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How To Tell If Your Dog Is In Pain

Are you concerned that your dog might be in pain or discomfort? In this post, our North Boulder vets explain how dogs typically handle pain, how they show signs of pain, and when they might require urgent veterinary care. 

How to Tell If Your Dog is in Pain

Dogs are exceptional at hiding symptoms of pain. While this served them well as a survival tactic before they were domesticated as pets, it's not great for owners of domesticated dogs who want to make sure their pup's quality of life and well-being is the best it can be.

With a good understanding of your dog's temperament and personality and by keeping an eye out for abnormal behaviors that can point to pain or discomfort, you'll be prepared to notice subtle signs of pain in your dog. You'll then need to act on them appropriately and in a timely fashion.

How Dogs Handle Pain

Dogs tend to hide their pain for as long as possible until symptoms become apparent and their humans take notice. In wild species, being adept at concealing signs of disease, injury and pain can prevent animals from being perceived as weak by predators - and therefore an easy target. 

It's important that any sign of pain or discomfort in your dog be addressed and treated by a veterinarian if necessary, as early detection of disease or illness is key to better outcomes for your dog's health, fewer long-term complications and less risk during treatment. 

Types of Pain a Dog Can Experience

Just like humans, our dogs can suffer from a variety of health conditions that cause acute or chronic pain, such as dental health issues or internal conditions from heart-related and immune system disorders to gastrointestinal issues. Tumors and different types of cancer can also lead to pain. Acute pain can be caused by a foreign object getting stuck in their paw, an injury while exercising, a fall, accident or other mishaps. 

A dog of any age may contract parasites and suffer subsequent disease or infection. Senior dogs may experience pain from joint or bone disorders. diabetes or other health issues. 

Signs a Dog is in Pain

Many dog parents come to us wondering how to know if their dog is in pain. There are a few subtle and clear symptoms you can watch for. Signs your dog is in pain or discomfort may include:

  • Significant decrease in appetite 
  • Tail tucked in or lowered
  • Spending more time sleeping
  • Yelping or whining 
  • Irritability 
  • Limping 
  • Reluctance to climb stairs or jump 
  • Reduced play or enjoyment of exercise 

If your previously physically active, outgoing and friendly pup now cowers away from being pet, doesn't want to play or loses their appetite, some type of pain or discomfort may be the culprit. Changes in behavior can indicate suffering and should be tended to by your veterinarian, who can examine your dog and diagnose the underlying health issue or condition. Since pain can exhaust dogs just as it does humans, many pooches become tired more easily. You may notice your dog sleeping more if their pain has become a problem recently or they are experiencing chronic pain. 

If you notice your dog suffering from pain and showing symptoms, contact your vet so the underlying issue can be diagnosed. If your pup has been injured and the pain is accompanied by bleeding, loss of consciousness, vomiting or diarrhea, this is considered a veterinary emergency that should be treated right away. Our vets in North Boulder can also detect, diagnose and treat health conditions that cause chronic pain. 

How Pain in Dogs is Treated

When it comes to relieving pain and discomfort in dogs there are a few approaches that your veterinarian might recommend:


Pain in dogs can be effectively treated using a variety of approaches, depending on the underlying cause and severity of the pain. One common option is the use of pain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or opioids, which can help to manage pain and reduce inflammation.

There are several pain medications commonly used for dogs, each with their own benefits and potential side effects. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as carprofen, meloxicam, and deracoxib are often prescribed for mild to moderate pain and inflammation. These medications work by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals that contribute to pain and inflammation.

Opioids such as tramadol can be used for more severe pain, and work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord to reduce pain perception.

While these medications can be effective for managing pain, they can also have potential side effects such as gastrointestinal upset, decreased appetite, and liver or kidney damage with long-term use. It is important to only use pain medications prescribed by a veterinarian, and to carefully monitor dogs for any signs of adverse reactions.

Other Treatments to Reduce Pain In Dogs

Acupuncture, cold laser therapy, and physical rehabilitation are all alternative treatments that can help relieve pain in dogs.

  • Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body, stimulating the release of natural pain-relieving chemicals such as endorphins.
  • Cold laser therapy uses low-level laser light to penetrate the skin and promote healing, reducing inflammation and pain.
  • Physical rehabilitation, including exercises such as hydrotherapy and range-of-motion exercises, can improve muscle strength and flexibility, promoting healing and reducing pain.

These treatments can be used alone but are more commonly used in combination with traditional pain medications, depending on the severity and cause of the pain. It is important to consult with a veterinarian or certified practitioner when considering alternative treatments for your dog, to ensure that the treatment is appropriate and safe for your pet.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs of pain or discomfort? Contact our experienced North Boulder vets today to book an examination for your canine companion.

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