How Pain Can Cause Anxiety in Dogs?

If you ever wondered how pain can cause anxiety in dogs, there are a number of ways, some possibly unexpected! When dogs experience pain, it can have a big impact on their overall emotional well-being. Experiencing pain can make them feel vulnerable and cause anxiety. Read on to find out what’s happening beneath the fur and how it can impact your dogs behaviour.

Even mild pain can cause problem behaviour

Dogs are very good at hiding pain from us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Headaches, toothaches, and joint pain, can all exist under the surface, as can many other kinds of pain. It doesn’t have to make our dogs limp or cry out for it to have an impact on their behaviour. So just because it isn’t obvious doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider pain as a reason for a new behaviour. Even mild pain can cause anxiety, which in turn can affect our dogs overall mood. As we’ll see in this blog, this can make them reactive to unexpected triggers and situations.

a small, sad looking, pug type dog wrapped in a blanket.
Pain can trigger fight or flight responses which makes dogs anxious!

Pain triggers fight or flight response

Pain is a sign of danger, so it can trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response. This response can lead to increased adrenaline, which increases heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, and muscle tension. These can all make the pain feel worse. But, they can also make a dog more at risk of overwhelm, which can lead to reactive behaviour and frustration.

Noise sensitivity

Noise can also cause pain by triggering the release of stress hormones. When we are exposed to loud noise, our bodies can release cortisol and adrenaline. Many of us know the physical feeling we get at loud concerts or when we hear gun fire. These hormones can cause increased heart rate, muscle tension, headaches, migraines, and other pain symptoms too. Noise can also increase the level of inflammation in the body, which can make existing pain, such as arthritis, more severe. This can effect older dogs quite significantly. Very often we think our dogs react fearfully to loud noises. But, if your dog is reacting to fireworks it is very likely they are also suffering from pain first, which in turn causes anxiety.

Feeling vulnerable

When dogs are in pain, their ability to defend themselves from potential threats diminishes. They may become physically weaker or less agile, which heightens their sense of vulnerability. This vulnerability, in turn, breeds insecurity and amplifies their fear and anxiety levels. When this happens they need us to advocate for them even more than usual.

Pain can also affect a dogs ability to exercise, sleep and eat. When these essential needs are affected a dog is already more vulnerable to overwhelm. But they might also feel the physical effects of not getting enough sleep or food which can make a dog grumpy and reactive. We know that sleep and exercise can reduce, or even switch off, the release of adrenaline so without good quality exercise and sleep, stress hormone can be allowed to build up.

a large black dog lays with his head and chin resting on the ground. He looks depressed.
Being in pain can cause your dog anxiety, plus they might withdraw or even appear depressed.

Pain affects normal behaviour

Pain can also undermine a dog’s confidence, making them feel uncertain and insecure in their environment. Exploring new places, interacting with other dogs or people, and engaging in their usual activities becomes challenging when pain is present. Dogs need to feel safe and secure to feel confident in themselves. As we already know, pain causes vulnerability which can seriously impact their normal behaviour. As a result, dogs may withdraw socially, experience feelings of isolation, and develop further fear and anxiety.

Fear of pain – Algophobia

It is possible to fear pain. Dogs with algophobia may experience intense anxiety, panic, or even depression at the thought of pain. They may also start to avoid activities or situations that they perceive as being painful. We know that sound can be painful to dogs and this is why we see such extreme reactions to fireworks. It can also be caused by past experiences. If a dog has had a negative experience with pain in the past, such as being injured, getting an injection, or being groomed, they may develop a fear of pain. In these cases, a dog might try to avoid going outside or going to the groomers at all. Interestingly, they can also develop a fear of pain by watching other dogs reactions.

Fix the pain first

Pain can be at the root cause of any kind of behaviour problem. It might not be obvious if your dog is in pain, but if they are, it can cause overwhelm, which reduces a dogs overall ability to cope. If a dog has developed anxiety for no obvious reason, or is in old age, then it’s a good idea to speak to your vet about how you might go about ruling out pain as a potential cause. If you don’t fix the pain first, then any behaviour work will not be permanent and could cause a dog to struggle to maintain their mood.


Are you struggling with your dogs behaviour?

Once you’ve got the all clear from your vet I’ll be glad to help. Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the greater Dundee area and beyond, or via zoom when further afield. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!

Also, check out my online programmes and courses

Caroline
Caroline

I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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