How Can I Tell If My Dog Is In Pain?

It’s not always obvious 🕵️‍♂️

signs a dog is in pain

Hearing your dog yelp is a surefire sign that he’s in pain, and it can be totally heartbreaking.

But sometimes, the signs that a dog’s in pain might not be so obvious — and the sooner you spot these, the sooner you can help him out.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Clarissa B. Lyon, a veterinarian at Larklain Mobile Veterinary Services in Pennsylvania, to figure out how to tell when your dog’s in pain.

Signs a dog is in pain

The signs that indicate your dog is in pain could vary depending on what type of pain he’s in and what exactly is causing it, but there are some general things to look out for, including:

  • Decreased activity
  • Reluctance to jump up and down
  • Not using stairs
  • Difficulty standing up or laying down
  • Decreased appetite
  • Excessive licking
  • Yelping and other vocalization

Most pet parents recognize vocalization as the main indicator that their dog is in pain, but you shouldn’t wait until you hear that heartbreaking yelp to assess whether or not your pup is hurting.

“A lot of people say, 'Well, he's not yelping so he must not be in pain.' That is not true,” Dr. Lyon told The Dodo. “Your dog can be in a whole lot of pain without seeing vocalization.”

There are so many subtle signs that your dog is in pain, where he won’t make any noise at all, including a decrease in activity and appetite.

“Vocalization can be a sign of pain, but there are many other more common signs,” Dr. Lyon said.

Acute vs. chronic pain

Once you’ve figured out that your dog’s in pain, it’s important to determine which type of pain you might be dealing with — because that’ll help you and your vet come up with the best way to ease it.

“Just like people, you can have acute pain [and] you can have chronic pain,” Dr. Lyon said.

Acute pain is typically short-lived (six months maximum), shows up suddenly and goes away with whatever caused it.

“Within acute pain, you might have things like surgical pain,” Dr. Lyon said, which is a temporary period after surgery when your pup might be hurting.

Chronic pain, on the other hand, lasts a really long time (more than six months) and persists even after the underlying cause has subsided.

“Chronic pain tends to be pain that has been around for a while,” Dr. Lyon said. “The concept here is that it may be pain that an animal has had for a while. It can be a very powerful sort of pain. And it can flare. Just because it's chronic pain doesn't mean it's not really painful.”

There is often a lot of overlap between these two types because one issue could result in both acute and chronic pain.

“Cancer-related pain can be both chronic and acute,” Dr. Lyon said. “Arthritis can be both acute and chronic.”

The best pain relief for dogs

Consulting your vet is the best way to ease your dog’s pain since they’ll be able to recommend the right approach for your pup.

According to Dr. Lyon, canine-specific prescription medications — like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs — go a long way.

Some dog-friendly NSAIDs include:

(Just make sure you never use any human medications like Tylenol, aspirin and ibuprofen, because that’ll be really, really bad for your dog, and possibly deadly.)

Medication shouldn’t be the only thing you use for your dog’s pain relief, though.

Dr. Lyon recommends a multimodal approach, which really just means using multiple treatment methods to get the best results for your pup.

Multimodal treatment can include things like:

Now that you know which signs to look out for, you’ll be able to spot your dog’s pain sooner and start him on the right treatment.

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