Pain Awareness Month: How to Spot the Tell-Tale Signs in Your Dog

This September we are looking at Pain Awareness Month. Pain awareness month was initiated dating back to 2001, it started out in America as a way for organisations to recognise and understand pain, in particular, chronic pain. Today we’re looking to reach out not only to humans, but to dogs, whose pain may not be as easy to identify. If you’re worried about your dog, look out for the signs, as many pets like to hide their pain.

Why do animals hide their pain?

Though we may think of our dogs as lovable, harmless pets, it’s easy to forget that in an evolutionary sense, all animals are predators. For that reason, animals are predisposed to hide their pain – if they make their pain obvious, then they make themselves vulnerable to other predators. It is for this reason that you need to be especially vigilant, and look out for any changes. As owners you know your dog’s characteristics and behaviours very well, picking up on any changes and keeping a record is essential for diagnoses.

The pain signs to recognise in dogs


Listen out for whining, howling, whimpering or grunting without any obvious cause.


Vacant stares, wide-eyed or enlarged pupils and a sleepy look can all be signs of pain. Be wary of more obvious signs such as flattened ears or panting excessively when resting.


If your dog looks hunched with its hind legs raised and its front end down, this can be a sign of pain. Look out for excessive laying on their side too.


Your dog may become restless, tremble or get up and lie down repeatedly. On the other end of the spectrum, he/she may be more affectionate than usual, incapable of getting up easily, or simply reluctant to move.


If your dog hides, limps, protects a body part or doesn’t put weight on a certain area, these are all causes for concern.


Licking, biting/chewing or excessively scratching one area of the body are all tell-tale signs that there is something for concern.

Daily routines

Changes in appetite, activity or social interaction which are out of character must be recorded to help with overall patient assessment.


Dogs do not groom themselves like cats; look out for a less shiny coat or hair standing up in certain places.


This is particularly salient if your dog was previously friendly – if he or she growls, hisses or bites more, or pins the ears back, these are all warning signs. Conversely, angry dogs suddenly showing calmness may be a problem.


What are the causes of pain in dogs?

There are multiple potential causes of pain in dogs; the following provide some indication of pain stimulus:

  • Operations – recent hospital procedures
  • Skin – wounds, clipper burns, urine scalding
  • Ears – burst ear drum, blood vessels, tears, mites, wax build up
  • Eyes – glaucoma, ulcers corneal disease
  • Dental – oral tumours, tooth abscesses, gingivitis
  • Neurological, medical and oncological conditions
  • Gastrointestinal – constipation, pancreatitis, gastroenteritis
  • Urogenital – urinary tract disease, renal failure, cystitis
  • Musculoskeletal – soreness, degenerative arthritis


Who is more at risk of pain?

This is slightly a trick question as everyone is at risk of pain. Pain is experienced in many ways and at different pain thresholds, short moments of pain maybe felt on first vaccinations and then there is the active dog likely to get muscle or tendon injuries and lacerations. Size and breed dependent are suppressed with hereditary disease or conditions can affect a dog’s life at different times depending on their breed and lifestyle.

The veterinarian’s perspective

Veterinarians will assess pain on your dog by performing pain assessments, which include visual monitoring and palpitation responses. If your pet is in the hospital these assessments will be carried out and intervention provided as necessary. On consultation examinations, the veterinarian will initially be guided by your feedback before assessing your pet with similar techniques.

By identifying these pain points early on, vets can diagnose problems much faster. Depending on the cause of the pain, the signs can be obvious or subtle, for example an injured limb is easier to spot than a systemic problem, which may cause behavioural changes.

What you should do if you think your dog is in pain

If any of the abovementioned symptoms present in your dog, always speak to your vet first. Ensure you only medicate with pain relief according to your vet’s instructions, and watch out for side effects according to the medication prescribed provided by your vet, many of which include vomiting or diarrhoea. If any of these appear, stop medicating and speak to your vet!

If your pet is already receiving medication for another condition or you use holistic treatments, advise your vet of this – never combine medications without seeking professional help first.

We hope to have provided you some useful information to share with friends and paws crossed have a pain free month.