Study Finds Differences in Pain Sensitivity Between Dog Breeds

Lisa Selvaggio
by Lisa Selvaggio

Although you might think that all dogs experience pain the same, it turns out that different dog breeds have varying levels of pain sensitivity.

Dragon Images/Shutterstock

Researchers at North Carolina State University released a study on breed-specific pain sensitivity in dogs, and they found that even veterinarians can have incorrect beliefs when it comes to which breeds experience greater sensitivity to pain.

The Dog Breeds in the Study

Experts wanted to determine if veterinarians were correct when it came to their views on pain sensitivity between dog breeds, so they worked with 149 healthy adult male and female dogs across 10 breeds:

  • The Chihuahua, Siberian Husky, German Shepherd, and Maltese were breeds that vets believed had high pain sensitivity.

  • The Boston Terrier, Border Collie, and Jack Russell Terrier were breeds that vets believed had average pain sensitivity.

  • The Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, and Pitbull were breeds that vets believed had low pain sensitivity.   

Checking Dogs’ Pain Sensitivity

How did the researchers calculate pain sensitivity in the dogs? They used quantitative sensory testing (QST) methods.

A pressure tool and a warm thermal probe were placed on the top of each dog’s back paw in order to judge sensitivity to temperature and pressure – these were the stimuli that researchers used to get a dog’s reaction. Once the paw was moved, they would remove the stimulus. The quicker the dog reacted, the more sensitive they were. Researchers did this multiple times so they could get a pain sensitivity measurement.   

In addition, the experts wanted to consider the emotional reactivity of the dogs when they were with new people or around new things – similar to what they’d experience at the vet’s office. Researchers used two tests: one involved a stranger speaking loudly on their phone before trying to interact with each dog, and the other used a stuffed monkey that was noisy and moved.

Once the experts had all of their data, they were able to compare what they found to the information provided by pet owners and veterinarians on a questionnaire about pain sensitivity.

What Did the Study Find?

This study showed that there are differences between dog breeds when it comes to pain sensitivity thresholds. Unfortunately, veterinarians don’t always make the right assumptions about which breeds are more sensitive.

For example, the Siberian Husky ranked in the mid-range when it came to sensitivity, but veterinarians thought the breed was highly sensitive.

There were also instances when the veterinarians were right. Take, for instance, the Maltese. Vets classified this breed as having high sensitivity, and the researchers agreed.    

After testing emotional reactivity, the researchers concluded that anxiety could play a role in a vet’s assumption about a dog’s sensitivity. For example, a dog who gets very stressed by unfamiliar surroundings and people might be viewed as one with a low pain tolerance.  

What It All Means

This research may encourage veterinarians to reconsider the way they view different dog breeds and their pain sensitivity. By keeping these findings in mind, vets might be able to adjust and improve treatment plans for their canine patients to ensure they’re addressing pain more accurately.

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Lisa Selvaggio
Lisa Selvaggio

Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.

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