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7 Signs That May Indicate a Canine Medical Problem

7 Signs That May Indicate a Canine Medical Problem

By Lisa Perri DosPassos

As a pet care professional, it is important to be able to recognize any signs that may indicate pain or discomfort a dog could be experiencing when they are in your care. It is not uncommon for dogs to show subtle signs that can be easy to miss. A dog that is in pain is certainly more likely to display unwanted behaviors when handled. Below is a list of some common signs and indications that a dog may be experiencing pain, weakness or discomfort.

1. Rounded or “roached” topline.

Everyone loves a nice straight topline on a dog. If a dog presents with a curved, rounded or even “pointed” back, a red flag should go up. As dogs age, they can lose muscle mass, strength and flexibility through the spine, contributing to poor spinal posture. A rounded spine may also be an indication that there is trouble somewhere else in the body, such as a painful limb. 

2. Avoidance of shifting weight to a limb.

As you lift each leg of a dog, they shift their weight through the other three limbs. If you observe a dog that consistently does not want to off-load a limb, take a closer look. The limb on the opposite side may be painful or too weak to support the dog. This is common with conditions such as hip dysplasia and arthritis. 

3. Inability to stand for several minutes.

A fit dog should be able to stand upright for three minutes or more. If a dog tries to sit or lie down after standing for only a brief period of time, obesity, poor conditioning, painful joints, chronic disease or injury may be to blame.

4. Reacting when touched at the waist.

We have all encountered a dog that will whip around and snap when you touch or hold them around the waist. This may be the result of under-socialization or poor exposure to being handled as a young dog—or this can also be an indication that the dog has pain in their hips, back or hind legs. A common muscle injury in the hind end is a strain of the iliopsoas muscle group. “Guarding” the area of the waist is often seen in a dog with an iliopsoas strain. Look for twitching or stiffening of the muscles around this area when touched to give you a better idea if this is a problem with pain versus behavior.

5. Not wanting to move front legs forward.

A dog with a painful shoulder, neck or rib may not be comfortable having their front leg moved forward. Dogs naturally carry 60 percent of their weight through the front end. Any front end lameness or pain should be taken seriously. 

6. Strong dislike of having feet or nails touched.

Most dogs don’t enjoy having their feet touched. So the key here is to be on the lookout for a dog that has a particular foot or toe that they strongly protest having touched, or a dog that previously did not fuss about their feet but now reacts when handled. Arthritis of the wrists and toes can be a sneaky culprit, and may make it very painful for a toe or foot to be flexed, pressed or squeezed.  

7. Asymmetry in the limbs or muscles.

Be aware of any imbalance, asymmetry or visual difference in the muscles or posture of the limbs of the dog. A dog that is not using a limb properly will likely have smaller muscles on that side, or may hold the leg in a different position when standing, sitting or lying down. Knee ligament injuries are very common and usually lead to muscle wasting on the injured leg.

Dogs are often stoic creatures, and do a good job of adapting to painful changes in their bodies. Whether from injury, disease or changes from aging, dogs can hide their pain very well. If you notice any signs of pain or discomfort in a dog, encourage their owners to have the dog checked out by their veterinarian for a full evaluation. 

Lisa DosPassos, OTR/L, CCRP, is a canine rehabilitation practitioner from southern Pennsylvania. Lisa spent over 14 years working as a veterinary technician, as she went on to become an occupational therapist. She is one of the few occupational therapists that have become canine rehab therapists, through the University of Tennessee program. She and her husband compete in the sport of flyball, and train in disc, agility, weight pull, barn hunt and dock diving with their dogs. Next Level Canine Rehab & Fitness is located in Chester County Pennsylvania, serving canine athletes and family companions alike.