Dogs vocalize a lot by yawning, yelping, barking, and whining. But you probably did not expect to hear your dog groaning. For some dogs, groaning is a part of life especially during sleep; they cannot help it because it is in their genes. Groaning in dogs can also seem to start out of the blue; a dog that has always been quiet during rest might seem to groan endlessly. There are several reasons why dogs groan; some behavioral, others medical. While behavioral related groaning should not concern you, groaning that is caused by medical problems should. In either case, the only way to be sure groaning is not a result of medical problems is to visit a vet. But before you go running to the vet, here are some theories that might explain why your dog is groaning.
The Root of the Behavior
To understand this behavior, try to remember when you have noticed the groaning sounds. Could it be when you are petting your dog, after exercise, when he is about to lie down, or does your dog seem to groan all the time? If you are petting your dog and he starts groaning, this shows that he is delighted and wants you to continue. This reaction is similar to what human beings experience during a massage when tension is leaving their muscles. Groaning after activity shows your dog is tired and is ready for some rest. He might also stretch and yawn before he finally succumbs to sleep. Dogs also groan when they do not get their way, such as when you take their toys or when they want to eat off your plate and you do not let them.
Groaning that seems to happen all the time or when your dog is preparing to lie down should concern you because it could be related to certain medical conditions such as ascites, panosteitis, and arthritis. Ascites, or abdominal effusion, is discomfort caused by an accumulation of fluid in a dog’s abdomen. This condition is common in all dogs and though it is treatable, the treatment therapy is on a case by case basis. Your vet will know if your dog has ascites if the groaning is accompanied by symptoms such as vomiting, enlarged belly area, difficulty breathing, and an aversion to touching, particularly around the stomach. Panosteitis refers to bone pains that affect puppies of medium to large dog breeds, especially those under two years old. Such puppies tend to grow very fast and will experience pain before they can build endurance in the bones. If your puppy is suffering from growing pains, in addition to groaning, he will limp when walking or yelp when you touch him. Arthritis, a medical condition characterized by wearing out of the joints, happens in older dogs. If your dog is suffering from arthritis, he will groan when lying down or getting up, refuse to engage in physical activity and continuously bite and lick his joints.
Encouraging the Behavior
How you handle groaning in your dog depends on whether it is behavioral or medical. Groaning caused by sleep or pleasure should not alarm you. A sleepy dog will groan if you try to engage him in more activity as this is his way of telling you he has had enough. If your dog is groaning when you rub his belly, he is encouraging you to keep rubbing. There is also a hypothesis that suggests that dogs groan during the active part of their sleep, known as REM sleep. Dog trainer and behaviorist, Trish McMillan Loehr says that just like humans, dogs dream during their sleep and groaning is just a part of the dreaming process.
If groaning bothers you or if it is medical-related, you should take steps to reduce it. Groaning that is behavioral or breed-related may not decrease and will be a lot harder to manage. To begin with, try feeding your dog on a regular schedule and adjusting his sleep area to be more comfortable. If this does not work, contacting a behavioral therapist to help you manage your dog’s groaning. While you might want to distract your dog when he begins to groan, do not do this before discussing this technique with your dog’s behavioral therapist. Interrupting your dog during sleep will interfere with his sleep cycles and deny him his rest.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Even after treatment, try to go easy on your dog. An old dog can only endure so much and engaging him in too much activity just because his meds have dulled his pain is not a good idea. The same goes for growing puppies because though they need activity to keep growing, exercising your puppy when he is in pain will stress his joints and predispose him to hip dysplasia when he is older. Consult your dog trainer to recommend appropriate physical therapy and a friendly exercise and rest schedule for your dog or pup. It is important to insist on a CT scan during your visit to the vet to catch any underlying causes of medical-related dog groaning that cannot be diagnosed by touch or the naked eye. Further, you can manage ascites by reducing the amount of salt in your dog’s diet and keeping him leashed or confined in a safe environment to prevent the likelihood that he will run off and get into an accident.
Groaning in your dog could be nothing, but you really should not chance it. It could be something serious that he is trying to tell you. To be extra sure your dog is not suffering from any of the medical conditions discussed above, it is better to visit a vet and have him rule out sickness as a possibility.