Until we have the technology to accurately and intelligibly translate dog language, we can only depend on knowledge and experience of our own dogs, complemented with whatever research can tell us. Unless a normally quiet dog begins vocalizing out of nowhere, there’s likely little reason to panic. Both situation and context matter.
Is the groaning beast in question a puppy, a healthy dog in his prime, or an aging senior? Does the dog groan when he lies down to rest? When he gets up from sleep? Do you have a dog who moans while asleep? Let’s look into some of the medical reasons that might compel a dog to groan in the process of lying down, including:
- Panosteitis, or growing pains
- Osteoarthritis in the joints
- Ascites, or fluid in the abdomen
Panosteitis, or puppy growing pains
I attribute most of my groans and sighs to any number of things, among them the after-effects of knee surgery, a sedentary work-life, and the simple effects of aging. How quickly I forget the aches and pains of youth! Growing pains affect puppies as well as human children. This is particularly true of certain medium, large, or giant dog breeds whose bones tend to grow much more rapidly than others. Panosteitis, also known as pano in dogs, is an awkward and painful condition that occurs when a puppy’s bone growth comes more quickly than they can physically adjust to.
Pano can be diagnosed in any young dog under the age of 2 years, but is most frequently associated with German Shepherd puppies. Groaning when lying down or rising will be the least alarming symptoms of panosteitis. Dog owners are more likely to notice limping, lameness, or hesitant usage of one or the other foreleg, along with a defensive yelp when you touch the affected leg. Pained vocalizations may accompany the physical discomfort of fast-growing dogs, but with puppies as with human kids, growing pains are inconvenient, but time-limited.
This condition comes and goes, can appear and disappear for weeks at a time, and even switch from leg to leg as it flares up during a puppy’s first 18 to 24 months. Pay special attention to tenderness in the upper forelegs, not only in German Shepherds, but also Basset Hounds, Doberman Pinschers, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, and Rottweilers. Overexercise in puppies can cause later-life health issues such as hip dysplasia — and in many of these same breeds — and this is one reason trainers recommend that dogs not run for long periods of time or over extended distances until around 18 months.
Arthritis in dogs
Moans and groans when lying down may be more worrying for owners of senior dogs. Just mentioned above, hip dysplasia, or an inconvenient fit between the ball-and-socket joints in the rear legs, can make getting up or lying down more awkward for dogs of any age. In older dogs, troubles with motion and movement generally may be signs of developing osteoarthritis, a degenerative issue in which the cartilage that cushions the major joints begins to wear out.
Groaning when he settles into bed is only one symptom of an aging dog suffering joint pain. As with the youthful dog growing pains, there will be far more severe and noticeable warning signs than sighs and groans. You’re much more likely to see a dog limp when she gets up from rest and hesitates or refuses to do once-normal things like going up or down stairs — or when you witness excessive biting, licking, or chewing at affected joints — than you are to hear her groan. An arthritic dog may have been active and eager to play her whole life before showing any of these symptoms.
As with panosteitis and hip dysplasia, naturally large or giant dog breeds are commonly affected. Osteoarthritis in dogs can develop on its own over time, whether the dog is overcompensating for ligament damage or as a result of dealing with long-term obesity. Carrying around excess weight can affect any breed of dog, so maintaining regular, healthy habits of feeding and exercise are of critical importance.
Ascites in dogs
Among common dog health problems, ascites, or the buildup of excess fluid in the abdomen, is the most likely medical reason why dogs groan their way into a resting position. Once again, the noises a dog makes when nestling herself into bed will be the least alarming change in her behavior. Canine ascites is associated with a number of intense physical and behavioral alterations in dogs as they age. Many dogs enjoy a good belly rub, and if this activity that once gave pleasure is starting to draw out wincing or uncomfortable reactions, ascites could be a culprit.
If you have a heavier dog whose stomach is typically large, other signs to look out for include vomiting and difficulty breathing. The pressure that fluid buildup places on a dog’s other internal organs, including the lungs, is one specific reason for odd or abnormal moaning and groaning as the dog struggles to find relief. A tender stomach, sensitive to the touch, does not have a single cause, and usually signals a more complex internal issue or dysfunction requiring veterinary attention and care.
The condition can arise in dogs of any age; in younger dogs, it could be the result of sudden physical trauma, like running or bumping into piece of furniture during play. In older or senior dogs, it could be a more troubling development, such as internal bleeding caused by kidney or liver damage, cancerous growths, or congestive heart failure. If a dog’s stomach appears distended or unusually tight and he is manifesting sudden discomfort, seek veterinary attention to determine the cause and a course of action.
Interpreting dog language is imprecise at best
If your dog groans when lying down as a matter of course — if he’s always done it — there is probably nothing to worry about. Just like any of us, finding a perfect position for rest often elicits a sigh, grunt, or moan of satisfaction. The same can be said of rising after being in a particular stance for longer than normal. Some dogs groan or vocalize during rest periods, which is typically described as somniloquy: talking in one’s sleep or while dreaming.
Groans, moans, sighs, and grunts are standard dog expressions. Should dog groaning arise suddenly, reappear only periodically, or genuinely disturb you, what can dog owners do to seek relief for their pets? The best thing is to be observant; know what your dog is like normally so that you can make careful notes for your vet to detail any and all unusual behaviors, reactions, and symptoms your dog is experiencing.
One thing you should not do if dog groans and sighs become a source of concern is offer human pain medications to dogs. I mitigate the pains associated with aging and movement by popping a couple of ibuprofen or aspirin before starting vigorous activity or when those pains intensify. In dogs, human pain pills can actually cause more suffering than they’ll ever relieve.
About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a two-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Baby, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.