches. If they are unwell, old or have to deal with any sort of chronic disease, there are certain signs to look out for which are as follows:

  • An unusual lack of appetite
  • Pacing and restlessness both day and night
  • A difference in posture whether hunched over, crouching, head held down or abdomen tucked up
  • Guarding the painful areas of their bodies and not liking be touched there
  • Limping and/or a pronounced change of gait
  • Changes in their dogs' personality – depression, anxiety, fearful and preferring to be left alone
  • Changes in their facial expression
  • Self mutilation which includes excessive licking in a particular area on their body or even biting it
  • Unwillingness to go out for exercise and excessive sleeping

Outwardly, you'll notice your dog loses a lot of weight and may even become dehydrated. They will experience fluctuations in body temperature which is another worrying sign for owners to witness. All of these symptoms can be controlled by administering analgesics and/or anti-inflammatory drugs, with an example being an arthritic dog responds well to drugs like Metacam or Rimadyl - but there will come a time when even medication does not have the same effect as it did at first.

How Dogs Deal with Misery

Just as humans feel sadness, dogs can suffer misery and distress too. Sadness in dogs can be triggered by many different things which includes the following:

  • Frustration
  • Fear
  • Lack of physical and mental stimulation
  • Lack of companionship
  • The loss of a loved one whether human or animal

Dogs left on their own in a restricted area often just simply “give up” which psychologists term as “learned helplessness”. Dogs can also develop worrying behavioural patterns known as stereotypies which manifest themselves in the form of excessive licking and grooming, although self-mutilation is often seen too. Both of these behavioural problems can be blamed on chronic stress which is bought about by poor care and should not be confused with other behavioural problems which come from lack of training. Many rescue dogs tend to have these traits because of the way they have been kept in the past and which they have had to deal with.

How a Dog Deals With Loss

When it comes to loss, dogs can suffer incredible sadness just as humans do when they lose a member of their family or friend, and with dogs their pain is not just limited to missing other animals. Dogs are known to pine when they lose a beloved owner with stories of some dogs never really getting over their bereavement – two great examples being Greyfriar's Bobby and the wonderful Akita called Hachi.

However, the majority of dogs will recover from their loss albeit in their own time which is something that should never be rushed. It can be extremely hard to witness and care for a dog that's lost an owner especially when they refuse to eat or be part of anything for weeks on end. They may not want to go outside which can be a stressful situation and one which requires a lot of patience and compassion and some veterinary help.


Over time, all owners get to know their dogs very well, after all a dog becomes valued member of the family and when they are not well, they are taken to the vet as soon as possible. Sadly, there are too many of our canine friends who end up in rescue centres with some being quite scarred both physically and mentally by their pasts. Understanding and recognising when a dog is suffering or when they are mourning the loss of an owner or another pet, goes a long way in knowing when your pet needs help and which as their owner, you would always be willing to give.

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