Is Your Dog Secretly in Pain? (21 signs of pain in dogs)

How can you tell if your dog is in pain?  Well in this article I go through the 21 main signs of pain in dogs that you can look out for to make sure your dog is not suffering unnoticed and unnecessary pain.

You might think that it would be obvious if your dog is painful.  It's true that some of the signs can't be missed.  Many of our pet dogs though are very stoic and great at hiding any discomfort they might be in.


So today I want to take you through my checklist for the signs of pain in your dog.  Sign up to my FREE arthritis mini-course to download this checklist, a pain monitoring chart and learn how you can keep your dog as comfortable as possible (most of this tips are good for any cause of pain, not just arthritis!)

If your dog is showing any of the signs of pain I mention today then there is a good chance they are not as comfortable and happy as they could be.  A trip to the vet to find out what is wrong will definitely be in order!

We can break these 21 pain symptoms down into four main groups:

  • mobility

  • activity

  • behavior

  • body changes


Lame + limping

The first and most obvious symptom of pain is limping or carrying their leg.  Clearly if your leg hurts then you limp on it.  As our dogs have four legs, they can completely take that leg off the ground and go three-legged.  This is a clear sign that their leg is not just a bit sore, it is very painful.

Bear in mind though that if your dog is painful in more than one leg is can actually be quite challenging to spot that they are lame.  They will however be showing some other signs of pain in this checklist.


Next up we have stiffness.  A stiff dog is definitely a painful dog!

All too often I hear, especially in my older patients, that their stiffness is not due to pain.  The belief being that they're just getting old.

This really couldn't be further from the truth, stiffness is definitely a sign of pain in dogs and should not be ignored.

Difficulty getting up

Following on from this stiffness is actually difficulty getting up.  This can be a huge issue in older dogs with long standing arthritis (but there are other things that can cause it as well).  A dog who is really struggling to get up, especially first thing in the morning, is letting you know there is an underlying problem.

Trouble jumping or climbing

The last pain mobility symptom to look out for is difficulty jumping or climbing.  This might be climbing up stairs, jumping into the back of the car or even just getting onto the sofa.  If your dog used to do these things but is now struggling then pain is highly likely to be a contributing factor.


Less active

Moving onto activity levels now and the first one here is just a general reduction in activity.  It might be that your dog was always pottering around the house or wondering around the garden exploring.  Now though they just seemed to be spending more time lying down resting.

Your dog might be walking absolutely fine, it might not hurt when they walk and they might not be stiff or struggle to get up.  As soon as they start running though things might start to hurt.  A normally energetic dog who now isn't running around can definitely be a sign of pain.  There might be other things that are causing this but either way, a trip to your veterinarian is in order.

Sleeping more

A dog who is less active may be seen to be sleeping more or spending more time in their bed.  If it hurts to move then you simply stop moving!  It might be that your dog is also only pretending to sleep.  They know that they're not going to be disturbed if they are asleep so it's a way of actually reducing their level of interaction with the family (which I'll come on to later).

Weight gain

With all this reduced activity, your dog may start to gain weight.  Especially if they are suffering from a long term pain condition like arthritis.  They are burning fewer calories but they're often being fed the same amount.  They'll probably be eating it quite happily too!

Weight gain will only make their pain worse too.  It should be avoided at all costs.

Reduced muscle size

A reduction in activity over a period of time will result in a reduction in the amount of muscle your dog has.  This can be really noticeably if for example only one leg is affected.  The muscle in that leg will really start to shrink and you'll be able to see and feel difference when you compare left and right legs.  Very often though both legs are affected (often both back legs) and you'll get a general reduction in muscle.  You'll start to notice that you can feel their bones a little bit more prominently even if they're not actually losing weight.

Difficulty settling

Is your dog becoming really fidgety.  Are they getting up and down all the time and having a hard time settling in one position for any length of time?  It's likely then that they are having a tough time getting comfortable.


Hiding away

We can now move on to the behavioral signs of pain to look for in your dog.  The first of these, and at number 10 in my pain symptoms in dogs to watch out for is hiding away.

A painful dog can be very anxious.  They just take themselves away from the family, they reduced their level of interaction because they're not feeling great and also because they're worried that any interaction might hurt.  This is something they can quickly learn to anticipate and it's something that can have a seriously negative inpact on their relationship with you as well as their general quality of life.

Flinching when touched

Next up is that they might actually flinch when they are touched.  Again, it might not actually hurt that touch, but they're anticipating some pain.  So if your dog is flinching when you try and stroke them or if you just touch them lightly there is a good chance that there is a problem that needs addressing.

Becoming grumpy and grouchy

If your dog is worried about pain then chances are they will become grumpy.  It really starts to get them down and their demenour changes as a result.

Aggression or even biting

At more extreme pain levels your dog might actually become aggressive.  They are either in so much pain or they have become so worried about the threat of pain.  Lashing out is the only way they can be certain that they will be left alone.

A reduced appetite

A reduction in appetite is a pretty vague sign that can be caused by many different conditions.  Missing one meal here or there is certainly not the end of the world.  But if your dogs appetite is generally reduced and this is an issue that is persisting then pain might be the underlying cause.

Like I say, it might instead be that your dog is unwell for another reason but a vet exam is needed regardless.

Chewing or licking one spot

Licking and nibbling can be a sign of skin disease or even boredom.  If though these are problems your dog has never experienced then it may be that they are trying to soothe a painful area, much like when we rub somewhere that hurts.

So if they are chewing or licking one particular area, especially if that area is over a joint then pain is a likely cause.

Matted coat

A matted coat might be more of an issue in cats but dogs can definitely have this problem as well.  If your dog was always very good at grooming themselves and keeping their coat in really good condition but now they are becoming matted then that may be in pain.

Simply, it's difficult to stretch and reach that area of their coat and so they stop trying.

Toileting accidents

The last behavioral sign of pain in dogs is a change in their toileting habits.  They might start to have accidents in the house.  This can be because it's difficult to get up so they get caught short.  It might be that they can't get up or down the steps they need to navigate to get outside.  If you've got a dog door then it may become too painful to use it.

Body changes

Rapid shallow breathing + a fast heart

These changes are more likely if your pet becomes painful all of a sudden.  If you notice your dog panting or not taking big breaths, or if you think their heart rate is faster than normal but they are not hot or have not just finished exercising then pain might be the cause.  Whatever the reason is, it is not normal and should be checked out.

A change in posture

A change in your dogs body position is another way they might try and relieve their pain.  There are 3 classic pain positions.  Being hunched is the first.change.  Their back becomes arched and their back legs very often are held forward.

Next is the sawhorse position, where the legs stretched out and quite rigid.

Finally is the prayer position.  Their bum is in the air and their head is right down on the ground with front legs stretched forward.  This is very similar to the position a dog will take if they are playing and about to pounce but it should be quite clear they are not happy.  This position helps stretch out the abdomen and pancreatitis is a classic example of a painful condition that results in the praying position.

Wide or squinting eyes

My penultimate pain sign is changes in your dogs eyes.  Two things can happen here that are more likely when the pain comes on suddenly.  The first is thatthe pupils will really dilate and so rather than seeing the color of your dogs iris, all you can see is a big black saucer as their pupil becomes huge.

Squinting is the other change you might see.  It almost looks like your dog is wincing.

Grunting or vocalizing

Finally, a painful dog might become a noisy dog.  They may grunt when they move of even just when they are sitting quietly.  Your dog might grind their teeth, they might yelp when moving of handled.  If your dog is making noises you don't normally hear then they might be in pain.

So that is my checklist for the signs of pain in dogs you really need to be aware of.  Many of them might also be caused by other diseases or illness but none should be ignored for any length of time.

By accepting the fact that your dog might be in pain you become able to address whatever problem they are suffering from and so get them the help they need.  There is so much that we can do for our pets to help keep them as comfortable as possible.  In no way should pain be accepted as the new "normal".

The worse thing you could do is nothing.  Your dog deserves much better than that and if you've read this far I know you agree with me!

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