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Six less-obvious signs that your dog is ill or in pain
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Six less-obvious signs that your dog is ill or in pain

You might think it would be obvious to you if your dog was ill or in pain, even if you were not quite sure what the issue was; but this is not always the case. Some of the symptoms that a dog is ill or in pain aren’t physical, but relate to their behaviours and activities; and while most dog owners notice such changes quickly, they don’t always realise that they can be signs that something is up.

This article will share six of the less-obvious signs and symptoms that a dog may be ill or in pain, to help to ensure that you don’t overlook them if you spot them. Read on to learn more.

They’re grumpy or less tolerant than normal

Changes in temperament are one of the biggest clues or indicators that a dog is either ill or in pain; this is something that most of us are at least consciously aware of from being ill or hurt ourselves.

If your dog is grumpy, irritable, or seems like they have a low tolerance for things that normally don’t bother them, or that they used to enjoy (like perhaps, play-wrestling with another dog or with you) there’s a good chance they’re in physical discomfort or feeling less than stellar.

Being grumpy or even growly about things if this is a new behaviour may be defensive; your dog might be concerned that something is going to hurt them or make them feel worse, even though this would be wholly accidental. It can also occur simply because pain or illness hamper your dog’s enjoyment of everything; for instance, if their head hurts, simply light and conversation around them might be really annoying to them.

Their sleeping habits change

When dogs are fully grown, their sleeping routine tends to become reliable in terms of how much sleep they need each night, how often they might nap during the day, and assuming they have a set routine, when they go to bed and are ready to get up too.

If you start to hear your dog moving around in the night and this is new, if they start needing to go out to the toilet in the night, or even if they start to cry or otherwise sleep less, or on the flipside, if they start napping more, want to go to bed earlier, and don’t seem as keen to get up at the normal times, don’t ignore this.

Any of these indicators may mean that your dog has a health condition developing, that they’re ill, or that they’re injured, even if there are no physical indicators of this.

Their grooming habits change

Some dogs are almost as fastidious about their personal grooming as cats are, while others seem to take it as a point of pride to be filthy and scruffy at all times! However, whatever the norm is for your own dog, an unexplained change in their personal grooming habits will often mean something is up.

If your dog doesn’t usually lick and groom themselves much or at all and they suddenly seem to be doing this, there is usually a reason; it could be a skin condition or irritation, a localised problem like a bite or sting, or a systemic problem like an allergy.

If your dog is actually usually quite finnicky about grooming and this changes, this can indicate just as strongly that something is wrong as it can mean that your dog feels ill and unhappy to the point that they stop grooming as a result of this.

A third thing that might indicate an illness or that your dog is in pain is if you groom your dog regularly and how they feel about this or how they act when you do this changes.

Most dogs really enjoy being groomed, so if your dog starts to avoid it or is difficult about it, firstly be sure you’re not accidentally making it painful or uncomfortable (by pulling their fur, or being too heavy-handed) but also bear in mind that it may be because they’re in pain or feel unwell.

Their activity levels change

A dog that suddenly seems reluctant to go for a walk, that doesn’t want to play, and that is lethargic or loses interest in the things they enjoy is almost certainly unwell or in pain.

If your dog appears to be having the opposite problem and is restless, finds it hard to settle, and seems to pace about or never really relax (and they’re definitely getting enough exercise) then this too might mean there’s something going on, like a health condition or illness making them uncomfortable or unsettled.

They act out for no good reason

If your dog seems to have started acting out in any number of ways, there might be a behavioural trigger for this, or a health condition; and it is important to consider both possibilities and get to the bottom of it.

Acting out can manifest in many ways, from showing signs of anxiety, being overly clingy, being snappy, toileting in the house, and generally, behaving in a negative manner that is new and not appropriate to the situation, and cannot be assigned to a cause or trigger.

For instance, a dog may become clingy if they feel unwell, as they’re looking to you for reassurance. They may start toileting in the house if a physical problem makes them unable to hold it.

The frequency or way they eat or drink changes

Most of us find it notable if the dog goes off their food as dogs tend to be so food-oriented. This is a fairly clear sign something has changed, or is wrong. It might be really simple and transient, like if your dog gorged on something they found in the park and was full, or if they develop a short-term stomach problem from doing so.

However, it can also mean they’re in pain to the point that they don’t want to eat, or an illness or health problem means they’ve lost their appetite.

Being hungrier than normal (although for many dogs, they appear to be in peak hunger mode at all times even when they’ve just eaten, so it can be hard to tell!) trying to eat odd things, or other changes in how they eat or view food should not be ignored either.

A couple of other things to look out for is how your dog eats; if they drop a lot of food, start eating delicately, or only chew on one side of their mouth, this usually means a dental problem but always means something that needs investigating.

Your dog’s water intake too is something that can indicate a problem if it changes; like if your dog barely drinks at all, of if you find you’re refilling their bowl far more than normal or they’re always drinking.

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