10 Signs That Your Dog is in Pain

When our beloved dogs suffer, they don’t have the words to tell us. That’s why, as responsible pet owners, it’s crucial to recognize the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle signs that indicate our canine companions might be in pain. 

Whether it’s due to injury, illness, or the aches of old age, knowing these signs can help us provide the care they need without delay. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you decode your dog’s silent messages.

1. Changes in Behavior

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When dogs are in pain, their behavior often changes dramatically. You might notice your normally cheerful pup becoming unusually quiet, withdrawn, or even aggressively protective of themselves. On the flip side, a typically independent dog might suddenly become clingy and inseparable from your side. (ref)

Pain can make even the gentlest dog snap or growl when approached or touched, especially if the touch is near the source of pain. Behavioral changes are often the first red flags and warrant a closer look and possibly a vet visit to understand what might be wrong.

2. Altered Eating & Sleeping Habits

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Pain can disrupt even the most fundamental routines. A dog in discomfort might lose interest in their food, which can quickly impact their overall health and energy levels. Noticing a decrease in appetite or difficulty in chewing, especially in older dogs, could indicate dental issues or other internal discomforts. (ref)

Similarly, pain might interrupt their sleep, leading to noticeable fatigue during the day. If your dog is pacing at night, having difficulty settling down, or seems restless, it might be time to consult your veterinarian to find out why their usual patterns are off.

3. Physical Changes

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Physical signs are often the most apparent indicators of pain. Limping or difficulty moving can be a tell-tale sign, especially if it starts suddenly. (ref) However, chronic pain might show more subtly through gradual lessening of activity or hesitance to jump and play.

Other physical signs include swelling, noticeable heat at a particular site, or excessive licking of a specific area, which can indicate pain and should be evaluated by a professional. Don’t ignore these signs, as early intervention can prevent more severe complications.

4. Vocalization

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A dog’s increase in vocalization is a clear emergency flare that they might be in distress. This can range from increased whining, howling, barking, or even growling. Each vocal signal can indicate different levels of distress or types of pain. (ref)

For example, a sudden, sharp yelp may suggest acute pain, perhaps from a sudden injury or aggravation of an existing condition, whereas constant whining or groaning, especially in a senior dog, might be due to the aches and pains of aging or arthritis.

5. Changes in Breathing & Heart Rate

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Pain can cause physiological changes that are less visible but equally telling. A dog in pain might breathe faster than usual, or their heart rate might increase. These signs can sometimes be more challenging to detect but are important indicators of discomfort. (ref)

Observing these changes requires a calm and focused approach, as dogs in pain can become stressed by too much handling or fuss. Learning to measure and monitor your dog’s resting heart rate and breathing can help you detect these signs of pain early on.

6. Excessive Grooming

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Dogs often lick their wounds, but excessive grooming can be a less obvious sign of pain. If your dog is constantly licking or biting the same area of their body, it may be their attempt to manage discomfort. This behavior can lead to skin infections or hot spots, which are areas of extremely irritated skin. (ref)

Look for areas where the fur appears thinner or the skin seems irritated. This repetitive behavior can also lead to behavioral issues if the underlying pain isn’t addressed, underscoring the importance of noticing and acting on this sign promptly.

7. Changes in Eye Appearance

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Your dog’s eyes can tell you a lot about their health. Pain can cause the eyes to appear red and swollen, and some dogs may squint or keep their eyes half-closed. In cases of severe pain, their pupils may also dilate. (ref)

Observing the eyes can provide critical clues to issues like glaucoma, deep eye infections, or inflammation, all of which require immediate veterinary attention to prevent more severe complications.

8. Difficulty with Posture

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A dog in pain might have difficulty maintaining normal posture. You may notice your dog adopting an unusual pose, like the ‘prayer position,’ where their front end is down, and their back end is up in the air—this can be a sign of abdominal pain. (ref)

Alternatively, they might hunch their back or appear stiff when trying to stand up or lie down. These postural changes often indicate discomfort and could be linked to muscular, joint, or internal issues.

9. Reduced Interaction & Social Withdrawal

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Dogs are naturally social animals, so withdrawal from social interactions can be a significant indicator of pain or illness. If your typically sociable dog starts to isolate themselves or avoids being touched or approached, it might be a sign they are experiencing discomfort. (ref)

This withdrawal can also manifest as a lack of interest in playtime or walks, which are usually the highlights of a dog’s day. It’s especially concerning if your dog avoids interactions with other family pets they usually get along with.

10. Heavy Panting

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While dogs pant to cool down, heavy panting without a clear reason, such as heat or exercise, can be a sign of distress. Pain can cause dogs to pant more heavily and frequently. (ref)

If you notice your dog panting heavily at odd times, like during cooler nights or when they haven’t been physically active, consider this a red flag. Continuous, heavy panting, especially when combined with another pain indicator, should prompt a visit to the vet.

Keeping Your Dog Healthy & Happy

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Detecting pain in your dog requires an attentive and proactive approach. Dogs are often adept at hiding discomfort, a trait inherited from their wild ancestors who needed to mask weakness. Therefore, regular vet checkups and keen observation at home are crucial. By knowing these signs, you can ensure that your furry friend receives the help they need to live a comfortable, happy life.

Keep a close eye, trust your instincts, and never hesitate to seek professional advice if you suspect your dog is in pain. After all, they look to us for care and protection—let’s not let them down.

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.