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Seven Massive Misconceptions That Many People Have About How Dogs Feel Pain

No dog owner likes to think about their dog being in pain, and knowing that your dog is in pain or discomfort is of course very distressing for us, as well as the dog itself.

However, dogs cannot tell us that they are in pain and instead, have to rely upon our ability to read their symptoms to know that something is wrong and to get them the help that they need, and this is something that not all dog owners are very good at.

If you have any concerns about your dog’s health or are worried that they might be in pain or discomfort – or if anything else seems off, even if pain isn’t the obvious culprit – you need to talk to your vet, who has the skills, experience and tools available at their disposal to get to the root of the matter.

However, all too many dog owners delay in contacting the vet or don’t contact them at all due to misconceptions about how dogs feel pain and indicate that they are in pain, even highly responsible dog owners that do everything possible to provide the most appropriate care for their pets.

Whilst we as humans can never know emotionally how dogs interpret and understand pain, it is important that we appreciate the fact that they do, and that they don’t have special abilities or superpowers to avoid or manage pain in a way that is somehow better or more effective than our own.

In this article, we will outline seven massive misconceptions that many people have about how dogs feel and express pain, and the reality behind them. Read on to learn more.

Big, strong dogs feel less pain than small ones

A minor cut or graze on a large dog like a Great Dane is only less painful for them insomuch as it covers a smaller percentage of their body than a cut or graze of the same size on a smaller dog like a Chihuahua, but the idea that a big, strong and serious-looking dog has a higher tolerance for pain than a small dog is a total myth.

It doesn’t matter what size your dog is or how fierce they look, they will feel pain just as acutely as a smaller dog, and are not somehow immune to it just because they look daunting!

Dogs have higher pain thresholds than people

Dogs and people are both mammals and as such, we have more in common than we have apart. Many dog owners believe that dogs have a higher pain threshold than people, but ask them why they think this and there would be no possible explanation to back it up – because it is not true.

The fact that dogs were less commonly medicated for pain than people and that we used to expect dogs to go without pain management for things that we would take meds for doesn’t mean that dogs have a higher pain threshold – it just means that we aren’t giving them medications for the same levels of pain as we would take them.

Dogs feel pain in a different way to people

This is another weird myth about dogs and pain, that dogs somehow feel, process and manage pain differently to humans. As mentioned, our physical forms have more in common than we do apart, and we have the same channels of nerve pathways and pain receptors as dogs do, which send messages to the brain that are read and translated in the same way, causing the same responses.

Exactly why some people think dogs feel pain differently, or why this might be relevant to the amount of pain a dog is in even were it true is a mystery, and harmful one at that.


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If your dog was really in pain, they’d let you know

Most dogs are quite expressive and some will cry, yelp and make a fuss if they are in pain or distressed due to pain – but this is by no means the case for all dogs. Some dogs will avoid showing any signs of pain at all, and this is an evolutionary response to avoid being singled out as the weaker member of the pack and so, the easiest target for predators.

Some dogs will hide away when in pain and work hard to avoid people, and avoid showing their pain at all – and often, this will be the case when the pain is very bad, rather than very mild, so the signals that the dog gives out cannot reliably be used to judge the level of pain they are in.

The amount of fuss a dog makes is proportional to the pain they are in

Some dogs (often small ones) will make a massive fuss about all sorts of things, shrieking, yelping and causing a lot of noise and drama for the slightest reason. This of course commands our attention and makes us look twice, but it isn’t necessarily directly proportional to the level of pain a dog is in.

A dog that is in a huge amount of pain is more likely to be still, quiet and minimally responsive than they are to be barking, yowling, and drawing a lot of attention to themselves.

Pain is necessary to keep an injured dog from worsening the problem

The idea that pain is important to limit a dog from worsening the issue causing the pain is a myth, and not a reason to avoid ensuring that a dog gets the pain relief that they need. Obviously the medications provided need to be proportionate and something that makes the dog feel as if they are totally fine and so, likely to act in such a way as to worsen the issue is inappropriate, but your dog is no more likely to cause themselves further harm due to pain medication than you are.

Your dog knows when something is wrong and will avoid worsening it, and we as owners are also responsible for limiting our dogs’ behaviours where needed to avoid further harm, such as by providing rest and a calm environment.

Pain management is only necessary if your dog is obviously in pain

Just because your dog isn’t showing signs of pain doesn’t mean they’re not in pain – and if your vet has given you medications for your dog you need to administer them as directed, and not simply decide that your dog is ok now and doesn’t need any more.

Talk to your vet if you think your dog is recovering faster or may be able to come off their meds, but never withhold or stop a course of medication just because you think your dog is on the mend or out of the woods.


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