Recognizing Signs of Pain in Dogs: How Do I Tell My Dog Is Hurting?

Is your dog in pain? Would you know if they were?

Many dogs out there are in pain without their parents’ having the slightest idea. It doesn’t mean their parents don’t love them. They suffer silently because of the broad misconception of how a dog would express pain.

This is important to realize. Dogs don’t go around groaning, whining, and complaining. Firstly, dogs’ innate instinct is to hide their pain. In the wild, a dog showing weakness will have to endure the pain but also face challenges for their social rank. Clearly, there is no advantage to that.

Secondly, if your dog was trying to tell you they are hurting, what do you figure it would look like? Vocalization is common only with severe or acute pain.

Recognizing Signs of Pain in Dogs: How Do I Tell My Dog Is Hurting?

What can cause pain in your dog?

Dogs can hurt for the same reasons we do. Potential causes include:

  • surgery
  • injuries
  • chronic and degenerative inflammatory conditions such as arthritis
  • back problems
  • dental disease
  • infections
  • organ disease
  • fluid build-up such as a bleeding splenic tumor
  • cancer

Further information: How to Tell If a Dog Is in Pain and What You Can Do to Help

How can you recognize your dog is in pain?

Yes, sometimes pain is communicated by yelps, whimpers, and in case of excruciating pain, even screaming. This is true for the acute type of pain as an immediate reaction to injury.

Vocal expression of pain in dogs include:

A yelp

If your dog yelps when you step on their toe, for example, it means, “Ouch! Hey, you stepped on my toe, and it hurt!” The reaction might be to a combination of physical pain and being startled.

A whimper

A whimper is both an expression of pain and fear. It reads, “This hurts, I’m afraid, please stop; I give up!”

A series of yelps

A series of yelps is clearly a more intensive message than a single yelp. It expresses a high degree of pain or fear. It also communicates surrender.


As you might guess, screaming is an expression of extreme pain or fear, and I hope that you’ll never get to hear that. If your dog is screaming in pain, it’s an emergency.

Further information: Is Severe Pain an Emergency?

Less apparent signs of pain in dogs

You might be shocked how much pain your dog could be going through without showing it. Pay close attention to your dog’s appearance and behavior.

Behavioral clues

If your dog’s behavior or habits change, pain is the top suspect. Any change in behavior or routing should be considered a pain sign. Some behavioral clues that indicate pain include:

  • changes in routine
  • changes in eating, drinking, and sleeping habits
  • exercise intolerance or disinterest in exercise or play
  • aggression
  • withdrawal
  • hiding
  • avoiding touch or interaction
  • excessive grooming/licking
  • restlessness
  • lethargy
Physical signs

Physical signs of pain may include:

  • stiffness
  • carrying head low
  • tail tucked under
  • muscle twitching
  • changes in posture
  • shaking or trembling
  • excessive panting
  • pacing
  • changes in gait
  • limping
  • difficulty or reluctance getting up, lying down, or jumping
  • asymmetry in the body (Do shoulders appear broader than normally? Is one leg more muscular than the other?)

Further information: How to Tell If a Dog Is in Pain and What You Can Do to Help

Pay attention to small changes in your dog’s behavior or actions, and don’t shrug them off. It is my sad experience that if something doesn’t seem right, it most likely isn’t.

Unless we understand that, we might inadvertently leave our best friends suffering.

Related articles:
Dog Symptoms: When Is It an Emergency?
Signs of Pain in Dogs: Veterinarians Answer Whether They Often Have Difficulties Getting Clients To Believe Their Dog Is In Pain

Further reading:
How to Tell If a Dog Is in Pain and What You Can Do to Help

Categories: PainSymptoms

Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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