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Dog in Pain: How to Assess Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

A dog's natural instinct is to conceal any physical pain they're in, even from us, their loving owners. Whether your dog is hiding something or showing signs of distress, loud and clear, here's how to read the symptoms to determine the likely cause. 

We love our dogs as profoundly as they love us, and it can be challenging to watch them struggle with pain and discomfort helplessly. 

Since our dogs can't talk, we need to watch for changes in our dog's behavior instead. If your doggo is acting a little strange and you think they might be in pain, it is time to take an in-depth look at some common symptoms of puppy pain and determine the next steps of treatment.

Follow our pain guide below to learn how to tell if your dog is hurt so you can help them get back to their old self ASAP!

Signs a Dog is in Pain

The signs of pain will change, depending on the issue they're experiencing. You'll want to pay close attention to symptoms and their timing, which can give clues about what's happening inside your pup. 

Notice the Timing 

When you're looking at a dog's change of behavior, watch for specific timing. 

Notice if your pup seems to show more signs of pain during certain times of the day:

  • After exercise or strenuous activity
  • After more extended periods of exercise, or shorter ones
  • At particular points in the day, like morning or evening

Symptom #1: Changes in Breathing

When a dog is in pain, the feeling may literally take his breath away; pained pups may experience fast, shallow breathing and pant more often. 

You may even see muscular changes in the abdominals and chest due to prolonged, strenuous breathing patterns. 

Symptom #2: Increased Pulse & Heart Rate

Dog heart rates and pulse vary widely from breed to breed - small species have an average pulse of 120 to 160 beats per minute (BPM), while dogs over 30 pounds tend to fall within the average range of 60 to 120 bpm. 

One of the signs of pain in our pups is increased pulse baseline, which speeds up even more when you touch the pain area. 

Symptom #3: Postural Changes

A healthy, happy dog will have loose joints and muscles and appear light on its feet. Body and neck pain in a dog can cause them to stand with very rigidly tensed muscles.

  • Depending on the pain area, a dog may take a stance that looks like a bow, or downward dog, if you're familiar with yoga positions. The front legs stretch out in front of the pup, with their bum in the air and head near the ground. 
  • Check for a tucked tail and laid-back ears, which are signs of a poor mood, possibly caused by pain.
  • You may see a dog in pain, shaking when moving, sitting still, or both.
  • Difficulty settling and struggling to find a comfy lying position is another clear sign that your pup is very uncomfortable. 

Symptom #4: Changes in the Eyes

Eyes are the windows to the doggo's soul and can clue us into pain, too.

Large, dilated pupils or small constricted pupils can both be signs of an underlying issue within a dog. 

If you see your pup squinting or with bloodshot eyes, they may be experiencing an uncomfortable issue with their eyes. 

Symptom #5: Eating & Drinking Changes

Dogs in severe pain can experience a loss of appetite for both water and food, especially if the issue is within the gut or the mouth.

In the case of mouth issues, they may have trouble holding onto food and water and drop them as they eat and drink. 

Symptom #6: Changes in Energy Level

Pain in dogs can cause a hesitance to exercise as much as usual.

  • A dog's body will work overtime to fight the injury or illness, making them more sleepy and lethargic than usual. 
  • This can be a massive or little change - even less jumping may be a minor sign that something is up with your doggo.
  • Look for your dog using modified movements that look different than usual, as some dogs try to keep up with their regular life.
  • If your dog struggles up the stairs, the issue is likely in their hindquarters, whereas trouble going down the stairs points to a front-end issue. 

Symptom #7: Bathroom Habits

The poop squat a dog gets into for defecation uses almost every muscle in its body. Needless to say, when a dog is experiencing pain, they will likely struggle to go to the bathroom and avoid it as much as possible, which over time may lead to constipation. 

If your male dog is usually a leg lifter to urinate and suddenly starts squatting instead, he may be in some pain.

Symptom #8: Swelling & Inflammation

One sure sign of pain in dogs is swelling of the affected area. You may notice redness, and the site is often hot to the touch, which indicates inflammation, a natural response of the dog's body to send extra blood to the area in need. 

Symptom #9: Whining & Crying

If your pup is more vocal than usual and begins whining and crying excessively for no apparent reason, you likely see a dog crying in pain. 

They may cry when trying to move the affected area, or in severe cases, they may lightly cry and whimper all day long. 

What's Wrong With My Dog: Common Causes of Dog Pain

If your dog exhibits some of the clear signs of pain above, they may be experiencing one of these doggie issues:

  • Joint injury or a broken bone
  • Soft tissue injuries to the muscles or tendons
  • Skeletal issues of the spine or back
  • Dental or oral disease or injury
  • Wounds or infections of the skin
  • Ear, bladder, or urinary tract infection or inflammation
  • Upset stomach or flu
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Kidney or bladder stones
  • Pancreatitis, gastritis, or enteritis
  • Arthritis or joint inflammation
  • Irritated or infected anal glands
  • Eye infection, glaucoma, or corneal issue

Head to the Vet: Next Steps for a Diagnosis

Pain in dogs is usually an indication that your dog needs help to heal, no matter how big or small the issue may seem. 

It's better to be safe than sorry, therefore if you see signs of pain in your dog, don't mess around with an at-home diagnosis - make an appointment and take your dog to see the vet. 

They'll run any tests needed and perform a comprehensive physical exam to give you an accurate diagnosis of your doggo's issues. They may prescribe pain medications, antibiotics, or any other treatments as necessary. 

Final Notes: How to Comfort a Dog in Pain

While you're waiting to see the vet or after you've received a diagnosis, there are simple changes you can make to keep your doggo as comfy as possible while they deal with the road to recovery: 

  • Set up your home for your pup to make it easy for them to move around, even with potentially altered mobility.
  • Place a nice warm bed for your dog to rest their aching bones, hopefully somewhere close to you, so that you can monitor their movements and pain levels. 
  • Get your dog a bed ramp so they can get onto your bed or couch without jumping, which may risk further injury. 
  • Keeping your pup company can go a long way to keep them soothed and as happy as possible while they're in physical discomfort.
  • Give them extra pets, treats, and loving words of affirmation to keep them happy as their body mends and recovers!

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