How to Tell if Your Dog is in Pain

It may not be obvious to you if your dog is in pain. While we can talk to our pets and are often sure they’re talking back to us, they can’t use words to tell us when they’re experiencing pain and discomfort. In this article, we’ll explore ways to tell if your dog is in pain, common causes of pain in dogs, and when it’s time to go to the vet. Remember, if your dog is injured, don’t wait, take them to the vet right away.

Is My Dog in Pain?

dog vocalizing because they are in pain

Dogs evolved from pack hunters, which means they have an inherited instinct to hide their pain. Out in the wild, an animal that is injured is vulnerable to attack, so dogs might hide their pain based on ancient survival instincts. Dogs may mask their pain with normal behavior, so be on the lookout for these common signs:

      1. Vocalizing.

        If you notice sounds from your dog, like whining, howling, whimpering, yelping, groaning, or grunting, pay attention. If any of these vocalizations seem out of the ordinary for your dog, it may be time to take your dog to a vet’s office.

      2. Changes in activity level.

        Be on the lookout for restless behavior, a reluctance to move around, any signs of difficulty when getting up from a lying position, or repetitively getting up and lying right back down again. If you’re noticing your dog trembling, circling around, or even lying very still, these could be signs of pain. In addition, another sign could be if your dog wants your attention more than usual.

      3. Self-Protection.

        If you notice your dog protecting a body part, e.g., they don’t want to be petted in a certain area, or they won’t put weight on a certain limb, this could be cause for concern. Self-protection can also look like limping when walking, not wanting to be picked up and held when that is normally something your dog enjoys, and hiding.

      4. Changes in Daily Habits.

        Pay attention to your dog’s appetite. If it seems to have decreased out of nowhere, that could be a sign your dog is in pain. Other behaviors to look out for are if your dog is withdrawing from social interactions, any changes to their sleeping patterns, if they are drinking more or less water, and any lapses in house training.

      5. Facial Expressions.

        If your adorable pup is grimacing or seems to have a vacant stare, these are things to pay attention to. Also, a glazed, wide-eyed look or appearing sleepy can be signs of pain. So can enlarged pupils, flattened ears, and panting excessively when resting.

      6. Aggression.

        Pay attention to any aggressive behaviors, especially if they are out of character for your usually friendly dog. Any growling, hissing, or biting, as well as pinning their ears back could be cause for concern. And, if the opposite occurs, where a generally aggressive dog is suddenly acting docile, consider calling your vet.

      7. Self-Mutilation.

        Self-mutilation behaviors can be a sign that your pup is experiencing some discomfort. These behaviors include excessive licking, and biting or scratching at certain parts of their body.

      8. Changes in self-grooming.

        If their coat lacks its normal shine and if some of their hair is standing up in place, take note, because this could be a sign that something isn’t right.

      9. Posture.

        Certain postures can signal pain in dogs, like holding their head below their shoulders. Laying on their side is also one, but since that is common for dogs, it might be hard to use as a marker for pain. However, if they are hunched, with their hindquarters raised, and their front end on the ground, it may be time to call your vet because that position may indicate pain in their abdomen.

      10. Heavy panting or altered breathing.

        While panting is normal in dogs, heavy panting when they haven’t been exercised could be a signal you need to pay attention to. Also, if they are breathing shallowly, this could be a warning sign that it hurts to breathe.

      11. Signs of agitation.

        Restlessness, and behaviors like pacing back and forth, having a hard time getting comfortable, or sleeping less than usual could be signs of an underlying issue.

      12. Shaking or trembling.

        While shaking and trembling can be signs of feeling cold or aging, both can be signs of something more serious, such as poisoning, pancreatitis, or kidney disease. Specifically, dogs.

      13. Tight or twitching muscles.

        If you notice tension in your dog’s muscles, or if you notice certain muscles twitching it could be a sign of pain somewhere in the body or in that region specifically.

What Causes Pain in Dogs?

white dog getting examined because they are in pain

According to PetMD, “Anything that damages cells or creates inflammation can cause pain in dogs.”. There are two types of pain: chronic and acute. Chronic pain is long-term and an ongoing condition. Arthritis is an example of chronic pain in dogs. Acute pain is from something that has just happened, like a broken bone or an insect sting. Some common causes of pain in dogs include:

    1. Damage to bones or joints.

      These can fall under both categories of pain. If your pup has a broken leg from falling down the stairs, this is different from the pain they might experience if they have a hereditary joint disorder like hip dysplasia.

    2. Soft tissue injury.

      Dogs get bruises just like people do, and a bruise can be incredibly painful. Signs of soft tissue injury include discoloration and swelling.

    3. Sprains and strains.

      This is an example of acute pain from an injury. Sprains and strains also affect the soft tissues, specifically the tendons and ligaments that hold joints in place. Perhaps your dog played a little too hard during your last trip to the dog park or maybe ran themselves ragged chasing after a tennis ball.

    4. Back Problems.

      Back problems encompass a whole host of issues and can be caused by many different things. If the back muscles are in pain, this could be from a soft tissue injury, general inflammation, or there could be an infection. The discs that provide padding between the vertebrae could be degenerating, infected, or have slipped out of place. There’s also the possibility of trauma to the spine from a fracture, dislocation, cancer, nerve issues, or even kidney disease.

    5. Dental Disease.

      This is the most common disease in dogs. Periodontal disease, more often referred to as gum disease affects almost 90% of dogs and can cause your dog pain. The pain comes from bacteria in the mouth that damage the gums, bone, and “other supporting structures of the teeth.”. This disease is not visibly present until later stages, so if your dog’s gums are healthy, be sure to start preventative care early. If your dog does have periodontal disease, it may be causing them pain.

    6. Ear, Skin, and Urinary tract infections.

      These are common ailments for dogs and are easily treatable. Ear disease can be related to skin disease because the ears are in a dark, moist environment, making it easy for bacteria to grow. A UTI can be incredibly painful. Signs of a UTI include bloody urine, difficulty urinating, and licking of the groin area.

Treating Your Dog’s Pain

dog lifting leg because they are in pain

According to the American Animal Hospital Association, it’s incredibly important to not try to treat your dog’s pain yourself. If your dog is showing one or more of the signs of pain, reach out to your veterinarian immediately. You know your dog best, so you are the best person around to notice if something is wrong with your dog. Trust your instincts, you wouldn’t be googling pain in dogs if you weren’t worried. The good news is that you’ve noticed that something is wrong and are now able to take your dog to the vet. You and your vet will formulate a plan of action that works for you and your dog, so your dog can heal and get on with their pain-free life of playing, taking walks, and loving on you.

Once you visit your vet, follow their instructions, particularly regarding any medications, closely, and be sure to follow up with them if your dog’s pain doesn’t subside.

CBD for Optimal Health in Dogs

Many pet owners are turning to CBD for its ability to support their dog’s overall health. When it comes to your dog’s health, Pet Releaf knows you treat your dog like the family member they are. This means choosing high-quality, all-natural CBD for your pet. Pet Releaf’s CBD may help support a normal inflammatory response in the body to support your dog’s occasional discomfort as well as promote healthy joints.