Dogs May Give Off 3 Subtle Signs to Show They're in Pain

Every loving dog owner just wants the best for their fur baby--we get it! Nothing feels as rewarding as knowing a pup is happy and healthy, though every pet will obstacles at one time or another. Especially as dogs age, they're bound to run into more aches, pains, and limitations than when they were young.

Luckily, a little bit of TLC from a knowledgeable pet parent can help an older dog thrive. One way owners can keep senior fur babies comfortable is by knowing the signs dogs show when they're in pain. This subtle dog body language can be hard to spot, but an attentive owner will learn what to keep an eye out for.

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This is a great example of how a dog can express discomfort in so many different ways. Hamilton, who's half of the @smoothandscrappy duo, shows displacement licking, 'spiky' fur, and discomfort while sitting down. Many dogs ask for a massage, just like this Catahoula dog does, but his owner has noticed that it's something he tends to do while he's in pain, too.

When a dog has raised hackles (AKA when their fur stands up on their back), they're experiencing a physical response to a mental stimulus. As dual-certified dog trainer and behavior consultant Adrienne Farricelli explains, you might see a dog's raised hackles when they feel:

  • fear

  • arousal

  • surprise

  • insecurity

  • excitement

  • nervousness

  • defensive behaviors

It makes sense that some dogs also have fur standing on end when they're in pain, but it's important to know other dog body language hints as well. After all, some dogs' fur makes it impossible to see raised hackles!

Hamilton's 'tippy tap sit' may look cute at first, but his mom, Laura, knows that it's a sign of his discomfort. This may be more common in dogs with hip dysplasia or arthritis, though it's worth keeping an eye on if your dog has no preexisting conditions. Large dogs like Great Danes and Catahoula Leopard Dogs are especially at risk.

Many people assume that a dog's lick is always a sign of affection, but it could also be a sign of submission or even discomfort. Farricelli explains that displacement behaviors "are out-of-context behaviors that animals engage in when they're faced with conflicts." So, even though there is no food or substance to lick, Hamilton licks his owner to express pain he cannot fix. Poor guy!

Because Laura keeps such a close eye on her pets, we have no doubt she's on top of her pup's pain management. It can be time-consuming at times, but it's worth it to see a fur baby feeling their best.