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13 Signs of Pain in Dogs


Pain is a very serious condition for dogs.  Not only does pain reduce a dog’s quality of life but it can also put others in danger, due to aggression.  Many dogs have high pain tolerances and instinctively do not show signs of pain.  Therefore, any obvious pain symptom should be taken very seriously.  In addition to noticeable pain there are subtle signs that pet owners can look for, both of which will be described here.

Signs of Pain

The signs your dog may be experiencing pain include:

Change in Sleep Patterns

Dogs that are painful tend to sleep more frequently throughout the day.  If your dog is suddenly less active, consider whether pain (such as arthritis) may be reason.  Additionally, a dog that is more restless throughout the night may also be suffering.

Withdrawn Attitude

Does your dog normally cuddle with you on the couch but suddenly spends most of his or her time alone?  If so, your dog may be signaling to you that he or she is in pain. 

Uncharacteristic Aggression

Pain can cause a dog to lash out by growling, snapping, or biting.  If your dog is showing uncharacteristic aggressive behavior, particularly when touched, he or she is likely in pain. 

Change in Appetite

An aching dog may have a decreased appetite.  If your dog suddenly loses interest in food and is showing other symptoms on this list, pain may be to blame.

Changes in Behavior

Any uncharacteristic change in behavior could signal that your dog isn’t feeling well.  For instance, indoor urination could mean that your dog is struggling to tell you that he or she needs to go outside, possibly due to arthritis.  Reluctance to play could also signal a problem, as well as atypical moodiness with a favorite animal or human. 

Reluctance to Exercise

If your dog suddenly refuses to go on walks, pain is the most likely cause.  Significantly slower walking is also a sign of discomfort. 


Limping is an obvious sign of pain in dogs, which could signal anything from arthritis to back or muscle pain.

Yelping, Moaning, or Groaning

Vocal signs of pain include yelping when touched, intermittent moaning, and groaning when moving (such as rising from rest).  A dog’s discomfort should be considered an emergency if pain is vocalized. 

Excessive Grooming

Dogs that excessively lick paws, joints, or areas on their body (such as lumps and bumps) may be doing so because of distress.  Consult your veterinarian if your dog targets a specific area on his or her body repeatedly. 


A dog that is trembling for no other reason (i.e. cold, excitement, toxicity, neurological disorder, etc.) may be in pain.  Take your dog to a vet if prolonged trembling occurs, as it could also be a sign of an underlying problem. 

Excessive Panting

A dog in pain will feel a significant amount of stress, and a common stress symptom is excessive panting.  If your dog is panting and the weather is not especially hot, look for the underlying cause. 

Increased Stretching

Dogs experiencing belly pain will attempt to relieve pressure from their stomachs by engaging in the “play bow” stretch.  If your dog outstretches his or her front legs on the ground while raising its hind quarters in the air repeatedly, your dog may be attempting to diminish stomach pain. 

Change in Posture

A subtle sign that dogs are in pain (and are trying not to show it) is a change in posture.  Dogs may arch their backs and appear hunched when hiding discomfort. 

Causes of Pain

The causes of pain are diverse and include (but are not limited to):


As a dog ages, arthritis becomes more prevalent.  Degeneration of the cartilage in a dog’s joints causes bone-on-bone grinding and pain.  Limping, stiffness, increased vocalization, and reluctance to exercise are all common signs of arthritis. 


Dogs can sprain or strain muscles just like humans.  An awkward jump or misstep can cause short-term muscular pain.


Perhaps the most alarming reason for pain is gastric dilatation volvulus, otherwise known as bloat.  When a dog experiences bloat, his or her stomach becomes engorged with air, water, or food.  In extreme cases the stomach will flip on its axis, trapping the stomach contents.  This condition causes extreme agony for the dog. 


Another cause of pain is infection, such as an abscessed tooth or infected wound.  If a dog is experiencing pain in the face (including eye or ear), a tooth may be to blame.  Any wound that appears red, swollen, painful, or has discharge is likely infected and should be checked by a veterinarian immediately. 


Finally, disease is a common cause of pain, particularly any disease that is caused by or results in chronic inflammation.  If your dog is showing lethargy, weight gain, and/or general discomfort, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to talk about underlying illness. 

What To Do If Your Dog is in Pain

If you recognize any of these symptoms in your dog, the first step is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to determine the reason for your pet’s discomfort. 

Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam.  If necessary, blood work may be drawn.  Since most dogs have a high pain tolerance, it is very important that their pain be addressed immediately. 

Once the cause of pain has been identified, your veterinarian will likely prescribe pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs.  Always be sure to tell your vet whether your dog is taking any other medications or supplements, as interactions can occur among these classes of drugs.  Additionally, many pain medications cause sedation in pets, so it is important to keep them away from stairways and other areas where they may injure themselves.  Depending on the cause of pain, your dog may be on crate rest for 1- 2 weeks. 

Ultimately, visible pain is one sign you should never overlook in your pet.  Dogs are hardwired to hide signs of pain as much as possible, which means any outward symptom should be taken very seriously.

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Anna Weber

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