How to tell if your dog is in pain

How to tell if your dog is in pain

We know how much pet owners love their dogs, but we also know that the signs of pain and discomfort are not always easy to spot.

September is Animal Pain Awareness month and it's no coincidence it coincides with the human equivalent, as evidence shows our four legged friends feel pain in the same way we do. The toughest part is that they can’t always communicate how much they are hurting or where the pain is coming from. Sometimes instinct can even kick in, meaning they try to hide signs of pain until they become unmanageable.

We’ve gone through the types of pain our dogs suffer from and what to watch dog owners should watch out for. Tuning in to the subtle signs will help you become a pain detective for your pet. It is really important that you never give your dog human pain medication, as some of these can be extremely dangerous for pets.

Types of pain

There are many different things that can cause pain for our dogs. The easiest way is to categorise these into either ‘acute’ or ‘chronic’ pain. Here’s what they are and how to help.

1. Acute pain (sudden pain)

Acute pain comes on suddenly or is only present for a very short period of time. This could be an injury or trauma, sudden illness or after an operation. This type of pain is created by the brain to let the dog know an area needs to be protected.

A common sign of acute pain is limping. Whether it is a subtle limp or an obvious one, any limp is your dog’s way of letting you know that a part of their leg is causing them a lot of pain. Think of it like when humans hop on one leg after stubbing our toes!

Signs of acute pain

Acute pain, regardless of the cause, can often spark subtle behaviour changes in a painful pooch. Keep your eyes peeled for any of the following symptoms:

  • Changes in posture, such as a tail down, head low or an arched back.
  • Trembling or shivering: this may not just be because your dog is chilly. Muscle tremors like this can indicate pain, underlying illness or toxin exposure.
  • Going off their food or changes in drinking habits.
  • Lethargy or sleeping more.
  • Reluctance to get up or exercise.
  • Withdrawing or becoming aggressive.
  • Unexplained panting.
  • Constantly licking an area.
  • Stiffness or limping.

2. Chronic pain (long-term pain)

Chronic pain is pain that is present for a long period of time, and usually worsens the longer it is ignored. Chronic pain can really start to impact your dog’s daily life. Often chronic pain is misinterpreted in older dogs as ‘slowing down’, or ‘getting older’. For example, osteoarthritis is a common cause of chronic pain.

Signs of chronic pain

  • Reluctance to climb/jump/use stairs.
  • Changes in the behaviours of multi-pet house holds.
  • Changes in posture, such as a tail down, head low or an arched back.
  • Going off their food or changes in drinking habits.
  • Lethargy or sleeping more.
  • Reluctance to get up or exercise.
  • Unexplained panting.
  • Constantly licking an area.
  • Stiffness or limping.

You'll notice some of these symptoms are similar to acute pain. It's best to speak to a vet if you notice any of these, and they'll be able to help determine what type of pain your dog is suffering from.


"Arthritis is one of the most common
causes of chronic pain in dogs"

As we head into the colder months, signs of arthritis often flare up and create more pain. Chronic pain often can not be cured but can be successfully managed with regular check ups, monitoring and changes to your dog's lifestyle, diet or medications.

Symptoms of arthritis include:

  • An obvious limp or change to the way your dog walks.
  • Appearing stiff when getting off of their bed.
  • Not wanting to jump or climb stairs anymore.
  • Decreased energy levels.
  • Lack of enthusiasm for walks or playtime.
  • Loss of normal habits, such as stretching, shaking and rolling.
  • New habits such as licking feet or increased circling before lying down.
  • Wanting to spend more time alone or being more needy.

If your dog suffers from arthritis you can read more about arthritis here.

Need more advice for your dog?

Joii's online vets are here to help you 24/7. Whether you need preventative advice or a triage vet service, our vets are able to provide you support all from the comfort of your home.

Download the Joii app today for 24/7 online vet calls for £24.

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