Karen Wild’s Dog Behaviour: Pain and behaviour link together

Karen Wild column EMN-140715-124751001
Karen Wild column EMN-140715-124751001

How do you know your dog is in pain? Are you expecting wails and lameness and gnashing of teeth?

Today I write with a slightly worried heart, as our tiniest dog is staying at an orthopaedic specialist vet after having some surgery on one of her little knees. The operation went well (impressive, given that she is the size of a guinea pig) and we are hopefully able to collect her tomorrow. Thank heaven for pet insurance and for our amazing local Vets!

I mention this as we knew there was something the matter with her, but could not tell what it was and more importantly, had no idea whether or not she was in pain. We could only assume that it must hurt, but she showed no signs of limping or lameness, and only refused to walk across certain floors in our home. Usually shiny laminate was her worst!

As a behaviourist working with pets with problems, I think all dog owners need to realise that pain is something dogs appear to actively work to conceal. I suppose it makes survival sense to not show you are vulnerable. Perhaps when their pain is only unbearable do they finally cry out.

Signs that your pet may be in pain:

Reluctance to do things that they did before is a big factor. Do they stay in bed more, fail to get up on the sofa nowadays, start to slow down on walks? This is not stubborn behaviour. It is highly likely that there is something hurting them. After all, none of us want to go jogging when we have a headache, and like to stay in bed when we've overdone the gardening the day before. We humans can help ourselves, of course, by telling someone or taking a mild painkiller, or ringing up the doctor!

Our dogs and cats can't do this, so they seem to put up with the inevitable, and this is very sad.

Occasionally I am called for cases where a dog has bitten someone, or started to bark when near other dogs, or perhaps has got grumpy around the younger pups in the family. This needs assessment, but there are times where the dog has had an injury, illness, or is on some kind of pain relieving medication already. To look at the dog you would not know that there was an issue, but what never lies to us is their behaviour. If a dog is saying 'please stop' by using aggression, a medical check is always the first port of call. Look out for pain in your dog.