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10 Signs a Dog is in Pain

10 Signs a Dog is in Pain


Dogs feel pain just like we do, and for many of the same reasons, but the signs they display can be a fair bit different than how we show pain.  They may be dealing with a dental or mouth issue, infection, injury, arthritis, a thorn in their paw, they may have just had an operation and are still feeling lingering pain from it, or another source of internal pain. Dogs instinctively hide the pain they are feeling, so they likely won’t be tapping us on the leg and saying “Hey, I’m in pain”. 

As a dog parent, it’s important to learn the signs of possible discomfort with our canine companions and be able to address it or seek treatment.  Even subtle changes in mood, behavior, physical appearance, mobility, or elimination habits can signal that your pooch is feeling pain.  It’s important to keep a watchful eye for, and document, any changes that might seem out of the ordinary so you can address any concerns with your veterinarian if something arises.

The information below lists the 10 most common areas of concern that might indicate a dog is in pain. The key is to know how your dog typically acts; the more in tune we are with our pets, the more we can get ahead of any possible problems when things just don’t seem right. This simplifies finding issues that may require a trip to the veterinarian.


Daily Routine

  • Sleep Changes – Dogs that are in pain will often sleep more and become fidgety when resting due to their pain level. Sometimes they will sleep even less as it may be painful to lie down. Resting may allow them to heal faster, but it could also be that moving around is just more painful than resting.
  • Decreased Appetite & Drinking –Dogs often have less of a desire to eat and drink normally when in pain. If your canine companion is suffering mouth or dental pain, they may not want to eat anything but soft food.  Even if they try eating dry dog food, they may drop much of it on the floor since it could be painful for them to chew.
  • Less Social Interaction – Anyone would socialize less when in pain. So, this is another symptom to watch for in dogs.  If they aren’t playing like they typically do, wanting as much attention from their pet parent or family member, or socializing with other dogs/animals as much, this could mean they are experiencing some pain.
  • Housetraining Mishaps – Many times, a dog may have an accident or throw up if they are in pain. If your pooch is housetrained and has never or rarely had an accident or been sick inside, unusual accidents or vomiting can be signs of discomfort in your pet and may be a symptom to watch for.


Activity Level

  • Unwillingness to Move – When a dog that normally functions well each day decides it doesn’t want to move, it’s usually pain-related. This could be in the form of walking slower, refusing to walk, or not wanting to get up at all.
  • Restlessness – Perhaps Fido is walking around or pacing back and forth a lot more than usual. Maybe he is tossing and turning more when he lies down and can’t quite get comfortable.  Possibly he is repeatedly getting up and lying back down.  Restlessness is yet another sign to watch for when it comes to your dog being in possible pain.
  • Shaking – Trembling or shaking is an additional sign your dog may be in pain. Sure, they can be cold or they may be getting older, but it could very well be that they are hurting.  Watch for muscle tremors (twitching) or tight muscles as well.
  • More Affection – If man’s best friend is more of a best friend than usual, they could be looking for extra comfort from you because they are in pain or feel bad.



  • No desire to be Touched, Held or Picked Up – When a dog doesn’t want to be touched, held, or picked up, it’s a good indication that he is in pain.
  • Protects Part of Body – If your pooch begins to protect a certain part of his body, that signals that the area hurts and it’s a good time to get it checked out by a vet.
  • Reluctance to Get Up – Not wanting to get up is a sure sign of pain for many dogs, along with not wanting to jump or go up or down stairs.
  • Limping or Limb Favoring – Another sign of possible pain is when a dog limps or doesn’t want to place his weight on that limb. Just like we limp when sore or injured, the same applies to our canine companions.
  • Disappears or Hides – If you can’t find a dog for a while or he hides in a quiet, out-of-the-way location, it could be a sign that he is hurting. Dogs enjoy dark, quiet den areas for resting, but disappearing into those areas unexpectedly or to other areas would be a sign to look for.



  • Panting Excessively – Panting at an overly excessive and more than normal rate could be a sign your canine companion is in discomfort if he is not hot. Also, breathing that is more shallow is a good indication that pain is being felt.
  • Labored Breathing – Breathing that seems to be caused by distress can be another sign of pain. It can have a different sound than the dog’s normal breathing or it may even have a “wheezing” sound if there is a problem with his lungs.



  • Howling – When a dog howls, it can take the form of either positive or negative communication. If everything seems ok, howling may simply be a new habit your dog has developed to reach out to other dogs or show he is bored. However, if it seems more like a cry for help and it’s not something your dog typically does, it could be a sign he is in pain.
  • Yelping – is a quick and very loud, short cry for help or to announce pain. It is associated with pain or something shocking to the dog.  It is a way for a dog to say “help me as fast as you can”
  • Whimpering – If your dog is making low, feeble whimpering sounds, it could be in pain. Many times the discomfort is so great; all they can annunciate is a low-pitched whimper.
  • Whining – is a little different than a whimper. If your pooch is making a long in duration, high pitched sound or cry, it is whining and possibly in pain.
  • Moaning or Groaning – If your pooch is making a prolonged, more continuous low pitched sound, it is moaning and may very well be in pain. If the sound is briefer and deep-throated, then it is a groan and could signify discomfort as well.
  • Grunting – is a lower-pitched “from the stomach” type of sound. This could indicate a painful situation is brewing or it could mean other things such as playfulness or exertion.  This is the least helpful sound for determining pain in a dog.
  • Growling or Snarling – When a normally docile dog all of a sudden starts growling or snarling, it is a good bet something is amiss and it could be pain that is causing the behavior change.



  • Licking – When a dog licks themselves, it can mean a whole host of things from wanting to clean something off, normal hygiene, allergies, an itch, or something painful. It will take close observation and due diligence to discover if licking is because of pain or something more mundane.
  • Biting – can mean many things from wanting to get an insect (think flea) off, an itch being relieved, an allergy, or a painful situation. Good observations on why your dog is biting himself will be needed.
  • Scratching – If a dog scratches himself, it can mean a lot of things from simply having an itch to allergies, dry skin or it could be a sign that pain is involved – especially if the dog didn’t typically itch before, but all of a sudden is itching a particular area.


  • Lying on Side – If man’s best friend is lying on his side more than normal, it could be that he is uncomfortable and in some pain. It is worth checking out to make sure.
  • Hunched Over – When a dog is hunched over and has an arched back or has its rear raised and head lower, it is often a sign of pain.



  • Normally Friendly – A dog that is typically very friendly may start growling, snarling, or biting if it is in pain. They may act out of character and even pin their ears back as if they might attack.  This is a situation where great care needs to be taken.
  • Normally Aggressive – If your dog is normally more on the aggressive side and all of a sudden it becomes a lot more passive, this is one of the warning signs for pain.



  • Vacant Stare – When you look into a dog’s eyes, you can typically see excitement and playfulness. However, if you only receive a non-interested, vacant stare back, then it could very well mean something is wrong and pain could be a culprit.
  • Enlarged Pupils – are another sign that pain may be present. This is an indication that something just isn’t right.
  • Grimacing – If your pooch is typically a happy-go-lucky canine, but all of a sudden looks more serious and starts grimacing, then he may require pain relief.



  • Standing or Missing Hair – If your dog’s hair is standing up in spots, it could indicate he is in pain. Also, if hair is missing, he may have pulled it out or it may have fallen out because of a pain problem.
  • Lacks Shine – A dog’s coat that lacks its normal shine could be an indication that health issues have arisen and pain may be one of them.


Nobody enjoys pain, but when dogs are in pain it is harder for them to tell us they need help.  We can communicate with each other about being in pain, but our loyal canine companions don’t verbalize exactly as we do, so we must be in tune with how they normally look, act and behave and be able to decipher the meaning of their instinctive desire when in pain to be alone, whine, growl, scratch, lay on their side, pant excessively, etc.

As dog owners, it is our responsibility to stay on top of situations with our pets and be able to modify physical activities, provide care, consult with a veterinarian, keep a record of the signs we are seeing and explore all treatment options if needed.  Hopefully, the ten signs of possible pain above will put us all more in sync with how man’s best friend experiences and deals with pain so we can be of more assistance when the need arises.


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