A noise startles you from what you are doing. The sound is a scream you’ve never heard before. You realize it came from your dog and feel paralyzed — what does that terrible sound mean?
If you want to know why your dog suddenly screams, you’ll need to try the process of elimination to see what might be bothering them. Your dog could be in extreme pain and is trying to convey a message to you. Or maybe they’re just bored and want attention.
With so many different possibilities, some more benign than others, it’s important to find out why your dog is screaming.
Why Your Dog Suddenly Screams
Dogs don’t scream for no reason; there’s always a reason behind your dog’s behavior. If your dog is screaming, it’s either frightened, scared, or wants our attention, and it’s up to us to find out why.
Your dog might suddenly scream because of reasons like:
- Illness or infection
- Muscle or joint pain
- Insect bite
- Scary dreams
- Need of attention
With so many possibilities, it’s up to us to find the reason behind our dog’s screams.
If your dog seemed content before the scream, it might be a sudden change that caused pain. They might have stepped on something painful or stretched a muscle too far. They might have gotten a bug bite.
If your dog is continually screaming, you need to consult with your veterinarian immediately. The problem might be something internal, like an illness or infection you can’t spot on your own.
The screams might seem sudden or random, but there could be a serious underlying condition. Your vet knows your dog’s demeanor and can help you find the root cause of the screams. If it’s due to anxiety, fear, or a medical condition, the vet can suggest medications or treatments that help.
Common Reasons Your Dog Suddenly Screams
There are 14 common reasons your dog suddenly screams. Understanding the cause of this action can help you make your dog feel better.
All dogs can experience anxiety, but it can manifest differently across breeds and individual animals. Dog anxiety is uncomfortable for them, so you should get it treated. Otherwise, it might cause them distress or lead to behavioral issues.
You can tell if your dog has anxiety because they might pace, act aggressive, or bark. The dog may start urinating or defecating in the house even though they are house trained. Dogs with anxiety can act restless or start performing repetitive behaviors.
Your dog might feel anxiety due to fear, separation, or aging. With fear-based anxiety, your dog startles with loud noises, strange people, or new environments. Instead of adjusting after the initial change, they stay on edge, leading to more lasting anxiety.
Separation anxiety presents in animals as it does in children. They can’t calm down when they’re alone because they’re worried about when you’ll come back or fear that you’re gone for good. In these cases, they might chew up things around the house or urinate or defecate inside.
Age-related anxiety can develop as your dog gets older. Its mind starts to change, and its awareness declines, like Alzheimer’s disease in humans. They experience confusion, which can lead to anxiety.
Fear is a common cause of screaming in rescue dogs because they likely experienced trauma when they were younger. They might be slow to trust you, even after you’ve adopted them and shown them love and care. Fear can make them scream when they feel alarmed or in danger.
Even dogs without traumatic experiences can experience random bouts of fear. Loud noises will startle them and cause them to scream. They often start barking after a scream of fear, so you should be able to identify it as such compared to other problems on this list.
When your dog screams in fear, it’s important to reassure them while keeping yourself safe. Don’t rush toward your dog to comfort it. Fear can quickly lead to aggression, no matter how closely bonded you and your dog are. Their primary concern is keeping themselves safe, so you need to give them space to calm down.
Joint pain often presents in older dogs because they get arthritis, just like we do. Inflammation causes their joints to swell, resulting in pain. Your dog might scream in pain when walking or lying in certain positions.
If your dog has joint pain, you want to ensure it gets enough exercise without overdoing it. They need exercise to keep their health up in other respects, but you need to consider their joints. Getting dog stairs so they won’t have to jump onto furniture can also help ease their pain.
Your vet may prescribe medication for your dog’s joint pain. It would be best not to medicate your dog yourself. Many medicines that work well in humans can have dangerous side effects in dogs. Surgery may also be an option for treating joint problems in your dog.
Your dog can experience cramps just as you can. These painful muscle contractions might take your dog by surprise and cause them to scream. Cramps can last for a few seconds or a few minutes, so you might hear several screams as your dog experiences these contractions.
Some muscle cramps happen because your dog is overusing their muscle and straining it. If they stay in one position for too long, they might get a cramp. You can work to prevent cramps for your dog by taking them for regular walks without overdoing the exercise.
Dehydration is another cause of cramps. Make sure you’re giving your dog enough fresh water. Encourage your dog to drink more on hot days before and after walks. While most cramps are harmless, frequent cramps might indicate your dog has a more severe medical issue. Take them to the vet for a checkup to find out for sure.
Syringomyelia (SM) is a condition when your dog develops fluid-filled cavities in the spinal cord. They feel neck pain, and their head and neck are painful. The dog also feels pain when they’re excited or stands a certain way. Weather conditions can also cause their pain to flare.
Before SM develops, your dog will most likely experience Chiari-like malformation (CLM), when its brain is too large for its skull. CLM prevents cerebrospinal fluid from flowing between the brain and spinal cord.
You can watch for signs of CLM and SM by noticing your dog’s behavior. They often scratch the back of their head. They might withdraw from you and not find joy in activities they used to love. They might scream in pain when they’re running, defecating, or when you pick them up. They might not let you pet their head or neck.
If you notice any of these signs, you should take your dog to the vet. They can test for CLM with an MRI. The vet will then recommend treatment, like gabapentin, which can dull your dog’s nerves, so they don’t suffer from the pain. Acupuncture is also a proven treatment.
Your vet might suggest surgery, but it isn’t a proven option. Studies have found that many dogs decline about two years after surgery. If it’s something you can afford, it might be worth investing in for some relief, but there’s no long-term guarantee.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is the medical name for dog dementia. As they get older, their brain changes and deteriorates. They might experience confusion or forget the tricks and routines they used to know. They’ll have trouble learning new things or remembering. They might also get slower in reacting to commands or environmental cues.
As with dementia in humans, CCD often starts so slowly that you hardly notice it. It gets more severe over time, with many dogs older than 16 displaying CCD symptoms. Pay attention to your dog’s behaviors as they get older. You might notice signs of disorientation, restlessness, and irritability. They might not play as much as they used to.
Some dogs forget the rules as they decline. They might start having accidents or urinate in a random location in the house. Even if you show them the old routine, it might seem completely new to them.
While you can’t completely prevent or reverse CCD, you can make things better for your dog as it happens. You can maintain a regular exercise, play, and meal schedule. You can put potty pads near the kennel or doors, so they have a place to go. Upgrading them to more comfortable beds can also help them sleep uninterrupted, helping their brain functions.
A seizure happens when your dog’s brain experiences abnormal activity, causing its body to tense up or convulse. The dog can panic at this lack of control and scream in fear. If you see your dog have a seizure, you might panic as well — it’s a scary sight. But if you stay level-headed, you can help your dog through this situation.
You might not always know if your dog is experiencing a seizure because it can be minor. Your dog may have a facial tremor, bark randomly, or scream. If you notice a seizure, time how long it lasts. Keep your dog away from stairs or furniture they could bump against and hurt themselves.
Longer seizures, lasting two minutes or more, could cause your dog to overheat. Cool, moist towels pressed against their neck, paws, head, and groin can keep them cool until the seizure ends. If your dog experiences multiple seizures within 24 hours, go to the vet immediately.
Seizures often are a sign of something else happening with your dog. Take notes of what happens during your dog’s seizure so you can share it with the vet. They can test for epilepsy, brain tumor, low blood sugar, and other conditions that can cause seizures.
Illness is a general catch-all for what could make your dog scream. The two disorders mentioned above are unique, but illness here can include lethargy, weakness, or reduced appetite. Your dog might pant excessively, drool more, or have a runny nose. They could wheeze instead of breathing normally.
There are a lot of illnesses your dog could catch from other animals. With some diseases, you’ll be able to tell if something’s wrong because of how your dog is reacting. In other cases, you might only notice if your dog screams.
Because these illnesses aren’t necessarily something you can diagnose, you’ll want to take your dog to the vet. Explain the scream you heard and how frequently it happens. The vet will consider that while looking over your pet.
Dogs with floppy ears are susceptible to ear infections. Breeds with narrow or hairy ear canals might also get infections. A buildup of bacteria in their middle or inner ear can cause pain, making your dog scream.
Signs of ear infections are present before your dog is in too much pain. They might scratch their ears or shake their head excessively. They can also start whining in pain to get your attention before progressing to screams.
Moisture causes bacterial buildup, so always dry your dog’s ears thoroughly after baths or swimming. Some dogs with allergies are likely to get ear infections, so your vet can help you learn how to prevent recurring problems. You can use dog ear cleaning solutions to eliminate bacteria as well.
An insect bite can be hard to see on some dogs, but depending on the bug, you might notice:
- a lump
- a puncture wound
Your dog might scream when the insect bites them, but you can’t find the source until they start scratching or licking the location. Pay close attention to your dog after it screams so you can find the bite. You’ll know where it is to show the vet in case your dog has an allergic reaction to the bug.
If your dog’s face swells, or he vomits, has diarrhea, or seems to be drooling excessively, take it to the vet immediately. The dog might be experiencing anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction that can kill them if they don’t get quick treatment.
If your dog is asleep when they scream, they might be having a bad dream. Scientists have tested dogs and found that they dream. You most likely have seen your dog twitch while they’re asleep. Some dogs even growl while dreaming.
After hearing the scream, watch your dog to ensure it was just a dream and nothing more serious. Your dog may wake up looking startled, but you should give it space. If your dog is still confused from waking so suddenly, it could be defensive. You might notice that dogs that don’t rouse themselves after screaming may continue to growl, twitch, and scream while they sleep.
Dogs who feel excited about something happening might scream in a good way. If they see you get their leash or hear the word “walk,” the scream is their way of conveying excitement. They’re ready to go out and have fun with you, so they try to communicate that emotion.
If you’re already out on a walk or at the dog park and your dog screams in excitement, you might feel embarrassed. It can sound like your dog is in pain, and people might think you’re doing something wrong. But as long as you’re sure your dog is happy, you don’t need to worry about what others think.
Dogs who aren’t getting enough exercise or playtime feel bored. Their screams could be a way to get your attention and tell you what they need. But it could also be something to do since they’re so bored. They have nothing to play with, so they make noise with a scream instead.
Kids might make noise when they’re bored, just to see what happens, and your dog can also take that approach. Make sure you’re giving them regular walks, exercise, and playtime. If they’re screaming with boredom while you’re working or cooking or otherwise occupied, make sure they have toys handy.
Need of Attention
No matter how much love you show your dog, they’ll want more. They might scream as a way to get your attention, especially if they’ve tried other things that haven’t worked. This behavior might escalate from your dog following you around to whining, barking, and screaming.
It’s a slippery slope to react to your dog when they’re screaming for attention. Reacting to something your dog does to get your attention is a sure way to get them to repeat it. If you don’t want your dog to repeat a behavior like screaming for attention, then don’t reward them by reacting to it. Instead, teach your dog a more appropriate way to get your attention.
Rewarding your dog when it is quiet is a good way to reinforce that the dog can get the attention it wants by being quiet.
What to Do When Your Dog Suddenly Screams
Except for excitement, boredom, attention, or a bad dream, you usually want to visit the vet when your dog screams. If the screams aren’t a result of one of the previously mentioned problems, it could imply something serious is going on with your dog. You want a professional to check out your pet to ensure you’re giving them all the help you can.
Your vet can help you find the root of the problem. With anxiety, for example, the vet can test to see if it’s a temporary issue or something more serious due to mental decline. In some cases, the vet might suggest your dog get more exercise to lose weight, like with joint pain. An active dog with the right body size will feel healthier and encounter fewer health problems.
With some health-related causes, the vet might suggest changing your dog’s diet and habits before further action. If you can make positive changes naturally, it’s always a better option than surgery. With some slight adjustments, you might find that your dog’s health and demeanor improve, and they stop screaming.
How to Help Your Dog
You can help your dog stay well-adjusted, happy, and healthy to prevent screaming. Once you’ve visited the vet to rule out a medical condition, you can improve your dog’s daily life, so they’re content. Ensure they know their routine regarding walks, exercise, playtimes, and mealtimes. A well-kept routine reduces anxiety and gives your dog a sense of security.
If your dog is still acting out, you can take them for training. Your dog might not be receptive to your methods, so learning from a professional can help you both. You’ll learn how to interact with your dog so they understand you, and you’ll get better at reading their cues.
Above all, tuning into your dog’s moods and behaviors can prevent screaming and help you find the cause when it happens. After you hear a scream, don’t brush it off until it happens again. Give your dog space to calm down and pay attention to how they’re acting. Once you’re able to get close to them, inspect their body and, when necessary, take them to the vet for help.