If you are a dog owner, you know that dogs are emotional animals. They experience joy, sadness, fear, and even pain.
While some dogs may show obvious signs of pain, such as whining, limping, or shaking, dogs with long term pain don’t tend to show such obvious signs1.
Here are six signs to watch out for that can help tell if a dog is in pain:
1) Changes in social interaction
Dogs in pain may avoid or even hide from their family2. They may also become quiet and withdrawn. If your dog is sleeping in odd places, avoiding contact with others, isn’t interested in playing anymore, or otherwise not acting like themselves, pain could be to blame. Some pets may do the opposite and become clingy and want to be near their owner. What are they doing that they didn’t do before or what are they not doing that they used to do?
2) Sudden onset of aggression
Dogs that suddenly become reactive or aggressive may also be suffering from pain2. Again, they may be trying to protect themselves from further pain, or they may be trying to tell you to stay away. If your dog has shown a change in behaviour, you should reach out to your vet—they can assess if pain could be the cause and help to find the underlying cause.
3) Change in activities: Reluctance to jump, climb stairs, run, or walk
Many times, dogs that are experiencing some sort of back pain or orthopaedic pain may not perform everyday tasks like they used to1. For instance, dogs in pain may hesitate to go up or down stairs or jump up on the sofa—or they may avoid doing these things altogether. They may also have a tough time lying down or getting up after lying down, due to pain and stiffness. You may notice your dog’s back legs are weak and they are slowing down, or lagging behind, on walks.
4) Decreased appetite
Often dogs in pain will experience reduced appetite1. If your dog is ordinarily a good eater, it will be easy to tell when she is not feeling well if she chooses to skip a meal. If your dog is a grazer or has always been a little picky, however, it might be more difficult to detect if she does not want to eat as much. It’s best to contact your vet if your dog isn’t eating.
5) Change in body posture
If your dog is suddenly standing in a strange manner, she may be in pain. Abnormal postures such as a hunched back, tucked up belly or the head hanging low, could indicate back, abdominal (belly) or neck pain1. Dogs in pain often show other signs, such as an anxious expression or tucking their tail between their legs. If you notice any changes in your dog’s posture, you should reach out to your vet.
6) Excessive licking or chewing
Pain can manifest in many ways, and dogs may not completely comprehend what is going on when it happens. They may repeatedly lick or chew at the affected area to try to alleviate the pain2. If your dog is compulsively licking or chewing themself, they could also be suffering from a behavioural problem or skin condition.
Other signs of pain may include shaking, panting, trembling, agitation, crying out, squinting, or restlessness. If your dog is displaying any of the signs, consult your vet to determine the cause of your dog’s behavioural or physical changes.
Want to know more?
What age do dogs develop osteoarthritis?
1 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Pain Management for Dogs and Cats. How to Tell if Your Dog is in Pain. 2007.
© 2021 Elanco or its affiliates. Date of preparation: November 2021 PM-IE-21-0232