How to Tell if Your Dog is in Pain

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Dogs can’t use their words to tell us when they are in pain. Unlike them, we complain about our aching backs and we yell out when we get burned by something hot. So, how do you tell if your dog is in pain? Sometimes it will be obvious to you, while other times it will be more difficult to tell.

They may be in pain as a result of an injury or an underlying issue. But certain signs can indicate pain in dogs. Despite the symptoms you notice, you shouldn’t attempt to treat your dog’s pain yourself.

Let’s go over some signs your dog is in pain that you can look out for. Find out what you can do to help your dog, and what you can give your dog for pain.

dog in pain

How to Tell if a Dog is in Pain

The number one mistake people make with dogs in pain is not recognizing that they are in pain. We understand how difficult it is to tell, but don’t worry. Here are the most common warning signs that your furry friend is in pain.

Limping

Limping is a clear sign your dog is in pain. Is your dog favoring a paw or leg? Walking with a limp is often an indication that your dog is suffering an injury. It could be a wound on their paw or leg or joint pain associated with arthritis.

Mobility problems

The way your dog moves can show you when something is up. Look for signs of stiffness when moving around. Is he slow to get up? Is there a change in posture, like hunching over? Is your dog sleeping more than usual? Look for any sign of hesitance during usual exercise routines. The pain will often slow dogs down.

Excessive grooming

While a certain amount of self-grooming, like licking, scratching or biting, is natural for dogs,  you should be concerned when it gets too frequent. If your dog is continually licking or scratching the same spot it could be because they have a wound they are trying to clean, or pain they are trying to get rid of.

Even internal pain can cause a dog to constantly lick the sore area. This is their first instinct when trying to soothe themselves from discomfort.

Change in personality

If your dog suddenly starts acting differently, like unusual aggression or shyness, then this could be a sign that they are in pain. Are they hiding or avoiding attention? Are they more aggressive with you or other family members?

Dogs in pain are more likely to lash out. Also, look for a change in their energy levels as this can indicate pain as well. They might stop running to greet you at the door, avoid eye contact, or even get mad at you.

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 behavior can be cause for concern.

Excessive panting

Dogs pant regularly for several reasons, like during strenuous exercise or if they are overheating in warm weather. If your dog is panting or breathing heavily for no obvious reason then it may be due to stress caused by pain.

Any changes in breathing can indicate pain, so also look for a slowing down of their breath.

Restlessness

If your dog is showing signs of restlessness, like pacing or an inability to get comfortable, then this could be a sign of pain. They may be having trouble sleeping, lying in an unusual position, or constantly getting up immediately after laying down.

If you find your pup is constantly adjusting his position when sitting or lying down then they could be in pain. This sign of agitation means they don’t feel comfortable no matter the position.

Change in Eating, Drinking, and Sleeping Habits

Look for changes in appetite. If your dog doesn’t seem interested in his food or isn’t eating as much as normal this can be a sign of illness or pain. If they are dropping their food, especially if it is dried food or firm chews, this can indicate pain in your dog’s mouth or jaw.

A noticeable difference in the amount of water they drink is also a sign that they’re not feeling well.

Dogs that often sleep more, on the other hand, are trying to heal or are having a difficult time to move around and be active.

Unusual vocalization

Whimpering, whining, growling, yelping, moaning, or howling that is out of character can indicate your dog is in pain. Particularly when it is associated with certain movements, like stepping down on a paw or lying on a body part that hurts.

Excessive drooling

More saliva than usual can be a sign your dog is unwell. It can indicate nausea or internal pain.

Changes to eyes

Dogs in pain will squint. Look out for any redness, discharge, or cloudiness as this can indicate pain in your dog’s eyes. If they are constantly rubbing their eyes this can indicate an issue also. If your dog has dilation or shrinking of the pupils this can also be a result of pain.

Changes in their Body and Posture

When their paws, legs, and face are swelling, your fur baby may be in pain because of inflammation, infection, or even cancer. Some dogs with rigid and hunched stance can also indicate pain, as well as when they assume the ‘prayer’ posture.

The prayer posture is when their front legs are on the ground and their bottom is in the air. This position usually occurs when they are suffering from abdominal pain as it allows them to stretch this area out.

Eating grass

Dogs eating grass is not uncommon, and they do it for several reasons. But one of those reasons is that they have pain in the stomach and are trying to relieve it or make themselves vomit.

Vomiting

If your dog is vomiting it could indicate stomach pain. Vomiting can be caused by a few issues so if this continues you should take them to the vet immediately.

Shaking

If your dog is visibly shaking, shivering, or trembling, this can be another sign of pain. It can be an indicator of internal pain from nausea, poisoning, or internal injury. Dogs who have swallowed large amounts of chocolate, moldy compost or sugar-free sweetener xylitol, for example, often suffer severe muscle tremors.

Don’t assume that your dog is just feeling cold or getting old when they tremble. It can be as severe as kidney disease or pancreatitis.

Irregular bowel movements

Pain can affect the consistency of your dog’s stools. Any changes to your dog’s regular bathroom habits can indicate pain and stress, so look out for anything out of the ordinary.

Excessive shedding

All dogs will shed hair from time to time, some more than others. But if your dog is shedding more than usual, or losing hair from a particular spot, it can indicate pain from a wound or skin problem.

What to Do When Your Dog is in Pain

signs your dog is in pain

So, you have noticed something out of character with your dog, what do you do now? Here are some things you should do to help them stay comfortable and be able to treat their pain.

  • Try to look for the cause of your dog’s pain. Carefully check your dog over for wounds or injuries. Make sure you are careful as your dog could lash out if you press on a painful area. If you find something you should apply whatever first aid you can.
  • Whether you can or cannot find the source of your dog’s pain, or you are unsure why they are acting the way they are, then just take them to the vet. Trust yourself and your knowledge of your dog since you are the one who knows them best. Your vet can determine the underlying issue causing the discomfort.
  • Do as the vet suggests. If it’s a surgery that they need, then follow the vet’s advice. Give them the prescribed medications and correct dose as well. 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. Do not medicate your dog yourself and do not give a dog human medication.
  • While your dog is recovering, limited movement and physical activity is usually recommended. Soft, padded bedding and a quiet, comfortable environment will also help speed up your dog’s recovery.
  • Stimulate them mentally. It’s common for vets to restrict your pet’s activity levels. Nevertheless, engage your dog mentally and physically, doing so in a way that doesn’t add more stress to the healing. Try reward-based training or food puzzles to keep them occupied.
  • Give them the recommended diet. Dogs that are carrying excess weight can develop pain associated with being overweight. Keeping your dog on a healthy whole food diet can reduce body fat and thus reduce excess stress on their joints. A regular exercise routine can help to keep them lean and prevent this type of pain. However, just like humans, dogs suffering pain may go off their food. If your dog’s appetite suddenly changes or you notice any form of inappetence, you should seek veterinary advice, as this could be a symptom of a dangerous ailment.
  • Massage and physical therapy can also be used to help ease your dog’s pain. You can learn to do it yourself or take your dog to a professional.  Hydrotherapy, for example, is great with the vet’s permission where you lead your dog into a bathtub or other water source.
  • Avoid further accidents by clearing out things in the house. Dogs in pain often have difficulty moving around, laying down, and getting up out of their bed. This may result in them urinating and defecating in the house.

Be Prepared for Emergencies

dog first aid for pain

What if your dog has a medical emergency? It takes extensive medical training to medically treat pets correctly and thoroughly. Still, you can learn a few simple ways to potentially save your dog’s life in case of emergencies.

  • Keep a first-aid kit. The items will be similar to those you would keep in a human first aid kit. However, it’s a better idea to keep them separate. Watch this video to learn how to DIY a first-aid kit for your dog.
  • Take a pet first aid course so you know how to treat your dog when he is in pain. Knowing what you can do for your dog when he is in pain is a great investment for them and you. Learn what you should do in cases such as choking, bleeding, toxin exposure, seizures, heatstroke, etc.
  • Get pet insurance to help avoid having to pay out too much for any health care costs that are associated with your dog’s pain or injury.

Is My Dog Dying?

It’s difficult to say goodbye to a dog even if we know too well that the inevitable day will come. Sometimes, when we notice that they’re in pain, we imagine the worst-case scenario.

Aside from old age, here are some telltale signs that there may be a more serious health issue.

  • Loss of coordination. If your dog does get up and move around, they may be very wobbly or act disoriented. They may shake or convulse while lying down.
  • Prolonged lethargy. Lying all the time and not being interested in toys or walks often mean they can’t be active like they used to be.
  • Incontinence. A dying dog will lie in one spot and not even move to relieve themselves. They may have diarrhea. This is another one of the signs that a dog is dying. It’s a signal that your dog’s internal organs are shutting down.
  • Complete loss of appetite. You know something is wrong when your dog refuses food, and this is one of the classic signs a dog is dying.
  • Worsening of his terminal illness. If your dog has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, such as severe heart failure, kidney failure, or cancer, then be alert for a deterioration in his condition.

Many of the signs are quite general and can simply be symptoms of your dog being sick. Seek professional medical advice if you notice any of these signs.

To Sum Up…

We hope this helps you figure out when your dog is in pain, and what you can do to help them get through it. No one wants their pup to suffer, so make sure you keep an eye on them and look for any changes.

If you are at all concerned, it is best to get them to the vet as soon as possible to find out what is causing them pain. You should rely on a professional for the appropriate treatment that your fur baby needs.

P.S. Help a friend learn how to tell if their dog is in pain by pinning this!

how to tell dog in pain

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