As a pet owner, it can be difficult to tell when your dog is in pain. More often than not, our dogs suffer in silence as they cannot speak to us, making it even harder to understand what they are dealing with. And, while there are some clear signs such as whimpering or yelping, others aren’t quite as obvious. Read on for our guide on what to look out for, and how to tell if a dog is in pain.

how to tell if a dog is in pain

Physical signs

If your dog is in pain, chances are they’ll probably exhibit some physical warning signs. These include, but are not limited to:

Shaking or trembling

It is not uncommon for your pet to shiver when they are cold, but excessive shaking and trembling could be symptoms of something much more serious. Shaking is a common sign of pain, and if it presents itself in the hind legs, it might be due to joint pain or arthritis. Similarly, shaking could be due to:

Whimpering or yelping

Dogs often whine or yelp in response to pain

Heavy or extreme panting

While it’s common for dogs to breathe harder after exercise, excessive panting is also a common symptom of pain or discomfort. There are several conditions and reasons why your dog may be breathing heavily which include poisoning, high blood pressure (hypertension), heatstroke or hormone issues like Cushing’s disease. Similarly, extreme panting may also be a side effect of certain medicines such as Prednisolone.

how to tell if a dog is in pain

If your pet’s physical symptoms appear suddenly, or your dog’s tongue or gums appear discoloured, it’s important to contact your vet as soon as possible. 

Behavioural changes

As dogs cannot explicitly tell us when they are in pain, it’s important to look out for any signs of behavioural changes, especially if there are no physical signs of pain in dogs. Common behavioural changes include:

Biting, snapping or other aggressive behaviours

Whether your dog is acting aggressively such as snapping or biting, or is simply restless and won’t sit still, any sudden behavioural changes could indicate that your pet is suffering.

Excessive grooming

It’s common for your dogs to groom themselves, but if you’ve noticed your pet focusing on one particular area or spot, then they may be trying to alleviate pain. Investigate the painful area – even if there are open wounds, look for swelling or any other injuries. 

Changes in eating, drinking, and sleeping habits

It’s important to look out for any changes to their daily habits, which could indicate a more serious issue. If your dog is sleeping more than usual, uninterested in food, is experiencing a loss of appetite or has a sudden excessive thirst, this could indicate a condition such as Cushing’s disease.

how to tell if a dog is in pain

If you’ve noticed behavioural changes in your dog, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for certain patterns. For example, are certain behaviours present after exercise or at a specific time of the day? Gathering this information will help you to gain a much clearer picture and a better understanding of the issues your pet may be suffering with and will make it simpler for you to report back to your vet.

Mobility issues

A common indicator that your dog is in pain, and that something is wrong, is if you’ve noticed them suffering from mobility issues such as:

  • Stiffness and limping: sudden limping or a noticeable change in gait could indicate strains and sprains, or more serious issues such as arthritis or hip dysplasia
  • Swelling: any form of swelling in the legs, paws, face or other areas of the body, whether caused by an allergic reaction or a more serious cognition, can cause mobility issues

Several disorders may lead to mobility and orthopaedic issues or pain for your dog. These include: 

  • Arthritis: one of the most common causes of mobility difficulties, arthritis causes inflammation and discomfort
  • Displasia: elbow dysplasia or hip dysplasia impacts mobility and causes bone and joint pain. While it’s most frequently seen in giant or large breed dogs, all dogs can develop either condition
  • Tumours: all types of tumours, including Neoplasia, whether malignant or benign can impact normal movement and cause pain 
  • Neurological conditions: whether your pet has suffered from a stroke or been poisoned, neurological damage can mean your dog may have difficulty standing or walking

how to tell if a dog is in pain

If your dog is in pain, and suffering from mobility issues, you must make any necessary adaptations. This could include adding dog stairs or ramps up to beds or sofas or moving their bed to avoid them having to climb stairs.

Pain management

Depending on what your pet is suffering from, there are several approaches to pain management in dogs. Please bear in mind, however, that the pain management approach taken will depend entirely on the type of pain your pet is suffering from, along with the underlying cause and length of the problem. If your dog is experiencing pain, common approaches include:

  • Pain medication: if your dog is suffering or in pain, your veterinarian may prescribe  medications such as anti-inflammatories to relieve any swelling or pain
  • Physical therapy: to relieve pain and improve joint motion, your vet may prescribe physiotherapy, such as massage and hydrotherapy
  • Changes in activity: altering your dog’s physical activity can make a huge difference to their pain. For example, if your dog is suffering from limb pain and normally goes on long walks, shorter and more frequent bouts of exercise may be better for managing pain and symptoms. 

For a dog who is feeling unwell or in pain, making minor changes to their environment can be a great way to ensure your dog stays calm and feels safe and comfortable. There are a number of things you can do to help:

  • Create a quiet and soothing atmosphere: if your dog is in pain, chances are they’ll want to curl themselves up in a quiet place to rest and so making sure you’ve created a comfy spot away from any noise or distractions is key. Soft music can help to soothe an anxious dog too, while some pets may feel safer when covered with a t-shirt or blanket, especially if they’re used to resting in a crate.
  • Remain calm: while taking care of a pet in pain can be frustrating, dogs can sense stress and unrest, and it’s quite common for them to become anxious when they are ill. It’s important therefore to speak in a calming voice and give them plenty of reassurance and praise.
  • Avoid unfamiliar people and places: if your dog is already in pain, exposing them to unfamiliar places or people could cause them to become stressed or anxious, which could further exasperate their pain. It’s better to stick to familiar environments and visitors, at least until your dog is feeling better. 

Are you concerned about your pet? If you’re worried about any changes or are looking for more information or advice, it’s important to contact a veterinarian professional as soon as possible. 

How Can Dogwood Referrals Help?

The team at Dogwood Referrals offers an exceptional level of veterinary care and support for every pet and pet owner we treat or meet, and we offer advanced treatments with our specialist knowledge in a variety of pain conditions and illnesses. 

If you’re a veterinary professional, it’s simple to make a veterinary referral, simply fill in your details online or download our PDF form now.

We hope you found this guide to pain identification and management helpful and that it answers all of your questions and concerns with regards to your pet’s health. If you need some further advice on how to tell if a dog is in pain, please don’t hesitate to contact us.