Signs of pain - what is your dog or horse trying to tell you?

Animals can communicate pain through their body language. While some signs of pain are quite obvious we also need to learn how to recognise the more subtle signs of pain. For example a reluctance to be groomed, unusual tail carriage or static posture e.g. ‘standing under’ or their disposition is just not as bright as usual. Often animals try to hide their pain as they do not want to stand out as a “weak” member of the pack or herd.


The following chart which you can download here from the Canine Massage Guild is a good indicator of whether your animal is suffering from musculoskeletal pain. It is specifically aimed at dogs however most of the principals are the same for horses. Keep in mind that some of these signs of pain may only be noticeable under saddle.


Some of these symptoms may be related to non-musculoskeletal conditions, but it is good to be able to recognise anything abnormal. Always get your vet to diagnose any suspected musculoskeletal or other condition and feel free to bring this chart to your veterinary consultation. Then depending on the diagnosis, consider physical therapy such as massage to alleviate any issues.


The chart is split into 5 principals: gait, posture, activities of daily living, behaviour and performance.

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