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posted: 8/14/2011 6:00 PM

Kiriluk: How to spot an ill pet

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  • Buster


  • Clara



I hit my toe on the kitchen table leg last night. I don't know if I broke it or not but it sure did hurt. I put some ice on it, which helped, and limped around for the rest of the evening.

It didn't hurt as much in the morning but walking on it reminded me of my contact with the furniture.

Sometimes it's not so easy to know when my dogs are in pain. Cocoa, our rescue German shepherd, taught me a lot about being aware of a dog's physical state. She had several physical conditions that were genetically based and needed to be monitored. While dealing with Cocoa's hip and spine problems, I met a veterinarian who gave my dog chiropractic and acupuncture treatments. When Cocoa started to "bunny hop," running with her hind legs moving together, it was time for a chiropractic treatment. I had been taught how to read her body language.

According to, our dogs naturally hide their pain to protect themselves from predators, so they may be in distress without showing any obvious signs. We need to observe their behavior to help us manage their pain. The American Animal Hospital Association provides five clues to help us read our dogs' body language.

The first is abnormal chewing habits. If our pets are showing abnormal chewing habits, for example, dropping food or chewing food on one side of his mouth, he may have a mouth tumor or dental disorder. Additional clues may be excessive face rubbing, bad breath or weight loss. Routine dental checkups are important to treat and prevent dental disorders and related pain.

The second clue is drastic weight gain or loss. The AAHA notes pain directly influences your pet's weight and eating habits. Overweight animals have an increased chance of tearing ligaments and damaging joints. Pets with muscle soreness or arthritis may not want to access food because bending over is uncomfortable. Arthritis pain may cause our pets to gain weight because their eating habits remain the same, but their exercise level is reduced. Pain can also cause our pets' to lose their appetite, leading to a weight loss.

Third is avoiding affection or handling. According to the AAHA, avoiding affection or handling may be a sign of a progressive disease such as osteoarthritis or intervertebral disc disease. Your dog may appear to be normal before handling or petting him, but the added pressure applied to his body may expose sensitive and painful areas. Hiding is also a sign of pain. Because the dog is hurting, he may hide to avoid a vulnerable position, allowing the dog to avoid painful interactions.

The fourth clue is decreased movement and exercise. The AAHA notes osteoarthritis or joint disease is the most common cause of pain. Our pets who limp may be reluctant to go up or down stairs, play or exercise. Since weight and joint injuries can go hand-in-hand, helping overweight pets lose unnecessary weight will help decrease pressure on sore joints and reduce pain. Consult your veterinarian regarding exercises, medical therapies and diets to help improve your pet's health.

Last, to help us understand our pet's body language is urinary "accidents." The AAHA notes pet owners often believe that accidents are a result of behavioral issues. While behavioral issues may cause unwanted surprises, going to the bathroom in inappropriate places may be caused by pain including sore joints and arthritis. Symptoms of urinary tract infections may include accidents, lethargy, fever, tender lower abdomen and difficulty urinating.

According to the AAHA, minor changes in your pet can be cause for alarm. Being aware of your animal's habits can help you and your animal's veterinarian treat his pain. Pain management has become an integral part of our pet's overall health care. For more information about pain management for our pets, the AAHA suggests checking out the AAHA/AAFP Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. If you have any questions, consult your veterinarian.

We can learn so much from our dogs. Learning to read their body language is one more way we can help them to live healthier lives.


Clara is a female beagle. She is about 8 years old, and weighs about 26 pounds.

Buster is a male Schnauzer mix with a big personality, and he's about 1 years old. He walks proudly with anyone willing to take him. He has a curious and adventurous nature. Buster came to The Buddy Foundation with heartworm. He is currently being fostered while he is undergoing treatment, so if you would like to meet this character please call ahead.

• Contact The Buddy Foundation at (847) 290-5806; visit us at 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights, or online at