How to Interpret Signs of Pain in a Dog?

Chronic pain in dogs is more common than we think. As our dogs can’t tell us when it hurts, they often suffer in silence. Signs of pain can easily be misinterpreted or overlooked in a dog. But we can learn to read our pet’s behavior!

Dogs don’t tell us when there is pain

The face is the mirror of the soul, and if we look at our furry friend with an expression that is sad or denotes discomfort, this is undoubtedly one of the first signs of pain in a dog that we must identify. Although dogs do not have the ability to speak, they have many other ways to express their pain and ask us for help, such as actions and behaviors. In this sense, it is our duty to learn to identify these signals to act properly and find the reason for the animal’s discomfort.

Chronic Pain is More Common Than We Think

Chronic pain is defined as pain that has been present for more than one to three months. Unlike acute pain, chronic pain will not simply “go away”. It will continue even after a healing period has occurred. Chronic pain can even be experienced by dogs who don’t have any injury.

Our pets are now living longer than ever before. That’s why they also have a higher chance of developing medical conditions that may result in chronic pain.

Many conditions such as arthritis and cancer can produce chronic pain states that have a negative impact on the pet’s behaviour and quality of life. Therefore, management strategies to control chronic pain and regular check-ups are important to ensure that your pet is made as comfortable as
possible, whilst aiming to improve their quality of life.

Common Signs of Pain in a Dog

The problem happens when this excessive panting comes out of nowhere. If you see that your dog is panting more than normal, it may be a sign that it is not feeling well at all, that it is going through an episode of stress or fear due to pain, it could be suffering from heatstroke, poisoning, or have a respiratory problem.

Exaggerated gasping panting is totally normal behavior in dogs, especially on very hot days or when the walk has been very active. Panting is a natural way for dogs to cool their bodies and lower body temperatures.

Accelerated Breathing

In relation to excessive panting, rapid breathing is another of the signs of pain in dogs. In the same way that we humans also see our breathing accelerated when the pain we feel is very intense, precisely, by not noticing an improvement or not supporting it, animals experience these same sensations. On the other hand, accelerated breathing can be an indicator of a problem related to the respiratory tract, so we will have to pay attention to whether it is due to difficulties when breathing or for the above reasons to take all the possible information to the vet.

Isolation and Aggressiveness

Dogs are much more like human beings than we think. Some people, when they are not feeling well, prefer to isolate themselves or tend to express their pain through aggressiveness. The same thing happens to dogs, and therefore it is normal for one who feels pain to prefer to be alone or adopt an aggressive attitude.

Excessive Licking

As with other daily routines, it is common for dogs to feel the need to groom themselves. In fact, they really like to lick and groom themselves. What is not normal is when they spend all day doing it, even becoming an obsessive disorder. When a dog licks a certain area compulsively, this can only indicate that it feels pain in that specific part or that it is a stereotype developed by stress, anxiety, or boredom. 

Focusing on excessive licking as a sign of pain in dogs, they usually do it in order to calm pain, clean and heal the wound, which can be external or internal. For this reason, if we observe this behavior, we must go to a specialist to carry out the relevant tests, since if we do not act in time, the dog could develop acral lick dermatitis.

Loss of Appetite

Who wants to eat when he is sick? This is one of the body’s primary reactions when it is experiencing pain or illness. Likewise, this is a clear sign of pain in dogs that can not only manifest the presence of any pathology whose symptoms are loss of appetite, but it is also possible that the animal is hungry, but the act of walking and moving it is tremendously painful. To test it, bring the bowl of food close to its snout and observe its reaction. This problem does not necessarily have to be serious, but it is necessary to request a blood test and evaluate the results.

Crying, Whining, or Moaning

Another sign of pain in dogs is crying or whining, which can be constant or intermittent, depending on the condition and its cause. Thus, it is possible that we observe the restless animal, moaning, or emitting small cries while it moves or, on the contrary, it is still. It is also likely that these cries will increase, exaggerate, or increase in volume when we approach to check what is happening or touch the animal. If any of these situations happens we can say that we are facing clear symptoms of pain in dogs that must be attended to immediately by a veterinarian to find the cause. 

Reaction to Touch

If when you touch the dog, it reacts with a bark, scream, cry, growl or bite; most likely, it is because that area hurts. To check it, you need to feel other parts of its body and observe its reaction. Likewise, if, for example, the animal reacts by touching one of its legs, we can try to make it walk to check if it supports it normally or, if not, it limps. In this sense, lameness is another sign of pain in dogs much more evident than others.

Sleep Disturbance

When a dog feels pain, it is normal that it has difficulties sleeping due, precisely, to the discomfort. Especially when the pain is very intense, we can notice the nervous, restless animal that cries, barks, or tries to capture our attention. Thus, if our dog has never before shown alterations in his sleep hours or acted in this way, we should certainly be alarmed and try to find the source of the pain. 

General Changes in Your Dog’s Behavior

It is very important to know our dog, his dynamics, personality, what he likes, and what he does not. In this way, we will be able to detect pain signals in dogs in time and act quickly.

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My Dog Shows Signs of Pain – What Should I Do?

It’s important for us to note that any change in the behavior of a dog is reason for veterinary consultation, especially if it belongs to the most vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, puppies, or specimens that are already diagnosed with any pathology.

On the other hand, it is difficult to assess the intensity of the pain, another fact that affects the importance of consulting with the specialist. Only the vet can decide what you can give your dog for pain since the treatment has to take into account the cause, the dog’s conditions, or if it is an acute or chronic disorder. However, below are various things you can do to your dog when he is in pain.

Quickly Get Pain Medication

Painkillers are the most widely used drugs when it comes to fighting pain. There are many to choose from and indifferent presentations such as tablets, syrups, or injectables. Therefore, it is a task that only the vet can.

Please do not try to treat your dog’s pain with human medications as painkillers used to treat human pain may be toxic for dogs!

Your veterinarian will examine your dog and prescribes sufficient pain medication. Make sure your dog receives the correct dose over the recommended period of time.

Depending on the cause of the pain there is a long list of additional measures you can take to soothe your dog’s symptoms:

  • Acupuncture is a useful tool to provide natural pain relief without the risk of negative side effects.
  • Physiotherapy and Chiropractic Care can be used to treat pain and to improve mobility.
dog getting acupuncture treatment
Acupuncture Treatment in a Dog

Home Remedies for Pain in Dogs

If you are wondering what you can give your dog for pain, in addition to medications, at home, you can take measures to help mitigate the discomfort he is experiencing. In the same way, depending on the pain, we can resort to rehabilitation techniques and acupuncture. But, the first thing, as always, is to have the veterinary diagnosis to be sure that we have located the focus of the pain. These are the tips to complement the action of the drugs prescribed by the vet:

Rest comfort: The dog’s comfort contributes to its well-being, so it will need a comfortable, warm, and clean resting place and avoid obstacles such as stairs. For example, if you have to get into the car, better put a ramp on it.
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Soft diet: a soft diet at first and always of quality favors good digestive function and reduces discomfort. If the pain is localized in the mouth, the texture of the food must be adapted.

Apply heat: in certain cases, heat can be applied to the painful area, always according to the veterinarian’s advice.

Adapt exercise: Make sure you adapt your dog’s exercise level. Doing to much or high impact exercise may cause further damage.
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Use Acupressure: do not underestimate the positive effect of massaging your dog for only 5 minutes per day.
Learn how to treat pain with acupressure.



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– Felix