Raise your hand if you can’t stand to see an animal in pain? What if I told you that most of the time you don’t even know that a dog is in pain. A dog never says ouch. A dog that is ill or in pain tends to become more subdued and quiet, until they are too sick to hide it anymore. Dogs suffer in silence. You will even get affection, tail wags, and kisses from a dog who is pain.
How can you tell if your dog is in pain if you can’t see an injury and they are hiding their discomfort? As pet owners, we have to learn how to read our dog’s body language and behaviors. In animal rescue we often don’t have any medical history, and we do not immediately know what is normal behavior. Rescue dogs tend to be stressed in the shelter and when they initially arrive in foster care. They need time to decompress and to show us their true personalities. We need to observe our pets very carefully.
Establish a baseline for your dog’s behavior, because any noticeable change in behavior can be cause for concern. Just pay attention.
All of these are signs that your dog may be sick or in pain:
Changes in Activity Levels – Limping, stiffness, reduced activity levels are a good indicator of discomfort.
Changes in Sleeping Habits – Dogs that are in pain sleep more. It may be difficult or painful for your dog to move around.
Pacing, Restlessness, and Inability to Sleep are all signs of agitation or pain.
Antisocial Behavior – If your dog is no longer running to meet you at the door, or is avoiding other dogs, something may be wrong.
Aggressive Behavior – You know how when you are sick or hurt, you get short-tempered? Dogs do too.
Changes in Eating and Drinking Habits – A loss of appetite is a big red flag that your dog is not feeling well. Difficulty chewing may indicate dental pain. (More on this below.)
Being More Vocal – Increased whining, growling, snarling, or howling may be your dog’s way of trying to tell you something is wrong.
Heavy Panting in a dog that has not been physically active or Shallow Breathing are signs that something is not right.
Excessive Grooming – Self-soothing activities such as paw licking may be a sign that something isn’t feeling right for your dog.
Shaking and Trembling can indicate that a dog has eaten something it should not have, such as chocolate or xylitol, and is having muscle tremors. Shaking can also indicate general pain, pancreatitis or kidney disease.
If you notice any of these behaviors, call your veterinarian.
While I have you paying close attention to your dog…
Does your dog have bad breath?
Are you just ignoring it because you think that all dog’s have bad breath? They don’t. When is the last time you looked closely inside of your dog’s mouth?
Periodontal disease occurs five times as often in dogs as it does in humans. The majority of dogs over the age of three, at least 80%, have some form of dental disease. It begins with simple plaque and tartar build-up and mildly inflamed gums (gingivitis). If gingivitis is left untreated, it can develop into periodontal disease and the loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth. Periodontal disease hides below the gum line, and you can’t see it. Did you know that periodontal disease in dogs can be extremely painful? Dog owners are often unaware of their dog’s chronic pain. Dogs have evolved to hide pain. Their instincts are to hide any overt signs of illness, because members of the pack who show weakness are considered vulnerable. Bottom line, your dog may have painful, abscessed teeth and still eat just fine.
If left untreated, pets with periodontal disease are more likely to develop heart, kidney and liver disease because bacteria from the gums enter the bloodstream and sticks to the arteries around the heart? Taking care of your dog’s dental hygiene is an important part of taking care of your dogs health and preventing pain.
Let’s talk about your dog’s mouth, because mouth pain can result in significant changes in your dog’s behavior.
Here is what to watch for:
- Foul smelling breath – may indicate infection
- Red, inflamed gums, particularly around the teeth – Gingivitis, could indicate an abscess
- Yellow/brown material on the teeth – Calculus and tartar
- Broken, loose, or missing teeth, or holes in the teeth – Caries
- Gradual loss of interest in playing with or chewing toys
- Blood in the water or food bowl or on chew toys
- Rubbing or pawing at the mouth – may indicate discomfort or pain
- Fussy eating, favoring certain types of food, eating on one side only, dropping food or having problems picking up food
- Salivating and drooling
You wouldn’t go years between dental exams and teeth cleanings, and neither should your dog. You brush your own teeth a couple of times a day, but maybe 1% of dog owners actually brush their dog’s teeth. Start off right, if you have a puppy, you should brush your dog’s teeth daily. If you have an older dog and you have not previously brushed your dog’s teeth….well, good luck. They may not let you. If there’s already gum disease present, brushing may be ineffective and even very painful. There are chew toys that are designed to help keep your dog’s teeth clean as well as dental treats. (Just search chewy.com for dental chews and dental treats for dogs.)
Please make sure you visit your vet with your furry friends for a regular health check that includes an annual dental exam and cleaning. Keep in mind, as dogs get older, they may need dental cleanings more often; it depends on the age and breed as well as the dog’s diet and home care habits (Smaller breeds tend to need more dental care than larger breeds.)
A full canine dental exam and cleaning is done under general anesthesia, because periodontal disease hides below the gum line. See the photo below – the black line indicates the amount of tooth that we cannot see. Periodontal disease hides below the gum line, and you can’t see it.
We have had several foster dogs that needed major dental work. I really wonder if their previous owners ever looked at their teeth, or ever realized how much pain their dogs were actually in? We could smell their dental issues from across the room. Ignoring this is cruelty and negligence.
After our foster dogs had their bad teeth pulled out, we noticed big changes in their behavior. They were no longer in pain. Please, take a moment to go look into your dog’s mouth, and always pay attention to changes in behavior. Don’t let your dog suffer in silence when a visit to the vet can relieve their pain.