How Can You Tell If Your Dog Is In Pain?
15 June, 2018
dog in pain

By: Lisa Fimberg

While it’s sometimes very obvious to know when your dog is in pain because he is limping or isn’t eating, there are other times when your dog doesn’t show any signs.  Since dogs can’t tell us that they are hurting, it can be difficult to know when they’re in pain, especially if it’s an underlying issue.  There are a number of signs, some more obvious than others, which can indicate pain in dogs.

There are both physical and behavioral changes that might occur if your dog is in pain and always take your dog to your veterinarian right away if you notice any of these:

Dogs in pain will bite more

Dogs in pain are more likely to bite. This is true even with their owners and other people they know. This is particularly true when anyone touches or moves the painful area.  Your dog might even bite other dogs more often because he or she is scared and in pain.

Breathing changes

Dogs experiencing pain may have a faster and more tempered breathing pattern than normal. You may even notice a change in the movement of the abdominal muscles and/or those of the chest. Both sets of muscles are involved in the breathing process and should react the same.


Excessive panting, especially when accompanied by trembling, can be a signal that your dog is in pain. While panting is fairly normal for dogs, especially in the summer, if they are panting at odd times or for no reason, it could be pain. If you notice your dog panting in the middle of the night, check for other indications of pain. Pain can cause changes in breathing, including an irregular respiratory rate and excessive drooling.

Pulse and/or heart rate changes

Dogs in pain will often have an unusually increased heart/pulse rate. The rate often noticeably speeds up when the painful area is touched or moved.  If you touch your dog’s chest and it feels like the beat is faster, talk to your veterinarian.  Always to be better on the safe side, particularly in bigger dogs.

Changes in your dog’s posture

Dogs who are in pain may look to have a very rigid stance, while others may look like they are praying, with their front legs on the ground, their butt up in the air, and a stretch throughout their belly. The changes depend on the location and severity of the pain on your pup.  The changes in your dogs’ stance can be even more subtle, with a sunken back, or even a dropped or tucked tail in a dog who normally has a perky, wagging tail.

Eyes looking different or changed

The eyes can be great indicators of pain in dogs.  If your dog’s eye changes, it can be for either merely pain in their eyes or somewhere else in their body. Usually pain somewhere on your dog’s body result in larger (dilated) pupils, while eye pain is demonstrated as a change in pupils, either larger or smaller pupils. Pained dogs will also frequently squint. If their eyes are in pain, the affected eye(s) may also appear bloodshot or there will be frequent blinking.

Lack of appetite

Dogs in pain often eat and drink less than normal. When they do eat and drink, if the cause of their pain is their teeth or some other part of the mouth, they may drop food and/or water from their mouth.  Any changes in appetite is always indicative of some sort of pain or illness.

Energy and mobility changes

Most dogs in pain will have a general decrease in their activity level. This often shows as a dog who sleeps more. It may also manifest as a dog who simply runs and/or jumps less than normal.

Dogs in pain often move around less. However, depending on what hurts, they may still move around the same amount, but do so differently (i.e. with a limp, or more slowly when going up or down the stairs, etc.) or have a much slower gait.

Difficulty going to the bathroom and constipation

Dogs who have back pain, for any reason, may have difficulty with the posture needed to defecate. So they may struggle to go to the bathroom and/or poop where they shouldn’t.  Sometimes dogs with back pain can even become constipated in the process — though pain itself can also lead to slowed motility of the intestines, and thus lead directly to constipation, too.

Swelling or body changes

Swellings anywhere on your dog’s body, whether they are on your dog’s legs, body, or face, could be an indication of a painful condition, such as infection, inflammation, cancer, or others.  Any swelling at all, unless it’s just a bug bite, is indicative that you should take your dog to the vet.

Changes in sleeping patterns

A dog that is in pain can be restless and exhibit an inability to get comfortable and lay still. Pacing, repeatedly readjusting position or getting up and down frequently are all good cause for concern. Sleep patterns can be affected as well. A dog in pain might sleep more than usual or could have difficulty sleeping and might even howl occasionally.

Behavior and temperament

Pain can change a dog’s behavior and just like a human, a dog can be grouchy when in pain. Some dogs become more aggressive and may even bite, especially when touched in an area that hurts. It’s the animal’s natural instinct to protect themselves to prevent further pain.

Avoidance from contact with people

Avoidance behaviors, like shying away from contact with people and other dogs or cats are common when a dog is in pain. If your dog normally enjoys being touched and is suddenly trying  to avoid your touch, pain may be the issue.  Depression, lethargy, and mental dullness are other symptoms.

Other dogs may seek more attention and act needy when in pain. Any radical or sudden behavior changes are a clear indication that your dog needs to see your vet.

Never give human medications to dogs like Advil or Tylenol

Never give your dogs’ over-the-counter human pain medication, unless specifically approved by your veterinarian. Aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Midol IB), or naproxen (Aleve, Midol) are all nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which can cause gastrointestinal problems, and kidney or liver failure in your dog. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) can also destroy liver function and damage the kidneys, as well as cause poor oxygen delivery and tissue damage.  Benedryl is sometimes recommended for dogs, but not those in pain.


Supplements, like glucosamine and chondroitin, are very popular alternative treatments and can help with some pain.  Research has found that they may make swelling go down and help cartilage repair itself.  Supplements can also may help protect and lubricate existing cartilage.

Is pain medication covered by pet insurance?

Most full coverage pet insurance policies reimburse you for any vet-prescribed medication, as long as it isn’t for preventative treatment—like flea and heartworm medication. Some plans only reimburse medication when you purchase an optional prescription drug coverage add-on to your regular plan. Other policies can also cover alternative therapies such as hydrotherapy, chiropractic work as part of their wellness coverage for alternative therapies.

Alternative therapies for your dog’s pain

Depending on your dog’s condition and pain, there are alternative therapies for your dog that can increase your pup’s quality of life and help manage their pain.  They are non-invasive and drug-free!

Massage – There are many different types of massage that can relieve pain and increase mobility, including acupressure massage and canine sports massage therapy. Massage can be especially useful for increasing range of motion and chronic joint pain.

Chiropractic – For dogs, chiropractors focus on manually adjusting aching joints, which can help alleviate conditions such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, and intervertebral disc disease (IVDD).  This can be great help with mobility for older dogs with joint pain.

Laser therapy – Cold laser therapy can help accelerate cellular rejuvenation, and help heal fractures, torn muscles or ligaments, and damaged nerves. Symptoms caused by arthritis or hip dysplasia  can also be minimized by this treatment.

Acupuncture – A licensed acupuncturist can help target problem areas on your dog, such as the spleen or the hips, in order to reduce inflammation. When muscle spasms or nerve damage are an issue, a weak electrical current can be applied to the acupuncture needles for electrostimulation acupuncture therapy.  This isn’t just for humans, anymore.

Hydrotherapy – Hydrotherapy can be very beneficial for overweight pets, as well as dogs suffering from muscle atrophy, arthritis, or intervertebral disc disease. It usually occurs in indoor facilities.  Heated pools made specifically for dogs with joint problems, with ramps, hoist or harnesses for them to enter the water easily.  It is easy on the joints and can be very effective.

What can you do to help your dog’s pain?

While your dog is recovering from pain, the best thing you can do is to make sure your dog is comfortable.  Try to keep your dog’s movement limited and limit his physical activity.  Soft, padded bedding and a quiet, comfortable environment will also help speed up your dog’s recovery.  As would extra hugs and caring!

Only you truly know if your dog is in pain and sometimes it’s more obvious than others. When you are trying to check if you dog is in pain, be careful and move cautiously.  Even if you have the most loving dog in the world, if you touch your pup’s belly and it hurts, he or she might bite you out of pain or fear.

Always call or take your dog to the vet if you notice anything different or unusual that lasts for more than a day or two.

Other related articles:

Preventing Heatstroke in Dogs

What Is Water Intoxication in Dogs


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