5 Subtle Ways that Dogs Show they are in Muscular Pain

Photo by Patrick Danforth | www.clicktozen.com

Photo by Patrick Danforth | www.clicktozen.com

Dogs have around 700 muscles in their bodies. Each of these muscles work in pairs; when one contracts another relaxes, and this creates movement of the joints. All movement in the body is caused by muscles contracting and relaxing.

So it is no surprise that from time to time these muscles get injured!

Injuries to muscles can occur in many different ways. They can be caused by something very sudden like a slip or fall, or they may creep up slowly on a dog caused by a repetitive task which causes tiny tears to the muscle every time the dog does that action until one day these tiny tears build up.

Dogs are good at hiding their pain and often only show it in very subtle ways.

Here are 5 subtle ways dogs show they are in muscular pain:

  1. Gait Change

This is the way a dog moves. A dog will only change the way they walk and move for a reason. Any change in gait should be taken seriously. Changes in gait include: limping, lameness, throwing a leg, crabbing, elbowing out or stiffness.

Sometimes a gait change may be very subtle to the point where you don’t really see it; you just know they don’t look right when they walk or run.

  1. Change in Behaviours

Just like us, when in pain or discomfort, a dog can often become grumpy. Whether this is towards us or other dogs makes no difference.

They will often become grumpy or aggressive with other dogs as they do not want to play or be knocked about during play. They may also feel vulnerable, and act aggressive to ward off other dogs.

Grumpiness isn’t the only change in behaviour a dog may display due to muscular pain; they might appear lethargic and be less willing to go for a walk.

They might just not be their usual self!

  1. Posture Change

This could be something quite obvious, like the dog's back arching (roaching) or going concave (sway back), or it could be very subtle, like they can’t stand squarely any more. This often goes unnoticed by owners other than those who show. It is vital for a show dog to be able to stand square in the ring.

I have treated show dogs with massage therapy for this exact reason alone and they have then gone back to doing well in the ring. One dog I treated qualified for Crufts straight after a course of treatment!

  1. Coat Flicks

This is probably the subtlest symptom of muscular pain of all. Patterns often form in the dogs coat which mirror the shape of the muscle underneath. It makes perfect sense, really. When a muscle is injured and unable to perform correctly, it create a “pull” on the skin above it. The hairs of the coat grow from the skin.

If the muscle is very tight, this may inhibit blood flow to the skin cause poor circulation so the coat can often become dry and course in a certain area of the dog's body.

  1. A Dislike to Being Groomed

When we groom a dog, we often tug at the coat, especially if it is knotted this hair is obviously attached to the skin. If the dog is suffering from my fascial pain, then this tugging will aggravate that condition, as tissue below the skin is tightened and jammed.

Dogs often do not like to be groomed over their hamstrings which are at the back of their hind legs, as they can accumulate a lot of muscular issues.

Canine massage can greatly benefit dogs displaying any of these signs of pain and discomfort. By releasing trigger points and tight muscles or breaking down scar tissue, these symptoms can be greatly reduced and often resolved altogether.

If you think it sounds like your dog is showing subtle signs of muscular pain, then I recommend that you find a local canine massage practitioner.

I am vice chair of the Canine Massage Guild. To see if there is a practitioner near you visit our website at www.k9massageguild.co.uk


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Positively Expert: Louise Swindlehurst

Louise is a Canine Massage Therapist and Vice Chair of the Canine Massage Guild. She specialises in the rehabilitation of soft tissue Injuries and management of orthopaedic conditions in dogs.


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7 thoughts on “5 Subtle Ways that Dogs Show they are in Muscular Pain

  1. Miriam

    Very informative and helpful article. Just one thing though. Roaching, in greyhound circles, means lying on your back waving your legs in the air. Like a cockroach - roaching.

  2. Lee Rowan

    Great article, and as an LMT myself I use my training on my dogs all the time. A dislike of being groomed is subtle, and comes on slowly. If your dog is older, get a softer brush and work more slowly.

  3. Ball Buster®

    I've always given my dogs subtle muscle massage's after long walks and play times. They always seemed to enjoy them. I know I have always enjoyed massages, so I figured they did too.

  4. Jodi

    Is there anything to be done for muscle pain? I was just noticing my 12-year labrador mix on his walk and both his knees seem to bow out. He's had CCL repair on one and a partial tear on the other (surgery was ruled out to an irregular heartbeat). I was planning on calling my vet, but I'd love to know if you have any suggestions, so I can have an informed discussion.

    Thank you.

  5. ratgirl

    Acupuncture or, as the article suggested, massage may be an avenue to explore. Your vet may also have suggestions for physical therapy or even medication. One of my cats has some problems in his knees and wrists, though it's a bit more complicated because he's not wild about new people or being taken out of the house.

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