8 Signs Your Dog Is In Pain (and What You Can Give Fido for Relief!)

By: Nathan Grant

Is your dog acting unusual? If you want to know if your pooch is in pain, the following signs and symptoms will tell you what to do...

If you’re like me, seeing your dog in pain is terrifying…but don’t panic. Often times, the situation is not as bad as we think and humans tend to make the problem worse by overreacting.

Yet, their well-being depends on us staying calm to look for signs and symptoms of dog pain. Sometimes, dogs will be stubborn and won’t show any signs.

It’s not an easy job, but after reading this, you’ll know how to spot your best friend’s aches and pains before they turn into medical emergencies.

This article will introduce you to common signs that your dog is in pain, highlight symptoms that require immediate veterinary attention and explain common causes of pain in dogs.

Pain is an evolutionary advantage.

Without it, Fido would burn his face every time he spotted a hot dog sizzling over a campfire. His strained muscles would never heal because he wouldn’t know when to take a break from fetch. And he wouldn’t be able to alert you when he needed a trip to the vet.

Despite its usefulness, dogs are masters of hiding pain. You can thank evolution for that bit of irony too.

In the wild, dogs who displayed weakness could be targeted by predators or demoted in pack rank. Gradually, they learned not to express pain, and today, pet owners all over the world are baffled by their dog’s weird behavior when they’re not feeling well. [1]

So how do you get the important messages that your dog is trying to hide from you?

Study up on these general, pain behaviors!

8 Signs That Your Dog Is In Pain

#1 Loss of appetite

If your furry friend is turning his nose up at dinner, he’s probably not feeling so hot. Digestion requires lots of energy, and it can easily go wrong. If your dog isn’t feeling well, he might not be up to the task of digesting food.

#2 Obsessive grooming

If your dog has become fixated on grooming, there’s more at stake than a bad hair day! Dogs have an instinct to clean their wounds, even if they aren’t externally visible. If your dog keeps licking part of his body, he probably has an ache there. Licking his paws is also stress-relieving, so you might see him lavishing attention on his paws when he is anxious.

#3 Weird posture or gait

You’ve probably seen your pet strike some adorably awkward poses, especially during nap time. Some postures, however, should raise your concern.

Sitting in a hunched position, sleeping only on his side instead of in a ball, being rigid, being fidgety, or adopting the “praying position” (with his front legs on the ground and his bottom stretched up in the air) are all signs that something is not right.

Similarly, you might notice that your pet is walking strangely. A limp is a dead giveaway that he has a pain in the leg, but you should also watch out for your pet walking with his pelvis tucked in or walking unstable, not in a straight line.

#4 Pained noises

Whimpering, whining, yelping, and groaning are all sure to get your attention. If you can identify a trigger for the noise, you might be able to pinpoint the pain. If you can’t identify a trigger, your furry friend might be experiencing internal pain.

#5 Lethargy

Some dogs live for Frisbee and hiking, and some seem to have a permanent case of drowsiness. As your dog’s best friend, you know his energy level better than anyone else. Take note of any dramatic changes. They could indicate that your dog is feeling low.

Monitor your dog’s sleeping patterns – do you know how many hours your pooch needs to sleep?

If not read this: How Many Hours Do Dogs Sleep?

#6 Antisocial behavior

Just like people, many dogs become antisocial when they’re feeling poorly. Some dogs begin showing signs of avoidance, which means they are less likely to hop up on the couch to cuddle.

In extreme cases, they might even take to hanging out under the couch or the bed. Other dogs show aggression. They might growl or snap if you try to approach them. Remember not to take this personally! It’s just another symptom of pain.

#7 Panting

Panting is to dogs as sweating is to humans. During exercise or on a hot day, it’s a way to cool off. Other times, it’s an indicator of stress. If your dog is panting for no apparent reason, he could be stressed or sick.

#8 Shivering, shaking or trembling

There are many reasons why your dog might shiver, shake, or tremble. Being cold or being anxious can bring on a bout of the shivers.

However, if your dog isn’t cold, and you can’t find a reason why he should be anxious, then he might be shivering in pain.

What To Do If You Think Your Dog Is In Pain?

You’ve noticed that your dog is showing one or two of the symptoms above.

What now?

There are a few, simple diagnostics you can use to get a better handle on how your pet is feeling:

#1 Tempt your pet with his favorite toys and food

Best case scenario, he will be easily distracted from his pain. On the other hand, if he is having none of it, he could be in severe pain. [2]

#2 Examine his abdomen

Gently press on your pet’s tummy. Tightness and bloating call for a trip to the vet ASAP. If your pet’s stomach feels soft, try palpitating it.

If you feel any lumps or your pet cries out, the problem could also be serious. [3 ]

#3 Palpate sore muscles

If your dog is licking a strange area of his body or avoiding putting weight on one leg, try to gently massage the muscle with your fingers.

If it feels rigid or your pet cries out, the injury could be serious. [4]

#4 Look into his eyes

Bloodshot eyes, squinted eyes, and dilated pupils are bad news. Clear eyes are good, especially if your dog is alert and curious about his surroundings. [5 ]

#5 Pay close attention when he goes to the bathroom

The next time your dog does his business, do a quick, visual analysis of his urine and feces. Blood in the urine or feces, constipation, or diarrhea are all red flags.

Remember, dogs are good at hiding their pain, so even if they pass all of these tests, you should still have a vet examine them when possible. If these tests have negative results, however, that trip to the vet becomes urgent.

Puppy Pains – Do Puppies Have Growing Pains?

Yes – Here’s What To Look Out For!

During a growth spurt, your little fur ball can experience panosteitis, or puppy growing pains. [6]

Growing pains are a medical mystery since no one knows what triggers these sudden, intense flare-ups.

They are most likely to strike large breeds, especially German shepherds, and Great Danes, and they usually run their course between five and twelve months of age.

If your puppy shows these symptoms, he might be suffering from growing pains:

  • sudden lameness, usually in only one leg
  • shifting lameness (a new leg becomes sore after the first has recovered)
  • loss of appetite
  • reluctance to play and exercise
  • whimpering when rising, moving, or being touched

The good news is that growing pains pass without doing any permanent damage. Still, your veterinarian can help you find a way to relieve the pains until your puppy has outgrown them.

How Do I Know If My Dog Has a Tooth Ache?

After Fido chewed up your favorite hiking boots, you might have concluded that his teeth are invincible. Not so!

The scary truth is that 80% of dogs suffer from periodontal disease, a painful irritation in and around the teeth. [7]

Dogs are great at masking a toothache, but if you notice any of these symptoms, you should consult a doggy dentist:

  • blood on your dog’s chew toy
  • yelping or whimpering when eating
  • bad breath
  • chewing on only one side of the mouth
  • handling food gingerly
  • discolored, loose, cracked, or missing teeth

Prevention is the best solution for doggy dental problems. Daily teeth brushing, good quality dog food, and annual oral examinations can spare your pet from a painful condition.

What About Ear Aches?

Dogs use their flexible ears to tell us how they’re feeling, but what happens when the ear itself is not feeling well?

Ear infections, usually caused by bacteria, yeast, or mites, are common in dogs, so you should always have your eyes open for these signs that your dog has an ear infection:

  • scratching the ears
  • shaking the head
  • one ear drooping
  • odor or discharge coming from the ears
  • redness or swelling inside the ears
  • problems with balance or reluctance to walk
  • yelping when the ear is touched

Once you detect the problem, your vet can identify the microorganism that has set up shop in your dog’s ear and prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection. [8]

If your four-legged friends loves to swim or suffers from allergies, he might be prone to frequent ear infections. You can help your dog stave off these infections by washing his ears with a gentle cleaning solution on a regular basis.

How Do I Know If My Dog Is In Pain From Arthritis?

So far, we’ve talked about pains that your dog can recover from quickly. Sadly, arthritis doesn’t fit into that box. It’s the leading cause of chronic pain for man’s best friend. [9]

These signs of arthritis in dogs can alert you if your dog is suffering. [10 ]

  • joints are painful when touched
  • visible swelling or deformity of the joints
  • reluctant to play and exercise
  • reluctant to jump on the bed or couch
  • reluctant to go up or down stairs
  • difficulty walking on slippery surfaces
  • weight gain
  • depression
  • accidents in the house
  • yelping or whimpering when rising
  • walking with a strange posture

As time marches on, arthritis usually gets worse. Still, there are measures you can take to help your dog cope:

  • add dietary supplements approved by your vet
  • use rugs to create comfortable walkways around the house
  • position doggy stairs near the couch and bed
  • give your dog regular muscle massages
  • encourage your dog to exercise as much as possible

How Can I Tell If My Dog Is In Pain From Cancer?

Finding a lump on your dog might send you into a tailspin, but it’s not an automatic cancer diagnosis. In fact, the lump might not even be bothering your dog!

In addition to checking up on lumps and bumps, watch out for these warning signs of canine cancer:

  • unusual odors
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • open sores
  • pale gums
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • coughing or difficulty breathing
  • lethargy or antisocial behavior

If your dog has already been given a cancer diagnosis, you are probably wondering how to step up and support your best friend through his illness. [11]

First, make sure you are well informed. You might want to talk to a veterinary oncologist or a specialist in alternative healthcare, as well as your usual vet. Ask about:

  • the treatment options
  • diet and lifestyle changes that could help your pet
  • how the particular type of cancer usually progresses

If the cancer is widespread, your veterinarian might recommend a course of chemotherapy. The good news is that dogs can tolerate chemo much better than humans, so you are unlikely to see nightmarish side effects like your dog going bald.

In fact, the majority of dogs experience no side effects at all.

That said, you will want to keep a close eye on your four-legged friend for a few days after each chemo treatment. Loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea are possible, and if these side effects do not clear up after two days, you might need to take your dog to the vet for IV fluids. [12]

So What Have You Learned About Dogs And Pain?

Your dog isn’t going to speak up to tell you he’s in pain.

More often than not, he will actually try to hide how he’s feeling! But now that you’ve gone through this article, you’ll probably see through his tough front.

Just remember, you’re watching out for:

  • changes in appetite, energy, or mood
  • obsessive grooming
  • pained noises
  • weird postures or gait
  • panting or shivering

And on top of those early warning signs, you should go to the vet immediately if your dog…

  • can’t be distracted from the pain
  • has a bloated stomach or yelps when pressure is applied to his abdomen
  • has blood in his urine or feces
  • has diarrhea, constipation, or vomiting

Do you have questions about dog pain that weren’t answered in this article?

Do you know of any symptoms we didn’t cover?

Leave a comment below, and we’ll track down more information.


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201109/do-dogs-feel-pain-the-same-way-humans-do

[2] http://csu-cvmbs.colostate.edu/Documents/anesthesia-pain-management-pain-score-canine.pdf

[3] http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/my-dog-swollen-belly

[4] http://csu-cvmbs.colostate.edu/Documents/anesthesia-pain-management-pain-score-canine.pdf

[5] http://discover.barkpost.com/dog-pain-signs/

[6] http://www.petwave.com/Dogs/Health/Growing-Pains_Panosteitis/Symptoms.aspx

[7] http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/features/dogs-teeth-toothaches-problems?page=2

[8] https://www.cesarsway.com/dog-care/ear-care/ear-infections-in-dogs-symptoms-causes-and-treatments

[9] http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/10_3/features/Canine-Arthritis_15910-1.html

[10] http://www.petwave.com/Dogs/Health/Arthritis/Symptoms.aspx

[11] http://www.petwave.com/Dogs/Health/Arthritis/Symptoms.aspx

[12] http://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/chemotherapy-dogs-everything-you-need-know

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