HOW TO Tell If Your Dog is in Pain

dog is in painWhile there are obvious signs that your dog is experiencing pain – yelping or limping, for example – dogs typically try to hide it. This can be blamed on genetics: A wild dog that appears to be hurting can easily fall victim to predators.

“One way animals differ from humans is they don’t complain about their pain,” Dr. Jack Aldridge, director of Veterinary Services for the San Francisco SPCA, told CBS San Francisco. “They cover it up, acting brave.”

Although it may be not always be apparent, there are ways you can detect if your dog is in distress.

What are the Symptoms that My Dog is in Pain?

“The first rule is to assume pain is present if it seems logical after an injury, surgery or medical condition that would be painful for us,” Aldridge said. “You watch for the subtle signs: your pet is hiding or lethargic, less active, eating less … your dog shows unusual reactions when handled, such as whining or acting aggressive. Any change in behavior can signal pain and should be checked out by your veterinarian.”

The ASPCA concurs: “Irregular behavior patterns are often the first sign that your pet is ill or in pain.”

Along with the pain symptoms Aldridge mentioned, these are some of the other signals to look for, according to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA):

  • Enlarged pupils
  • Flattened ears
  • Hair standing up in places
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive panting when resting
  • Repetitively getting up and lying down again
  • Continually licking or scratching one particular area

Call your vet if your dog is showing any of these signs.

If your dog has a disease or medical condition, the ASPCA offers this advice: “If you’re unsure of how much your pet is suffering, keep a daily record of good days and bad days. It’s also important to ask your veterinarian for the exact signs of suffering likely to be associated with your pet’s condition or disease.”

How is Pain Treated?

sleeping labrador puppy“Your veterinarian will explain the pain management protocol associated with your pet’s specific condition,” writes the ASPCA.

“For pain due to arthritis, for example, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) may be prescribed, but only after blood tests ensure that your pet does not have kidney or liver problems that would preclude using this type of medication. If your pet has more severe pain, due to a chronic illness like cancer, your veterinarian may prescribe a narcotic pain killer in the form of an oral medicine or a patch that is placed on the skin.”

Aldridge said pain therapy is “a cornerstone in modern veterinary care. These days we treat pain by many different avenues: with opioids, anti-inflammatory drugs, anxiety relaxers, acupuncture and several other modalities. With timely, proper diagnosis of the problem and the huge range of effective medications available, there’s no reason your pet should ever silently suffer from pain.”

Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, writes on, “Canine NSAID drugs such as Rimadyl, Deramaxx, and Previcox may be good alternatives to aspirin for canine arthritis.” She also recommends glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for dogs suffering from arthritis. They can be taken alone or with NSAIDs or other therapies.

If your vet prescribes pain medication, AAHA warns you to watch for the following possible side effects:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Black, bloody stools (they look like they contain coffee grounds)
  • Changes in drinking or urinating
  • Behavior changes, such as becoming depressed or restless
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellow gums, skin or whites of the eyes
  • Skin changes such as redness and scabbing, which your dog scratches

Should your dog show any of these symptoms, stop giving him the medication immediately and call your vet.

AAHA advises that you should not change the dosage or frequency of the pain medication, or give any other drugs to your dog, without first consulting your vet.

Can I Give My Dog Aspirin or Other Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers?

“Don’t ever give a human pain medication to your pet unless your veterinarian has specifically recommended it,” warns the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Common over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen, are very poisonous to certain pets.”

According to, “Buffered or enteric-coated aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is an over-the-counter analgesic that is reasonably safe for a short time for home veterinary care in the recommended dosage for dogs.”

Aspirin is a NSAID, which can upset dogs’ stomachs. Crosby writes that dogs “are particularly sensitive to the gastrointestinal effects of pain, bleeding and ulceration that can be a side effect of these drugs. Coated aspirin helps with the gastrointestinal effects.”

Since aspirin is absorbed at different rates depending on the size of the dog, you should check with your vet for the proper dosage to avoid causing organ damage.

“As few as two regular-strength aspirin tablets can produce severe organ damage in some medium-size (30 pounds, 13.6kg) dogs,” notes

Don’t give your dog aspirin if he has bleeding or clotting problems, or if he is having surgery within a week. Do not give pregnant dogs aspirin since it can cause birth defects.

Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.

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Laura Goldman

Laura Goldman is senior social media writer for i Love Dogs, Inc. She does love dogs. And elephants and turtles. Along with writing about the loves of her life, Laura likes to play with her two pound pups and tell anyone who'll listen just how awesome Pit Bulls are.

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