A girl petting her dog.

What Does A Dog Do When It’s In Pain?

5 mins |

We all wish we could talk to our pets, especially when something is wrong. Owners often feel helpless that they cannot talk to their animals and know what’s going on immediately, especially when it comes to pain, but we can fix this by learning how dogs express themselves when they’re in pain. So, what does a dog do when it’s in pain? 

Dogs show us they’re in pain through changes in their normal behavior.  Dogs may hide their symptoms, which is sometimes natural to them as a survival skill, but the symptoms can be eating less than normal, limping or moving in an abnormal way, not being as active or as friendly, spending time in areas of the house they don’t normally go, going to the bathroom in unusual spots, crying or whining continuously, and being reluctant to move. Get to know your dogs well, and check them twice a day to make sure nothing is wrong.

What Does A Dog Do When It’s In Pain?

A dog laying down on the floor.
I hope this little guy’s just tired and not hurt!

Dogs in pain may show a wide variety of signs. These include: 

  • Loss of appetite or eating less than usual
  • Limp or move unusually
  • They may not be as active and won’t get up to greet you or play like they usually do
  • They may be lethargic and stay in one spot for long periods of time
  • They may spend time in parts of the home that they don’t usually inhabit
  • Urinating or defecating unusually or in abnormal places around the home
  • Crying out or whining continuously
  • Scream
  • Growl or snarl when the painful part of them is touched or when someone approaches them
  • Reluctance to move altogether―they may be totally unable to even get up or lift their head
  • They may be hunched over
  • They may be resistant to wagging their tail or jumping on the couch or bed

What Are Some Common Causes Of Pain In Dogs? 

There is a neverending list of causes of pain in dogs. They can be mild and acute (meaning, started suddenly or in a short period of time) such as a broken toenail or a bee sting. They can be life-threatening such as a splenic tumor. Also, they can be chronic (meaning developing over a longer period of time) such as arthritis. Other common causes of pain include: 

  • Insect bites
  • Physical trauma such as a fall
  • Broken bones
  • Tooth pain
  • Muscle sprains
  • Spinal injuries or spinal disease.

Different breeds can be predisposed to different painful conditions as well. For example, rottweilers are more likely to have issues with their joints.

How To Help Figure Out The Cause Of The Pain

Take photo and video evidence as well as notes on frequency (how often) and duration (when did you first notice it, and how long does it last? Is there a pattern, such as after running or jumping on the couch?) of the signs you see. This will be helpful to your veterinarian in figuring out what’s going on with your dog. It is important for us to get as much evidence as possible so that we can diagnose your pet even more efficiently, or at least eliminate some possibilities.

What Do I Do If My Dog Is In Pain?

First things first, always contact a veterinarian. Do not administer medication unless directed by a vet―you can make things worse with liver or kidney failure due to the wrong medication on top of a broken leg! 

Always follow the dosing instructions for all medications carefully, and ask your veterinarian any questions you have.

This is easier said than done, especially with severe emergencies, but try not to panic. Dogs in extreme pain may cry out, scream, bite, and/or be resistant to moving. Be calm, take deep breaths and use your voice to calm your dog and carefully lift them into the car with as little movement as possible. A trick we often give owners is to talk to their dogs about their favorite things―this calms both them and you down and gets you to breathe, which allows you to act in the best interests of your dog! 

Conclusion: What Does A Dog Do When It’s In Pain? 

Dogs are individuals just like us, and they may have bigger or smaller reactions to the same injuries. Dogs will show us they are in pain in obvious or subtle ways. It is important to be familiar with your dog’s normal behavior so that you can pick up on abnormal activity quickly. Never dismiss abnormal behavior from your dog as “faking it” or looking for attention. Remember, if they’re limping, it hurts!

Always be proactive if you notice your dog acting abnormally, get photo or video evidence and contact your veterinarian. Try to stay calm and focus on the steps ahead to get them comfortable. Talking to your dog through their painful episode is helpful for both you and them so that you can get through it together. Always share any concerns, questions, or difficult feelings you have with your veterinarian.

So, now that you know a little bit more about dogs and how they show pain, what do you think? Have you noticed any of these symptoms in your dog before, and what happened afterward? Let us know your stories and how they played out in the comments below!

Dr. Briana
Dr. Briana
Dr. Schwapp is a mixed animal veterinarian from Kingston, Jamaica where she lives and works as an associate veterinarian at a leading companion animal hospital and in ambulatory equine practice. Being a dog lover has been a part of who she is since she started walking! She enjoys educating pet owners about everything from medical issues to behavior, and focused on animal behavior during her undergraduate degree. She wants to help pet owners avoid harmful misinformation which is all too common online. She has 3 dogs, North West, a 1-year-old classic ‘Jamaican brown dog’ who was found on her street and has been her best friend since she was 3 weeks old, Astro, a 1-year-old Rottweiler and Doberman mix, and Nicki, her family’s senior toy poodle that she adopted from the clinic she is now employed at. In her free time, you can find her at the beach, riding horses, getting ready for Trinidad Carnival, or relaxing at home, reading crime thrillers!