Identify Pain Quickly To Avoid
Needless Suffering


Pain, while unpleasant, is a useful sensation.

We learn to identify pain, and different pains, as an indicator that something is not right with us.

We then take corrective action, whether it's removing a hand from that hot pan, or removing a stone from a shoe, or seeking professional help and medication for a chronic condition.

Your dog's pain would be equally useful to you if she could speak and tell you what's wrong when she's feeling pain. But she can't. So it's up to you to identify pain and determine its cause.

How? By knowing her normal behavior, body language and vital signs, and noticing when something has changed.

Dogs tend to be less vocal about pain than are we humans. We moan, we groan, and we complain. Dogs tend to suffer quietly, a trait that allowed their ancestors to avoid their predators' attention.

So it's up to you, and your veterinarian, to determine whether your dog is in pain. There are signs and indicators that will help you identify pain in your dog.

Behavioral Responses

The following behavioral responses can indicate that your dog is in pain, particularly acute (sudden onset) pain.

  • Whimpering, growling, crying out and other vocalizations, especially if your dog is typically quiet

  • Retreating from family members and/or hiding

  • Excessive panting

  • Growling, even snapping, when handled; or the opposite: an uncommon struggle to get away

  • An unwillingness to move

  • Pacing and restlessness, common signs that a dog is uncomfortable

  • Arching the back, standing with forelegs held away from the chest

  • Loss of or decrease in appetite, lethargy and listlessness

Body Language

Unusual body language may also indicate pain.

  • Constantly biting or licking at localized pain (similar to biting at an itch)

  • Hiding a broken leg or paw by tucking it under the body

  • Limping

  • The "posture of relief," where your dog will stretch out and assume a praying position; this is common with abdominal pain

Physiological Signs

Changes in the vital signs can also indicate pain.

  • Dilated pupils

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Higher heart rate

  • Higher respiratory rate

Treatment and Medications

Unless you are certain that the pain is localized and due to a small wound or injury that you can treat with dog first aid, take your dog to the vet or emergency animal clinic.

The veterinarian has been trained to identify pain caused by various illnesses and injuries. She will be able to make a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan for the pain and for its cause.

Do not be a do-it-your-selfer when it comes to relieving your dog's pain with medication. Do not give her a pain medication without first consulting your vet. And never give her human medications.

Some can be toxic to your dog, and all come in stronger doses than your dog needs or can handle. You can end up poisoning her if you give them to her. Use only pet medications, and only on the advice of your vet.

See Household Poisons for more on keeping your medications, and her medications, out of your dog's reach.

While being able to identify pain may not save your dog's life, it will relieve her of needless suffering. Use these signs to reduce her pain.


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