Suffering in Silence? How to Tell if Your Dog Is in Pain

Dogs, with their boundless joy and unwavering loyalty, become more than pets. They become family. And when they suffer, it affects us deeply. Yet, unlike human family members, dogs can’t verbally express when they’re in pain. It falls upon us, their caregivers, to recognize the signs of discomfort when your dog is in pain and take action to help alleviate their suffering.

Below, we’ll take a look at canine discomfort and the often-subtle cues, along with the common causes and possible strategies to help manage our dogs’ pain. Understanding how to identify and address their pain can help them enjoy happier, healthier lives.

dog is in pain
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Recognizing the Signs of Pain in Your Dog

Most dogs are known for their resilience and stoic nature. This can make it challenging to be able to tell when they’re in pain. Understanding the common signs of pain can help you provide the care and comfort necessary. Here are some of the most common signs to watch for:

  • Limping or difficulty moving: These are clear signs of pain and could indicate an injury, arthritis, or other health issues that require a visit to your veterinarian.
  • Unusual panting: Panting at night or when it isn’t hot can be a sign of discomfort. Dogs, of course, pant to cool down. But excessive panting without a clear reason why suggests something is amiss.
  • Reluctance to jump: If your dog is normally able to hop on and off the porch, couch, bed, chair, or into the car, and they now appear more hesitant (or avoid jumping altogether), it could indicate they’re experiencing some joint or muscle pain or discomfort. Likewise, if your pup is suddenly reluctant to go for walks or play, it could be a sign of pain. They may also walk more slowly or be hesitant to move, which could indicate they’re trying to manage the discomfort.
  • Change in sleeping habits: If your dog isn’t sleeping in their normal places, that could be a sign that they’re trying to find a more comfortable place or position to ease their pain. If you notice they’re unwilling to stretch when they get up, this could also indicate they’re in pain.
  • Sensitivity to touch: If your pet suddenly shies away from touch or reacts negatively to being petted in areas they usually enjoy, it could signify localized pain.
  • Consistent scratching or licking: All mammals get an itch from time to time, but obsessively licking or scratching a specific area could point to pain or irritation.
  • Restlessness: If your dog is constantly shifting position, circling before lying down, or unable to get comfortable, it could indicate something hurts.
  • Changes in posture or behavior: If your usually fun-loving pet’s behavior is changing, especially if they’re showing signs of aggression, withdrawal, decreased activity, or a loss of appetite, this could indicate they’re in distress.
  • Facial expressions: A grimace, glazed eyes, or other expressions of pain may be subtle signs of suffering.
  • Vocalizations: While dogs can’t talk, they can communicate their discomfort through whining, howling, or other uncharacteristic sounds.

Recognizing these signs is the first step to help when your dog is in pain. If you notice any of these behaviors, it’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian. Early detection and treatment can make a significant difference in your dog’s quality of life.

Remember, dogs can’t tell us in words when they’re hurting, but they do communicate through their actions. However, the signs are often subtle. Being attuned to these changes can help ensure your dog doesn’t continue to suffer in silence.

Common Causes of Pain

Pain can stem from a variety of sources. These can range from minor to more serious conditions. Recognizing the potential causes of your dog’s pain is critical in seeking the right treatment to provide relief.

One of the most common culprits is sore muscles. Just like humans, dogs can experience soreness after strenuous activity. This is particularly common in dogs that are active or overexert themselves in play or after a long hike. Muscular imbalances or misalignments can be caused by repetitive activities or poor posture. Over time, this leads to discomfort and pain.

Injuries and accidents are also common causes of pain. While dogs seem surprisingly resilient, they can suffer from sprains, strains, cuts, and bruises from accidents or rough play. The discomfort could be immediate and obvious. Or, it could be minor and subtle.

Health issues like tooth decay, gum disease, and abscesses are often overlooked, but they can lead to significant discomfort. Likewise, infections, especially in the ears and urinary tract, but also due to bacteria or viruses can also lead to pain and an unhappy puppy.

Your dog may also experience tummy troubles like gas, bloating, or constipation that could cause discomfort. More serious conditions like pancreatitis or internal swelling can cause intense abdominal pain. And again, dogs are often very good at hiding their discomfort.

Of course, as dogs age, they become more susceptible to various painful conditions, including joint degeneration, nerve deterioration, arthritis, and general muscle weakness. All of which can significantly impact their quality of life as these conditions can make even normal movements more painful.

Understanding common causes of pain can help dog owners identify potential health issues early on. If your dog shows any signs of discomfort, it’s important to consider these potential causes and consult a veterinarian for a thorough examination. Early diagnosis and treatment can often prevent conditions from worsening and improve your dog’s quality of life.

What to Do If You Think Your Dog Is in Pain

Discovering your favorite companion could be in pain can be distressing. However, knowing how to respond can significantly affect their comfort and health. Here are steps you can follow if you are concerned about your dog.

  1. Make careful observations: Pay close attention to your pup’s behavior and physical condition. Watch for the signs mentioned above, but do so gently with minimal disturbance to avoid causing additional discomfort.
  1. Assess gently: While you may be tempted to examine your pet, it’s important to proceed with caution. Avoid touching or manipulating an area you think could be causing pain, as this could make it worse. Instead, note any visible signs, such as swelling, redness, or cuts, so you can let your vet know what you’ve observed.
  1. Limit movement, especially if your dog appears to be in significant discomfort. Create a comfortable space for them to rest, and encourage them to relax and stay put until you can get them in for veterinary care.
  1. Consult your vet: If your dog is in persistent pain or discomfort, the first step is to reach out to your vet for advice. Explain the symptoms as clearly as possible so your vet can advise if you need to take immediate or even urgent steps.
  1. Prepare for your vet visit: Make a list of symptoms you’ve noticed, any incidents that could have led to an injury, and any questions you may have, so you don’t forget important details. This will help your vet conduct a more thorough examination.
  1. Follow professional advice: Your vet may recommend a range of treatments, such as rest, medication, canine massage, or even surgery, depending on what’s causing the pain. Follow their advice and keep them updated as your dog improves.
  1. Provide comfort and care: As your dog recovers, make sure they have a comfortable place to rest. Ensure they stay hydrated, and offer their favorite foods (if they’re able and allowed to eat). Gentle reassurance and extra loves can be a great comfort to your pet.
  1. Monitor progress: Continue to observe your pet to note any improvements (or deterioration) in their symptoms, and continue communicating with your vet. You may need follow-up appointments to adjust the treatment plan and ensure they are healing well.
Dog Is in Pain
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Pain Management and Massage

Your vet may have suggested a variety of treatments, such as medication, surgery, or supplements. Other complimentary care could include acupuncture or massage, which are quickly gaining popularity for their role in pain management and recovery support.

For instance, professional dog massage practitioners can help support healing and provide much-needed relief.

Dog massage involves gentle, purposeful manipulation of the muscles and soft tissues. Just as human massages can relieve stress, improve circulation, and reduce pain, dog massage offers similar benefits. It can be particularly effective for easing sore muscles, correcting imbalances, enhancing mobility, and providing overall comfort.

Before booking an appointment with a canine massage practitioner, it’s best to consult your veterinarian to ensure it’s appropriate for your pet’s condition. Some veterinarians are trained in canine massage or have staff or associates they can refer you to who have the training and qualifications.

For example, trained massage professionals offer tailored approaches specific to the dog’s needs and condition. They also understand the safe handling of sensitive areas and how to navigate these challenges to provide relief without adding to stress or discomfort.

Even after your dog has recovered, canine massage practitioners can help with a long-term pain-management plan, which is especially beneficial for highly active or older animals. They also collaborate with veterinarians to ensure the massages complement the overall treatment plan, addressing immediate symptoms as well as any underlying cause.

In addition, consider other supportive measures, such as a comfortable bed to ease joint stress, gentle grooming to prevent skin irritations, and modifying exercise routines to maintain mobility.


Dogs are amazing at hiding their pain. So, it’s important to know what to look for and help address the pain. Recognizing and managing pain in our dogs is a testament to the depth of our bond and commitment to their well-being. From deciphering the signs of discomfort to exploring the possible causes and embracing comprehensive management strategies, such as professional dog massage, we can make a profound difference in the well-being of our furry best friends.

For folks who are called to deepen their involvement in canine care, becoming a certified dog massage practitioner offers a unique opportunity. Not only does this path allow you to provide relief and comfort to dogs in need, but it also positions you as an integral part of a dog’s healthcare team.

Interested in exploring educational opportunities to transform your love for dogs into a rewarding career? The Lang Institute for Canine Massage offers comprehensive training that equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to excel in this rewarding career.

Learn How to Provide Healing Touch Through Canine Massage Using the Lang Method