How Do I Know if My Dog is in Pain?

Animals instinctually hide their pain. It’s a survival mechanism that is embedded in their DNA. But while this instinct certainly helps wild animals stay alive longer, our sweet, domesticated pets tend to suffer quietly. As veterinarians and pet lovers, that’s why we stress the importance of dog owners learning to identify their pet’s individual “tells” that they are in pain.

Common Signs Your Dog Might Be in Pain

Since your canine cannot speak to you when he is in pain, learning to read your pet’s body language is valuable in helping to prevent unnecessary suffering. A change in behavior, no matter how subtle, could be a sign that your four-legged friend is in pain.

Make a habit of observing these behaviors in your pet:

Activity Level

A decrease in activity level could mean a number of things, including, your dog is in pain. No matter the reason for the change in normal activity level, if Fido is sleeping more and running and jumping less, it could be a sign that something is wrong.


Dogs in pain tend to be more vocal. If your pup is uncharacteristically yelping, growling, whimpering, whining or howling, he might be in pain. Heavy panting or altered breathing are also warning signs that something isn’t right with your dog.

Daily Habits

A decrease in appetite or difficulty eating is a common symptom of pain, particularly dental pain. If your pet is sleeping more, it could be a sign that they are trying to heal or are in too much pain to move. Withdrawals from social interaction are also common for pets who are in pain.

Posture & Mobility Issues

One of the most noticeable signs that your pup is in pain is if is he limping or displays trouble walking or running. He may have difficulty climbing stairs, or he might take more time getting up or lying down. In addition, when in pain, many dogs take a hunched over position or assume a prayer position with their front legs on the ground and their rump in the air.


Depending on the source of pain, dogs might lick their paws more in an attempt to soothe themselves. Dog’s may also have difficulty grooming themselves due to mobility issues, which reveals itself in a coat lacking its usual shine or patches of hair standing up in places.

Self Protection

A dog in pain will try and protect the wounded area. As mentioned previously, they may socialize less, be less likely to cuddle up on the couch, or even hide.


Dogs that are normally friendly may begin to act out by biting, snarling and pinning back their ears in an aggressive manner. Dogs that are typically a bit more aggressive might display the opposite by acting docile and quiet.

As soon as you notice any of these changes in your dog’s behavior, it’s important to bring them in to see the vet. It could be a minor issue that our veterinarian can address immediately, such as a cut or a thorn or an external infection. Or, it could be a more painful and complicated issue, like cancer or arthritis, which are more effectively treated when caught early.

At East Valley Animal Hospital (serving Gilbert, Mesa and Chandler AZ)  we know your pets are like family, and you want them to live healthy lives. Learning how to tell if your dog is in pain can avoid a lot of suffering and increase your dog’s quality of life. If you have questions about any of these signs or symptoms, feel free to give us a call today: 480-568-2462.


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (3/15/2019) Pixaby