Article image

Study reveals body positions that indicate your dog is in pain

Dogs, known as man’s best friend, can provide their owners with immense joy and companionship. Unfortunately, when dogs are in pain, they are unable to verbally communicate their distress. This can make it challenging for owners to determine when their pets need medical attention. 

However, a recent study conducted by a team of researchers from Ankara University in Turkey has shed light on the ways dogs express their pain, giving their owners a “sixth sense” to better understand their pets’ needs.

The experts surveyed 124 dog owners, asking them about their perceptions of their dogs’ pain and any associated behaviors. Of the 35 behavioral indicators examined, 13 were significantly more prevalent in dogs thought to be experiencing chronic pain. Moreover, specific positions, such as lowering their tails and ears when jumping on or off furniture, were more commonly observed in dogs suffering from pain.

The authors of the study highlighted the importance of recognizing pain-related behaviors and postures in dogs, suggesting that “simple pain scales which can be filled by owners and include basic parameters such as movement-based behaviors and ear-tail positions in daily contexts can be developed to evaluate chronic pain in dogs.” 

Early identification of pain can improve a dog’s quality of life, reduce financial burdens associated with delayed treatment, and protect the well-being of both dogs and their caregivers.

Detecting pain in pets can be difficult, as dogs and cats often attempt to hide their pain as a protective mechanism. Nonetheless, owners can play a vital role in early diagnosis by observing changes in their pets’ behavior at home. Despite this, the researchers found limited existing research on how dogs perceive chronic pain.

To address this gap, the experts aimed to identify the most noticeable pain-related gestures and behavioral changes in dogs. 

After analyzing the survey results, the team divided the dogs into two groups: those with chronic pain and those without. Among the dogs in pain, most suffered from orthopedic pain, but other types included neurological pain, gastro-abdominal pain, and excessive itching.

Owners of dogs in pain reported reduced general activity and excessive licking of body parts in 70.3% and 64% of cases, respectively. Decreased social behaviors, such as tail wagging and delays in welcoming owners at the door, were also observed in dogs experiencing pain. Interestingly, this finding contradicted the expectation that dogs would mask their pain in social situations for potential benefits or perceived threats.

The study revealed that certain behaviors were more common in senior dogs, while others were more prevalent in young adult and mature adult dogs. In particular, young adult dogs exhibited the most behavioral changes, possibly because difficulties are highly unexpected at this age. Only four behavioral changes were found to be more significant in senior dogs with chronic pain.

Significant differences in ear and tail positions during specific activities were also observed between dogs in pain and those not in pain. According to the researchers, “ear and tail positions can give clues to predict emotions and such as pain, stress, and fear that the dog experiences.” Dogs in pain tended to lower or partially lower their ears during activities like getting up, going up or down stairs, and jumping on or off furniture. 

In contrast, dogs not in pain maintained neutral ear positions during these activities. Similarly, dogs in pain were more likely to point their tails down during these activities, while healthy dogs kept their tails in a relaxed or upward position.

This groundbreaking research is the first to demonstrate that owners can recognize pain-related behavioral changes in their dogs. The authors stress the importance of owners having a solid understanding of these behaviors, as they must explain their concerns to veterinarians. 

The study’s findings could potentially be used to develop a chronic pain scale for dogs, focusing on behavioral indicators that can be easily understood and used by owners to help their furry friends.

Dogs and humans have shared a close bond for thousands of years. The domestication of dogs is believed to have begun between 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. Genetic evidence suggests that modern dogs diverged from a now-extinct population of wolves, with whom they share a common ancestor.

The exact circumstances surrounding the initial domestication of dogs are still debated among researchers. However, a widely accepted theory is that the process began when wolves were attracted to human campsites due to the availability of food, such as leftover scraps. Over time, humans and wolves developed a mutually beneficial relationship, with the wolves helping humans in hunting and providing protection, while humans offered food and shelter in return.

As the relationship between humans and wolves evolved, selective breeding took place, resulting in tamer, more docile wolves that eventually became the first domesticated dogs. These early dogs played various roles in human societies, including hunting, herding, and companionship.

The strong bond between humans and dogs has continued to develop over the millennia, and today, dogs are not only valued as working animals but also as beloved pets and members of the family. This unique bond is a testament to the deep connection and shared history between our two species.

The study is published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day