Symptoms of pain in dogs can be very different from symptoms of pain in humans or other animals. Because dogs tend to be a bit tougher than us, they may not start to show signs of pain until the problem is severe. These difference can make recognizing and figuring out what is wrong with your dog quite difficult. Below are some common symptoms or signs of pain in dogs.
Sometimes the only sign of pain in your dog is that they’re not acting like themselves or they seem a little off. If you notice your dog not acting normally for two or three days, consider having them checked out by a veterinarian. While this type of unusual behavior is not always associated with a specific source of pain (e.g. sore muscle or joint), it could be a sign of general pain from an illness (e.g. abdominal cramps from gastrointestinal upset).
Poor appetite, especially in a dog that normally eats very well, can also be a sign of pain. Pain from an injury, illness (e.g. infection), or a sore mouth could easily lead to a decrease in appetite. Sometimes generalized pain, such as arthritis, can also lead to skipping meals if a flare up is making your dog feel unwell.
Panting or breathing heavily can be a sign of immediate (i.e. acute) pain. This is commonly seen in dogs who have recently been injured, such as a broken bone or a deep wound or cut. It is important to know that panting is not always a sign of pain. Sometimes panting occurs when a dog is stressed, excited, or hot.
Crying or whining from pain is not as common as you might expect. Some dogs can be in a lot of pain and never cry. Other dogs may whimper, yelp, or whine only when a painful area is touched. Crying in pain is especially uncommon for chronic (i.e. ongoing or long term) issues such as arthritis.
Favoring is common with certain types of painful injuries or illnesses. When a dog favors a part of their body, it generally means they’re trying to be more careful with it, likely because it hurts. If a dog has an injured paw, they will hold it up and try to avoid using it. If a dog has an infected or diseased tooth in their mouth, they may favor that side and only chew on the other side.
Changes in temperament or behavior can be a sign of pain. Sometimes a normally docile dog will act with aggression by growling or trying to bite if they are pain. Dogs who are usually friendly may cower or hide. Dogs may also seem more needy and/or snuggly in an effort to alert you to an issue or to be comforted.
Painful dogs may also move around less or lay around more. This can be because a specific injury is too painful to move or because the pain makes them too uncomfortable to want to play. Painful illnesses and injuries can also lead to laying around more because the body is trying to heal itself.
What to Do Next
If you suspect your dog is in pain, call your veterinarian. They will likely want to perform a physical examination to try to determine the source of the pain and then work with you to solve the problem and alleviate your dog’s discomfort. Always consult with your veterinarian before giving any kind of pain medication yourself.