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How to Tell if Your Dog is in Pain

How to tell if your dog is in pain

You are in the best position to look for subtle changes in behavior that indicate your pet may be in pain – but pain doesn’t always look like what owners expect and animals are very good at hiding pain. We’ve listed common pain symptoms below. If your dog shows one or more of these behaviors, he/she may be hurting. Please note that we’ve put vocalization last on the list. Making noise is the least common symptom & is only seen when pain is very severe. By completing this assessment, you are helping us to identify possible painful conditions, even when signs are subtle. Most importantly, your pet doesn’t need to suffer. We have safe, easy to administer pain medication for almost every painful condition your dog may experience.

The most common pain symptoms following dentistry and surgery are in red. We have carefully chosen the most appropriate pain medication and the duration of treatment based on the level of pain expected for the procedure your pet had. Please administer all the medication as planned. We don’t want you to see any of the symptoms below – if we have managed the pain properly you should not see any of these!

The most common arthritis symptoms are in blue. Remember that stiffness means pain!

Daily habits:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Withdraws from social interaction or hides
  • Changes in sleeping (less or more)
  • Changes in drinking habits
  • Lapses in housetraining or struggling to get into position
  • Seeks more affection than usual


  • Protects a body part
  • Doesn’t put weight on a leg
  • Limps – even if acting fine otherwise
  • Doesn’t want to be held or picked up


  • Licking, biting or scratching obsessively at the incision or one or more areas of his/her body

Aggression: These are signs of severe pain, especially in a previously friendly dog

  • Acts out of character
  • Growls or bites
  • Pins ears back or lifts lip in a snarl
  • A normally aggressive dog may act quiet, docile

Activity level:

  • Restless, pacing
  • Repeatedly gets up and lies down; can’t seem to get comfortable
  • Difficulty lying down or getting up
  • Trembling, circling, or lying very still
  • Moves stiffly or slowly after exercise or after sleeping/resting
  • Less energy or activity
  • Reluctant to move
  • Less playful or willing to exercise
  • Less eager or able to jump on furniture or into car
  • Difficulty walking or running, particularly on wood or tile floors or stairs

Posture: These are signs of severe pain, especially abdominal pain

  • Hunched, with hindquarters raised and front end down on the ground
  • Lays on his/her side

Vocalization: These are signs of severe pain

  • Whining, whimpering
  • Howling
  • Yelping
  • Groaning or grunting

Facial expression:

  • Grimaces, vacant stare
  • Glazed, wide-eyed, or looks sleepy
  • Enlarged pupils (but certain pain medications can also cause this)
  • Flattened ears, wrinkled brow
  • Pants excessively at rest