How To Tell if Your Dog is in Pain

Dog owners know their dogs.

You can tell if she’s happy or sad. You know her barks, and you know if she’s being playful or protective. But you can’t always tell when she hurts.

Many dogs are very stoic about pain. It’s not that they’re afraid of being called a “wimp” by their fellow dogs, it’s that they’re afraid of being called a “meal” by their predators. Although chances are slim that even an injured dog would become prey in today’s society, self-preservation instincts are very strong.

However, just because your dog can’t run up to you and say, “I hurt; fix it,” or won’t overtly show she’s in pain, doesn’t mean she isn’t telling you something’s wrong. She’s just very subtle about it.

Here are some of the ways your dog may be telling you she’s hurting:

Isolated Licking or Grooming

Grooming, in and of itself, is not indicative of a problem. However, if your dog is licking or grooming more than usual, pay attention. Is she spending an excessive amount of time grooming? Does she seem to be concentrating on a specific leg, foot, or other area? If so, check the area she’s working on. If there’s a visible wound, any swelling, if it feels warm to the touch, or if there’s any other indication that something’s amiss, get her in to see the vet.

Unwarranted Panting

Dogs pant; it’s part of their cooling system. But if your dog is panting heavily in your cool house, she has lots of water, and she hasn’t been active, take note: this can be a sign she’s injured, especially if she pants in addition to other signs listed here.

Yelping or Whining

Even a stoic dog will yelp if she moves wrong and causes a sharp pain, or if you rub her on a sore spot. She may whine if the pain is prolonged or severe. If your normally quiet dog is making noise, it can be a signal to you that something’s off.

Changes in Behavior

Is your aloof dog begging to be petted? Is your cuddle-buddy suddenly keeping distance from you? Is your easy-going dog growling? Extreme changes in mood can also be signs of pain.

Changes in Eating, Drinking or Bathroom Habits

If your dog stops eating or drinking, or starts drinking far more than usual, these can be signs that something’s not right. Also, if your dog starts asking to go out far more often, or suddenly forgets she’s house-broken, there may be something medically wrong.

Tilting or Shaking Her Head

If your dog starts walking with her head tilted to one side, or if she’s shaking her head a lot, this can be a sign of an ear infection. These can be very painful and will require medical attention.

Sleeping Too Much, or Unable to Get Comfortable

If your active dog starts sleeping five hours at a time instead of two and has no interest in a walk, she may be telling you she hurts. On the flip side, if your dog is very restless and can’t seem to get comfortable, something may be wrong with her.

The Solution: Call Your Veterinarian

If your dog is showing any of these signs, especially if she exhibits more than one of these signals, contact your vet. Be careful if you pick her up: she may nip or bite at you if you touch her painful area. Let your vet know, too, so they can prepare accordingly.

Make note of your dog’s typical routine and pay attention when she isn’t acting like herself. She may be trying to tell you something. Take her to the vet and see if there’s a problem you’re unaware of. Your dog may not like to complain, but she will be immensely grateful when you get her the help she needs.

Meet the Author: Pam Hair

Pam Hair is a pet industry copywriter with Fuzzy Friends Writer, where she combines her three passions: a love of animals, a strong desire to help other people, and the joy of writing. She has been a pet parent over the years to dogs, cats, and a variety of rodents. Currently she and her husband share their home with two guinea pigs.

Why Your Pet is Such a Stress Reliever
How Dalmatians Became Firehouse Dogs