Why Is My Dog Flinching? (Explained By Vet Tech)

Why Is My Dog Flinching

If you are a dog owner you know that sometimes they do some weird things. As dogs get older they pick up new habits and behaviors. Even puppies will start doing things you can’t really understand or explain!

One day, you might notice that your dog is jumpy and reactive to things and you’ll probably start to question;

Why is my dog flinching?

Your dog might be flinching because of past abuse or because they’re under-socialized. Additionally, a flinching dog might be scared, in pain, or having a seizure. Dogs that feel disoriented might flinch because they are overalert and in some cases because they are losing their vision. Big bites can also cause your dog to flinch.  

Today, we’ll discuss exactly why your dog might be flinching, then, we’ll discuss what you can do about it.

What Is Flinching?

So what exactly is flinching? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary to flinch is to “tense the muscles involuntarily in anticipation of discomfort.”

A flinch is a quick reflexive movement that is instinctual. Sometimes, we can’t help but flinch. A flinch is meant to protect our bodies from danger like a hot stove.

Flinching is described the same way in humans and dogs. Just like humans can anticipate pain and stress, so can dogs. If you’ve ever tried to give your dog a nail trim, you’ll get what I’m saying about the anticipation thing.

When Do Dogs Flinch?

Dogs often flinch in response to some external or internal stimulus.

Dogs can actually flinch at any time during the day. They can flinch while they’re awake, or asleep, eating or playing. Some flinches are worse than others and might cause a dog to wake up or stop the activity they’re currently involved in.

Why Is My Dog Flinching?

As we mentioned above, there are a variety of reasons why your dog is suddenly flinching and acting weird. Some of these reasons aren’t anything to worry about while others are a cause for concern.

What’s important to remember is that while some of these things could be going on with your dog they’re not a final diagnosis. You should always check with a veterinarian before assuming your dog is suffering from a medical complication.

All of the following reasons could definitely explain a flinching dog. Hopefully, they will help shed some light on your current situation.

Reason 1: They’re A Rescue With A Complicated Past

Is your dog a rescue?  If so, their flinching could be coming from past traumas.

Sadly, plenty of dogs are abused in their homes. If they’re lucky, they make it to a shelter and find a new loving home. Sadly, adult dogs might never forget the abuse they suffered in their previous household.

Since flinching is an instinctual reaction, abused dogs will often start flinching in order to avoid pain. If they were abused by their previous owners, they’ll start to flinch around all people or specific individuals that remind them of their previous abuser, perhaps it’s just men they’re afraid of or women.

Things you might not expect could cause your rescue to flinch. If you know your dog has a past, try not to raise your hand above them and always pet them from below. Don’t shout or run excitedly at them and definitely don’t throw anything in their direction.

Reason 2: They’re Under Socialized

Even if your dog isn’t a rescue, it still might flinch around people.

It’s incredibly important for puppies to be socialized when they’re young.  Puppies need to be around both people and dogs or they might become time and afraid.  If your puppy is undersocialized, it’ll expect the worst from the people around them.  This will cause them to flinch when someone reaches towards them.

It’s normal for puppies to have fear periods (just like babies do) and act a little weird during these phases. But, if your puppy starts flinching around people, you’ll want to step in and do some training ASAP. Try having other people give your puppy their favorite treats so that your dog associates them with something good.

Reason 3: They’re Losing Their Vision

One of the saddest moments in a dog owner’s life is the moment you realize your furry friend won’t live forever.

Vision can be one of the first senses to start to deteriorate in an older dog. According to the American Kennel Club, when vision starts to go, you’ll notice your dog bumping into things, having trouble navigating stairs, and becoming more clumsy overall.

Another side effect of vision loss is that you might notice your dog flinching when you touch them.  The most simple explanation for this is that your dog doesn’t anticipate physical touch, so, every time they’re pat, it’s a bit of a surprise.

If you don’t think your dog can see well and they flinch when you pet them, you should always warn them that you’re close by with sounds. Try speaking to your dog softly as you’re about to pet them so that know that you’re close. They’ll start to expect touch when you’re around and hopefully will stop flinching.

If your dog has lost their sight, it’s a good idea to take them in for a checkup.  A veterinarian can examine their eyes and make sure that nothing abnormal is happening.  Glaucoma, cataracts, and sclerosis are all potential causes of blindness.

Reason 4: They’re In Pain

It can be difficult to tell when our furry friends are in pain. Animals can’t tell us when they’re not feeling well.  Although some injuries are obvious, others might go unnoticed for days or even weeks.

Dogs and cats are especially good at hiding injuries and tend to hide away in corners when they’re hurt.  It’s an instinctual reaction so that they don’t appear weak and vulnerable.  If your dog is flinching randomly, it might be suffering from a painful injury or condition.

Flinching can indicate pain during a movement or while stationary. Pain could be caused by an acute injury like a scratch on a paw or a chronic condition like arthritis.

If your pet tends to flinch while making specific movements, it’s possible that it’s associated with pain.  Try to pinpoint exactly when your pooch is flinching so you can start to understand what’s hurting them.

Reason 5: They’re Having A Seizure

Have you ever seen a seizure in a dog before?

Dog seizures can vary in duration and type.  Seizures can be local to specific areas or can affect the entire body.  Some seizures might just cause a dog’s head or muscles to flinch and tic.

Now, we don’t want you to think that anytime your dog flinches, they’re having a seizure.  However, if your dog started acting weird and flinching recently, it may be experiencing some kind of seizure.

The video below gives an example of what a seizure could look like but more importantly tells you what to do if your dog is seizing.

If you think your pup’s flinches are associated with seizures, try to get them on video. Record your dog a few times and then show your veterinarian what you’re seeing. They’ll be able to properly diagnose the issues and prescribe any treatment if needed.

Reason 6: A Bug Bit Them

One of the funniest things that can cause your dog to flinch is a bug bite!

If you live in a warm humid area, you probably have tons of bugs around.  Even though dogs have thick protective fur coats, they aren’t immune to bug bites.  Actually, dogs are at risk of bites from spiders, fleas, ticks, mosquitos, and more!

If your dog is lying calmly and then flinches dramatically, it may have been bitten. Signs that your dog has suffered from a bug bite will usually also involve swelling and redness at the site of the bite.  Plus, you’ll probably notice that your dog keeps chewing the area in question.

Most bug bites aren’t dangerous to dogs as long as they’re on the appropriate parasite protection. As you might know, mosquitos can carry a dangerous parasite called heartworm while ticks have all sorts of transmissible diseases they carry.

Even if you give your dog all of the appropriate preventative and protections, they still might get bit and flinch.

Reason 7: They’re Scared, Anxious, or Disoriented.

The last reason why your dog might be flinching is that they’re scared.

When a dog is fearful and on alert, they’re responsive and reactive to stimuli.  Their ears might go back, their eyes might get wide, and they’ll stop wagging their tails!  If you try to pet your furry friend while they’re scared, they might flinch and startle because they’re on guard.

Dogs can get scared and disoriented during everyday situations that aren’t threatening to us. Something on a normal walk could spook your dog and make them jumpy. Storms can cause dogs to be on edge and flinch at every sound that they hear.

If a dog isn’t fully calm and at ease, it’s totally possible that it’ll jump at the smallest thing.  But, don’t worry, we’ll talk more below about what you can do to keep your dog from flinching!

What To Do If Your Dog Started Flinching Suddenly

If your dog just started flinching suddenly, you probably still have some questions.  It can be hard to figure out what to do to help your pet out in these situations.  The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out what’s triggering the flinching.  You can use our list of reasons above as a starting point.

Write down what’s happening every time your dog flinches.  Do you see any patterns?

Maybe you can narrow it down to just a few possible causes.  If you think your dog is flinching due to pain, blindness, or seizures, skip down to “if it’s medical.”  But, if you think your dog might be flinching for other reasons, keep reading.

If It’s Behavioral:

Fixing behavior and socialization issues can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. One of the best training tricks to use for undersocialized or scared dogs is desensitization. Desensitization is a training technique that involves a negative stimulus and a positive reinforcer.

To put it simply, you can train your dog to look forwards to the thing they’re dreading.

If your dog flinches because they’re undersocialized, you can utilize desensitization training to make them like people and other dogs.

Start with a controlled environment and introduce your dog to a new friend. Make sure to reward your dog with treats whenever they approach the new person. It might take a few tries, but eventually, your dog should start looking forward to visits from friends.

As your training advances, you can start rewarding your dog for socializing in larger groups, and hopefully, the fear that used to make them flinch will be a thing of the past.

Because flinching is a reaction associated with fear or the anticipation of pain, you want to work on getting rid of that fear and anticipation as much as possible.  Make the uncomfortable situations comfortable and remember if you need help you can also consult a professional trainer!

If It’s Medical:

If you’ve decided your dog is flinching for medical reasons, there’s really only one thing to do; visit your vet.

We all know that self-diagnosing with WebMD isn’t a good idea.  The same holds true for diagnosing your pets.  Veterinary offices have tools and tests that can help you get to the bottom of the flinching issues.

If your dog is in pain they can prevent and treat the pain and get rid of the flinching completely.  Or, if your dog really is having seizures you’ll definitely want to consult a veterinary professional about those.

Even though vet visits can be expensive, they’re worth the trouble.

Final Thoughts

Flinching is something we don’t want to see our pets do. It means that they’re experiencing or anticipating pain and that’s no way to live. Hopefully, you can use this article to help you figure out why your dog is flinching and what to do about it.

While some causes of flinching are minor, others are serious and should not be taken lightly. With the proper care, you should be able to help your pup live a “flinch-free” life in no time.

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