Pain and Behaviour

As it is with humans; being unwell can have an effect on an animals behaviour.  They too can become challenging to deal with and experience changes. To be aware of what can happen and be prepared can help. 

If your dog is a support/therapy dog you may need to make changes to their workload, or even consider retiring them.  Maybe talk to your vet and or your dog trainer.

Some pain is obvious

How do medical problems impact behaviour

  • This can be directly or indirectly, caused by the illness
  • There may be decreased/impaired perception (e.g. deafness)
  • Changes to internal processes (e.g. endocrine or neurological systems)
  • Increased stress (e.g. Pain)
  • Changes to the way they express themselves due to injury or weakness

Medical issues identified

This list is the types of issues that are known/believed to impact behaviour.  If your dog  is unwell  and you have visited the vet you might ask about any odd behaviour or be aware of what could happen.

  • Pain (more on this below)
  • Endocrine Diseases like low or high thyroid (is a little controversial however)
  • Other Endocrine disease although less is known about this.
  • Vomeronasal organ (detects pheromones, it’s in the nose)
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Autoimmune disorders although less is known about this

More on Pain

Dogs are often quite stoic, and can hide their pain well.  You may see some changes in their behaviour that may indicate they are experiencing pain somewhere.

  • Activity –  could see some change like slowing down, reluctance to get up etc.
  • Social interaction – they may be less playful, or grumpy when playing with another dog.
  • Appetite, can be effected
  • Rest, they may sleep more

How pain impacts Behaviour

This will be different for each dog and some it will have little to none.

  • Increased defensive behaviour
  • Increased Stress/fear
  • Classical conditioning/context learning, this is a little more complicated, so here’s an example say your dog has had pain when walking up the stairs and has subsequently learnt to avoid the stairs, now the pain has gone but he still avoids the stairs. That’s context learning.
  • Increased anxiety, probably more so in those dogs that are prone to be anxious.
  • Negative cognitive bias, so in people this is when we see things in a negative light much more than when we are pain free. This is likely in animals too.

What this might then look like in your dog

You might then see some development of abnormal behaviours.  So if your dog suddenly starts to do things differently and nothing else has changed, you might go for a vet check.  If you know your dog is unwell you might be on the lookout for abnormal behaviours.

  • Aggression – you could see an increase or this might occur as a new behaviour
  • Fear – Less likely to want to explore new environments, may show fear signs to other dogs/animals.
  • Inappropriate elimination – a dog might start toileting inside, when they are really house trained.
  • Hiding (have you ever wanted to hide away from the world when you are in pain)

This is for information only, each dog is different.  Knowledge is power, and can help you make decisions on behalf of your dog.  They may be nonverbal but by watching them closely and understanding how they are when they are well and pain free will help you make comparisons when they are either old or unwell.  They will let you know via their behaviour and their body language how they are feeling.  We need to listen to them, and sometimes take action.

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