How to Tell if My Dog is in Pain

Dogs are notoriously stoic creatures.  It is not uncommon for a dog to be suffering from a prolonged ailment and even the most doting of owner may not realise.  Many dog owners are looking for the obvious signs like crying or whimpering, but often there can be a much more subtle set of signs that your dog is in pain and sometimes these will be mistakenly associated with other things.

The signs will vary from dog to dog and it is important to be vigilant and look out for any changes in your dog, monitor what these are, when they started and, if these give cause for concern, to consult with a vet as soon as possible to establish what the problem may be.

The more observant you are, the more helpful it will be for the vet too in terms of helping them to make a diagnosis and then provide subsequent treatment.

Below are a list of some of the common signs that your dog could be in pain.


Unusual Aggressive Behaviour

If you have a dog that is generally very placid and gentle and they suddenly start to growl, snap or even try to bite, then this is often an obvious indicator that there is an underlying condition or injury causing them pain.  It may be when someone tries to touch a particular area of their body or it could even be just as someone approaches them.

It is important not to punish your dog but, instead, try to work out why there is this sudden change in behaviour and a consultation with your vet should be arranged.

You should also pay attention to the warning signs.  If you are aware that your dog has been seriously injured, you should always approach them and handle them with care and caution.  Severe pain can cause even the softest dog to react differently than normal. Listen to any warning signals they give you like a growl, if you ignore this there is more chance of being bitten.

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If a dog is in pain they may exhibit uncharacteristic aggression

Changes in Sleeping Routines/ Restlessness

When a dog is in pain they will likely find it difficult to get comfortable and you could find that their sleeping patterns are disrupted as a result.  They may also appear more restless during the day. You may see pacing behaviour or an inability to get settled.

Sometimes, coping with the pain can be exhausting and this can actually make them sleep more than usual.

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A dog in pain will often have different sleeping patterns.  They may sleep more, be more restless or struggle to get comfortable

Changes in their Normal Body Language, Posture and Facial Expressions

Subtle changes in your dog’s body language and facial expression can tell you a lot about whether they are in pain.

They may have a hunched, rigid, arched or crouched posture, their tail may be tucked between their legs and their ears will likely be flat against their head rather than erect and alert.

If they have abdominal pain, they may adopt a ‘downward dog’ posture with their butt up in the air and their front legs pointing down to the ground.  It can look similar to a play bow but, of course, it is actually a sign of discomfort.

You may notice dull, lifeless eyes where once there was a spark. For dogs in extreme pain, they may have a vacant and glazed stare, or squinting expression, unable to focus on the environment around them.  Pain can also cause the pupils to dilate.

Changes in Appetite

When a dog is in pain, they might be in too much discomfort to eat or drink and lose their appetite.  Sometimes it can also be an indicator of a dental problem, sometimes the pain is localised to the mouth and it makes it difficult to eat as well as uncomfortable.

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You may find that a normally greedy dog starts turning their nose up at their food 

Changes in Levels of Sociability/ Mood

For some dogs, they may become more withdrawn when in pain.  When usually they are enthusiastic about receiving attention they may shy away or even hide or take themselves off to a quiet spot.  A dog that normally likes to be held or picked up may growl or move away when you attempt to do this.

Some dogs will seek out more attention as a form of comfort and reassurance when they are in pain.  They could become more needy than normal.

If a dog has been dealing with prolonged pain, they can become depressed and lose their zest for life.

Excessive Licking

If your dog has a pain in a particular area they may begin to lick, gnaw or scratch the area compulsively.  Sometimes paw licking can also be associated with pain in a dog, even if the pain is not actually in their paws.

Changes in their Breathing

It is not uncommon for a dog in pain, especially when it is severe, to have a raised heart rate and rapid, shallow breathing.  You may notice that they are panting much more, even if the weather is not hot and they have not done any strenuous exercise. This may become even more noticeable when the area that is causing them pain is manipulated.

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A dog in serious pain will often have an elevated heart rate and more rapid shallow, breathing and pronounced panting 

Changes in Vocalisation

While every dog will react differently, if you are noticing an increase in general vocalisation from your dog, accompanied by any of the other behaviours indicated on this list, then it could be a sign they are in pain.  It could be anything from more groaning and grunting to whimpering, yelping or even howling. This may be particularly noticeable when they are trying to move or if you try to manipulate their body in a particular way.

For a dog that is normally very vocal and perhaps barks or whimpers in excitement, the opposite can occur when they are in pain, and they may become much quieter.

Decreased Interest in Toys

If you have a dog that is normally keen to engage in play and will often fetch toys to play with, if you spot that they are no longer showing any interest, even when you try to encourage it, this could be a sign that they are in too much pain to be enthusiastic about a game.

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A dog that normally loves to play may suddenly stop showing interest in toys

Changes in Mobility Levels

Perhaps your dog is normally excited to go out for their daily walk but now shows little enthusiasm?  Maybe their general pace has slowed down and they seem more lethargic and lacking in energy? Once they are lying down, do they show a reluctance to move into a different position?  Are they struggling to get up and down the stairs, or even refusing to use the stairs?

Sometimes it can be more obvious like limping, or favouring a particular side of their body, or showing signs of struggling to get up after a period of rest.

Regression in Toilet Training

For some dogs, if they are in extreme pain they may not want to get up to signal they need out for the toilet.  Sometimes it can also be that an extreme burst of pain can cause them to lose control of their bladder or bowels.

If your dog is suffering from a back injury or pain, their usual posture when they are needing to have a bowel movement can be painful.  This can then lead them to avoid going and an accident may happen as a result.

Some Other Things to Look Out For:

  • Trembling or Shaking
  • Confusion or Disorientation
  • Other Family Dogs Giving The Dog In Pain More Space Than Normal
  • Drooling
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