5 Signs Your Dog May Be Experiencing Discomfort (And What To Do About It)
Read Time: 8 minutes
For most dog moms and dads out there, there's nothing worse than seeing their pups in pain. Since dogs can't use their words to tell us what's wrong (with a few exceptions for talking dogs, of course) it’s in everyone’s best interest to be aware of what they are telling us with their body language. Getting to know a few common signs of pain, anxiety, and/or stress in your dog can help ensure your family on all fours feel their best; that way, they’re up for all the hikes, car rides, and zoomies life has to offer! Here are some essentials you should know.
A few signs of discomfort in dogs
Unfortunately, dogs can be masters of hiding pain and discomfort. Back when dogs were wild, they'd hide pain as a survival tactic. That's great when you're a wolf looking to survive a harsh winter, but if you're an 8-pound chihuahua in Florida with a mother who has limitless resources to care for your health and wellbeing, it can be counterproductive.
While dogs aren't usually open with their feelings, there are subtle behaviors you can watch for to get a better idea of what's really going on with your pet. Here are some leading indicators of pain, stress, and anxiety in dogs:
Signs of Stress
Signs of Anxiety
Signs of Pain
What can you do when your dog shows symptoms of pain, stress, or anxiety?
Stress, anxiety, and pain in dogs can be a result of so many things—from a physical ailment or stressful environment, weather, your behaviors, or even your routine. If your dog is displaying any of the signs we talked about in the section above, you can use this troubleshooting guide to help get things back on track.
1. Check in with the vet
In some circumstances, a trip to the vet is unavoidable—especially if you’re noticing symptoms of pain or severe anxiety. Before rushing to the vet, though, it helps to take a look at your pet's symptoms for a few days and ask yourself some questions:
- When do the behaviors occur?
(Before or after a walk? After a meal? Before you leave for work?)
- How often do they happen?
- Are they more common in the morning, evening, or during certain weather conditions?
- Is your pet eating, drinking, and going to the restroom okay?
Having answers to these questions will make it easier for you and your vet to figure out what the problem is, the best way to navigate it, and what to look for when following up. After you monitor your pup, you can talk to your vet about the behaviors you noticed and they'll be better informed to help find a solution.
2. Give them some space
If your pet is showing a lot of symptoms of stress or anxiety, it helps to ease up a little bit. It's hard sometimes—especially when your dog is the cutest dog on earth and you just want to pick them up, hold them, squeeze them, and kiss their face 24/7—but dogs don't share their owners’ love language. You could be unintentionally stressing your pup out without realizing it. Many dog owners are simply unaware of their pup’s body language.¹
For example, dogs don't like to feel restrained or picked up. They don't show affection with hugs. Instead, they're more likely to lean against each other or against you to show their love. When it comes to dog politics, there's a pecking order. Pinning another dog to the ground is part of play fighting or actual fighting, and when you hug them, they feel trapped. While they may tolerate it from their humans, they display signs of stress when being held or hugged. If they misread your hug or eye contact as aggression, they could react by struggling to get away—or in an extreme case, by biting.²
If you do notice your pooch seems to be more stressed when you're in their face or cuddling them, just give them a little room! They know you love them, and they love you—even when physical touch isn’t part of the equation.
3. Try CBD
Plenty of research has gone into CBD and how it may be effective for dogs. Evidence suggests that CBD may be helpful in relieving stress, anxiety, pain, and inflammation in humans, but were you aware studies show it may help dogs, as well? Since CBD is non-intoxicating, it won't cause you or your pet to feel stoned—however, it may better equip them to handle chronic pain, stress, and anxiety when taken daily.³⁻⁵
CBD seems to mirror the same balancing effects in dogs as it does in our bodies. By binding to the receptors in the endocannabinoid systems (of both humans and dogs), it may help balance immune responses like appetite, mood, sleep-wake cycles, and metabolism. It could also be of help in dealing with inflammation, which is a leading cause of chronic pain in dogs. With that in mind, CBD may be able to support dogs in navigating feelings of anxiety, stress, and pain.
Giving CBD to your pups is simple! You can add a serving to their breakfast or offer them a tasty, CBD-infused treat—using the recommended serving sizes below based on their body weight and intensity of symptoms. Just keep in mind that CBD works best when it's given to your pet daily. You won’t always see reductions in anxiety or stress overnight, but with more consistent use the symptoms may become more manageable—especially when paired with other medications prescribed by your vet.
At Lazarus Naturals, our CBD for dogs is specially formulated to help meet your pup’s unique nutritional needs while promoting overall physical health. Crafted with wholesome, sustainably sourced, clean ingredients like wild-caught salmon oil, pumpkin, and omega-3s, we provide a variety of functional and science-backed ways to support healthy skin, coat, heart, joints, and digestion.⁶ Just make sure to double-check that CBD won't interact with any medications your pet is currently taking by consulting with your vet before you get started!
4. Limit Stressful Environments—and Give Your Pet a Safe Place to Go
Many dog owners feel having a dog cooped up in a kennel or crate is kind of heartless, but dogs are actually denning animals—meaning they naturally like having quiet, comfortable places to lie down and get away from it all.⁷ (Don’t we all?) They feel the safest in their dens and, when they are used appropriately, crates can actually be a great option for offering your pup a safe, secure, and cozy place of reprieve.
You can think of a crate as a comfy bedroom for your dog. You already see where we're going with this if you've ever had a stressful day and went straight to bed. Dogs that don't have crates will often find small hiding places, such as under beds or holes they’ve dug, and sleep in them to establish that safe space. They're instrumental if your dog is in a stressful environment, like one with lots of kids or other pets—or anxious situations, such as thunderstorms or fireworks.
Like everything else, there's a right way and wrong way to use a crate, though.⁸ Crates can become an extremely stressful environment if you've ever used the crate to put your dog in "time-out" or left him locked in for too long. If you're trying to introduce a crate to your pet, it helps to keep the door to it open at all times and feed them special treats or meals inside. You can even decorate the crate with comfy bedding, their favorite toys, and a cover over the top to help them feel more secure.
Giving your pet a relaxing place to go when they feel overwhelmed is a simple way to elevate their quality of life!
5. Go for more walks, give more treats, and spend some quality time with your pet
Anxiety and stress display themselves in different ways in canines: generalized, environmental, social, and separation. Most dogs experience separation anxiety—but many reactive dogs also fall under socially anxious or generally anxious categories. Environmental anxiety also happens in known stressful environments—like the vet's office or during fireworks on the 4th of July.
However, just like people, exercise can help reduce feelings of anxiety in dogs. Going for a walk and getting some fresh air with your pooch may help reduce anxious behaviors, like chewing up your favorite slippers or scavenging through the trash. Rigorous exercise and play may make it easier for your pet to react in a healthier way when stressful moments do arrive.⁹ It also allows you to form a stronger bond with your pup!
Quality time is another essential element. Practicing tricks with your dog is a great way to bond with them while also helping to distract them from anxiety-inducing situations. Practicing tricks can also help keep their attention and desensitize them from potentially triggering experiences, like being around other dogs in public.¹⁰ Just like with us, a little attention goes a long way! Rub your dog’s belly and massage their forehead and ears to help them release tension.
If all else fails, the best way to their heart is through their stomach! Dogs lick and chew to relieve stress, and healthy treats and toys help your pet remain occupied enough to relax.¹¹ Treat balls stuffed with canned pumpkin or peanut butter can help them remain calm in stressful situations or even distract them from symptoms of pain or anxiety.
At the end of the day, dogs might show signs of discomfort for several reasons. However, many things you can do may make them more comfortable in the meantime. Between your conscious decision to nurture their well-being and a vet’s expertise, you can help ensure your four-legged family members look, feel, and behave their best.