How do I know if my dog is in pain?

Often our dogs suffer in silence. Because dogs can’t speak, it can sometimes be difficult to spot when they’re pain, whether it be as a result of injury or an underlying issue. However, there are a number of signs, some more obvious than others, which can indicate pain in dogs.

Please do not attempt to treat your dog’s pain yourself. Many human medications — and those prescribed for other pets — can be very dangerous for dogs.

Urgent treatment may be needed if your dog is suffering serious or long-lasting pain so please contact your vet as soon as possible for advice or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or Vets Now 24/7 hospital. Your vet will perform a full examination and may recommend some further testing to work out if there’s an underlying issue.

1. Antisocial or aggressive behaviour

Dogs might stop running to greet you at the door, try to avoid contact, or even become aggressive. If your dog is hiding away or appears to be unusually antisocial, it could be an indication that they’re in pain. Any noticeable change in behaviour can be cause for concern.

2. Changes in eating, drinking, and sleeping habits

Dogs that are in pain often sleep more – they may be trying to heal, or it might even be difficult for them to move around and be active. A loss of appetite and noticeable differences in the amount of water they’re drinking are often common symptoms. Difficulty eating, particularly dried food or firm chews, can indicate dental pain.

3. Being more vocal

Dogs that are experiencing pain tend to be more vocal. Excessive yelping, growling, snarling, and even howling could be your dog telling you that something isn’t right.

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It's common for a dog in pain to become more antisocial or aggressive.

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4. Excessive grooming

If your pet is licking their paws constantly, it’s likely they’re trying to sooth themselves. When a dog is hurt, its first instinct is often to clean and care for the wound by licking it. Cuts are more obvious, however, sometimes the pain can be internal.

5. Heavy panting or altered breathing

Panting is normal. However, a dog that is panting heavily even though they have not been exercising is a warning sign. Also, breathing that is more shallow means that it could be painful to take a breath.

6. Mobility issues

Stiffness and limping are two of the more obvious signs of pain in dogs and are likely a result of injury, sore paws, or even arthritis. Your dog might be reluctant to climb stairs or is noticeably slow when getting up. This can also manifest itself as reduced interest in exercise, or not being as active as usual.

7. Signs of agitation

Restlessness is an indicator of pain in dogs. If your dog is pacing back and forth repeatedly, difficulty getting comfortable, or is sleeping a lot less, there could be an underlying issue.

8. Changes in their body and posture

Swelling of the paws, legs, and face is a sign of pain that could be caused by inflammation, infection or even cancer. When in pain, some dogs have a very rigid and hunched stance while others assume the ‘prayer’ posture with their front legs on the ground and their bottom in the air. Dogs often take the ‘prayer’ position when they are suffering from abdominal pain as it allows them to stretch this area out.

Image of a dog for Vets Now article on dogs in pain
Dogs who are in pain may limp or show signs of stiffness

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Treatment for dogs in pain

There are a variety of medications that you can use to provide pain relief for your dog. Please speak to your vet about the most appropriate. However, any underlying conditions — such as a broken bone — will need to be treated and in some cases may require surgery.

What can pet owners do to help dogs in pain?

While your dog is recovering limited movement and physical activity is recommended. Soft, padded bedding and a quiet, comfortable environment will also help speed up your dog’s recovery.

Ensure your dog receives the correct dose of any medications prescribed by your vet. Each dog will react differently to the type and dosage level of pain medication so always monitor your dog’s response and if you have any concerns contact your vet.