Is Your Dog in Pain?

It’s easy to miss signs that our dog is in pain, and they can’t use words to let us know. Learn what signs tell you that your dog may be uncomfortable or in pain.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #195

General Signs of Tension May Mean Pain

What’s up with your dog’s mouth and face? I’ve already mentioned how Juniper held his mouth closed much of the time before having his dentistry. And is your dog’s face tense overall? Look out for panting when the weather’s not hot or when Dogalini hasn’t just had some aerobic exercise.  Dogs sometimes drool when they’re nauseated or in pain. They may lick or chew at a sore or itchy body part. And, of course, a dog who’s sick or hurting may not eat. If you have your doubts about how your dog’s feeling, though, don’t wait for him to refuse food before you call your vet. For many sick dogs, the point when they lose their appetite is late in the game.

You’ll notice that many of those face-related hints of discomfort and pain overlap with signals of social stress. Isn’t it annoying that dogs can’t talk? Context can help you here. If your dog’s mouth and face get tight only when she sees the barky dog down the block, or only when children are nearby, it’s a good bet you’re looking at social unease. A tense unhappy face when she’s in a situation you know she normally enjoys – that suggests something else is going on.

The Good News: There’s Plenty of Pain Relief Out There

For better or worse, many of the clues that a dog is hurting are subtle ones, or easily missed if they come on gradually. The best advice I can give you is to pay close attention to how your dog carries herself when she’s healthy and happy, and to err on the side of caution. If you have a funny feeling that something might be off, check it out. Better you should feel a little dopey when it turns out to be nothing, than to feel sick with guilt and grief if you ignore your perceptions and learn that something that would have been easily fixable two weeks ago or a month ago has turned into a serious problem meanwhile. Plus, the very good news is that pain management for animals has come a long way. Even if your dog has an illness that can’t be cured, the odds are high that her discomfort can be relieved.

For reviewing this material, I’d like to thank E'Lise Christensen Bell, DVM, DACVB, and a licensed veterinary technician who wants to remain anonymous. Any mistakes are mine, and please remember that veterinary advice comes from your veterinarian, not from anything you read online or hear in a podcast. That’s all for this week …


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About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).