Is My Dog Being Aggressive or Just in Pain?

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    Sudden changes in your dog’s temperament, especially displays of aggression, could be related to pain they are experiencing.  This is often referred to as pain-related aggression or pain-elicited aggression. Read below to learn about the signs of pain-related aggression and how to address it if it occurs in your dog.

    What Exactly is Pain-Related Aggression in Dogs?

    Pain-related aggression is displayed when a dog is in some kind of internal pain and typically tries to avoid being touched or handled due to the fear of increased pain. Dogs that are typically playful may be reluctant to play or interact with other dogs. 


    Even if touching or handling will not actually cause pain to your dog, especially if internal, they may perceive that the action will cause further pain and want to avoid the interactions at all costs. Due to this, the dog experiencing pain may growl or snap if a person gets too close or moves toward them, even without physically touching. If the dog is handled when experiencing pain, they may act aggressively in an effort to avoid further discomfort. 

    How Can I Differentiate Between Behavioral Aggression and Pain-Related Aggression?

    The only way to verify pain-elicited aggression is to consult with your veterinarian. However, there are a few tell-tale signs that may help you to differentiate between behavioral aggression and pain-elicited aggression. 


    It’s important to note when your dog starts displaying aggression. Is your dog only showing signs of aggression when they’re anticipated being touched or handled, or is it occurring without incitement at any time? This will help to indicate what type of aggression you and your dog are dealing with.  Typically, when experiencing pain-elicited aggression, the origin of the pain is not obvious and may come on suddenly. 


    The easiest and most prominent way to differentiate between behavioral aggression and pain-elicited aggression is when the aggression is displayed in a dog with no prior history of aggressive behavior. The irritability caused by the pain may cause an otherwise affectionate dog to act in an aggressive manner. 

    What Can Be Done About Pain-Related Aggression?

    It’s essential to identify and treat the source of pain. In some cases, the origin of pain may be easy to identify such as a visible cut. In this instance, it’s important to isolate the affected region with bandages and avoid it until fully healed. A muzzle may be helpful while tending to the injury for your own safety.


    However, in other cases, the aggression may be related to internal pain or a hereditary disease that can’t be seen by the naked eye. There are a few instances that you may be able to look into a few possibilities due to the surrounding factors. For example, if your dog displays onset aggression in the presence of loud or sudden noises, they may be suffering from pain from an ear infection.  Brain damage to certain areas of the brain from tumors, thyroid issues, and trauma has been observed to cause onset aggression issues. If eating seems to put you If eating makes your dog grumpy, a dental issue may be the cause.

    When the source of pain is not so obvious,  the only way to identify the origin of pain is to consult with your veterinarian. In order to identify and treat the issue, your vet will likely perform a physical examination, run blood tests, and x-rays. Depending upon your dog’s situation, temporary pain medication may be prescribed. Once the source of pain has been identified, a treatment plan will be administered by your vet.

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