What Are The Signs That A Dog Is In Pain?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM March 31, 2020
Our dogs can tell us all kinds of things such as when they are happy, sad, mad, or scared. They can tell us that it’s dinnertime, that they need to go outside, or that the cat is really bothering them. However, one thing that they have a hard time communicating is that they are in pain. Not only are they unable to speak to us, they cannot point to their source of pain. Otherwise, that would answer every veterinarian’s prayers. Since your dog isn’t going to point to an area and say “Ow!”, let’s look at ways to determine that a dog is in pain.
What Are The Signs A Dog Is In Pain?
Not only will your dog not tell you that they are in pain, they also may try to hide it. This makes it even harder to see that something is wrong. Knowing your dog’s normal behaviors and mannerisms will go a long way in detecting that your dog isn’t feeling well.
Let’s start with one of the more obvious signs of pain which is limping. If one of your dog’s limbs is hurt, they will more likely limp. A limp can range anywhere from full-on carrying the leg to a slight little hiccup when they trot or turn in the direction of the soreness. It may also show up as a reluctance to walk or run as fast as they normally would.
- Reluctance to move
Dogs in pain may decide to take it easy on themselves and stay in bed. Or they may decide not to do things that make the pain worse, such as jumping, running, going up the stairs, or lying down.
Some dogs may try to tell you that they hurt by whimpering, whining, or crying. These sounds may be reserved for when they do something that increases the pain or to try to get your attention.
Pain and discomfort can cause trembling, shaking, and muscle spasms. This can either happen only at the affected area or it may take over their whole body.
Sometimes dogs that are in pain may stand or lie differently than they normally would. Some may arch their back; others may try to keep their head down. They may not want to lay on their stomach or side. All of this is in an effort to decrease their discomfort and not make it worse.
Licking a wound or an area of soreness is a dog’s version of a soothing massage. They may excessively lick areas that are hurting in order to make them feel better.
Have you experienced the feeling that you just can’t get comfortable? You shift your weight, you change positions, you moan and groan. Dogs can behave the same way when they’re in pain and nothing they do makes them feel comfortable.
Panting isn’t only a tool for cooling your dog down, it can also be a sign of pain or nervousness.
Even the sweetest pup can get snappy if they’re in pain. They might not want to be touched, so be careful with handling a dog that you suspect is in pain.
A decreased appetite, potty accidents, and depression are other indications that something just isn’t right with your pup, including being in pain.
Possible Causes Of Unexplained Pain
Sometimes it’s obvious why your dog is in pain. Maybe they have a huge laceration or you saw them slip down the stairs. Other times it’s not so easy to know why. Pain can be due to anything that causes inflammation or damage. Some possible reasons that you can’t obviously see the cause of pain are:
- Soft tissue injury
- Back problems
- Upset stomach or blockage
- Infections (skin, urinary, ear, dental)
- Some types of cancer
- Fractured/dislocated bones
How Can You Tell If A Dog Is In Pain From …
Most of the above painful conditions will present with other signs and symptoms as well. For example, a dog that is painful from an upset stomach or blockage may also be vomiting, have diarrhea, or a bloated abdomen. Fractured or dislocated bones may also show up with a disfigurement and dental infections usually produce some nastier than usual breath.
Yet, there are some issues that cause pain that don’t have other outward signs. So, here are some ways to tell if your dog is in pain possibly due to these conditions:
Unfortunately, our furry friends are going to get old. Arthritis or the inflammation of the joints usually comes with age. The inflammation causes pain and stiffness of the joints. Arthritis can affect any joint, but is most commonly seen in the hips and backs of our elderly pups and in joints that have previously been injured. With arthritis, dogs are often reluctant or slow to get up, but their joints actually get better with a little movement. They warm out of the discomfort so to speak and usually feel pretty good after a little exercise. However, too much exercise can have the opposite effect causing more stiffness and soreness the next day. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose arthritis in your dog by moving and feeling their joints as well as with x-rays.
Cancer is ugly, we all know that. Some cancers can also be painful. Osteosarcoma, bone cancer, for example can cause extreme pain, lameness, and swelling in the affected bone. Other cancers can cause displacement of tissues or organs that lead to pain. With most cancers there will be other symptoms that alert you to a problem such as lumps, bumps, swellings, sores, or weight loss, to name a few.
With any surgical procedure, even minor ones, there is bound to be some pain and discomfort. If that pain isn’t well managed, then your dog may appear agitated or restless, whine, not eat, be extra clingy or try to hide. In general, it takes about 7-10 days for a surgical incision to heal. So keep in mind that your pup may be in pain for the same amount of time as well. Your veterinarian will be able to help your dog mange the pain with medication, ice, or exercise.
- After an injury
This is similar to post-surgery, but injuries come with their share of pain as well. Whether your dog was hit by a car or stung by a bee, you can judge their degree of pain by watching for all of the signs we mentioned previously.
How Can I Help A Dog That Is In Pain?
None of us want to see our pups suffer for any longer than they have to, but we need to make sure that our attempts to help doesn’t cause more problems. Never give your dog any medications that haven’t been prescribed by a veterinarian. In fact, some human pain medications, like Tylenol and ibuprofen, can be very dangerous to our canine companions. However, you can still help manage your dog’s pain without using drugs.
To provide the best pain management possible, it helps to know where your dog hurts. It won’t help to put an ice pack on your dog’s knee if their back is bothering them. To narrow down your painful area options, you can carefully feel your pup, move their legs, neck and back in order to try to get a response. Be careful so that you don’t accidently get nipped or cause too much hurt. Also, some dogs are expert secret keepers and may not give you anything when you do this, so you may have to resort to observing them and trying to pinpoint the problem that way.
Once you’ve found the problem area, you can try using towel covered ice packs on the area for 10 minutes two to three times a day. You can also try a gentle massage if they’re not too painful or try some simple passive range of motion exercises. You can also limit your dog’s activity by taking shorter walks, avoiding jumping, or try swimming instead.
When Should Your Painful Dog See A Veterinarian?
Pain in dogs is either considered acute (sudden) or chronic (long term). Acute pain usually indicates an injury or illness and may or may not get better with time. Chronic pain usually doesn’t get better completely, but rather comes and goes or just stays constant. See your veterinarian if your pup is in extreme acute pain to where they can’t be comforted or settled down, or if milder pain lasts longer than 48 hours.
Dogs should see a vet for chronic pain that is keeping them from their daily activities, such as arthritis pain that makes them not want to take walks or eat their breakfast. They should also see their vet for pain plus any other symptoms such as lumps, bumps, or vomiting.
Your veterinarian will be able to work out a pain management strategy that hopefully includes medication as well as other modes, such as massage to help get your dog’s pain under control for the duration of the condition or for the long haul.
No one wants to see their pup in pain. Understanding the signs of pain will help you identify when your dog needs help and possibly where they hurt. But for pain that is severe or long lasting, see your veterinarian to get the best pain management possible.
Passive Range Of Motion Exercises To Help With Pain