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How To Tell if your Dog is in Pain

Have you noticed that your dog is acting a bit funny? Maybe they are walking slower, eating less, or spending more time alone. All of these can be a sign that your dog is in hurting. Knowing how to tell if your dog is in pain is the first step towards helping them feel better.  

Why Do Dogs Hide Their Pain?

The natural reaction to conceal their pain comes from their ancestors. In the wild, a dog or wolf showing pain is considered weak, making them an easy target for other predators to hunt. Not all pain can be hidden, but minor injuries and joint pain are often hard to spot until they are severe. 


Different types of pain can present in different ways. Sharp pain may cause a much more noticeable reaction than a slow, dull ache. Take note of changes to their behaviour, posture, and eating habits. They could be a subtle hint that your dog is secretly suffering. 

What’s Causing Your Dog’s Pain 

Catching early signs of pain will allow you to diagnose and treat it sooner rather than later. There may be a number of causes for your dog’s pain, so here is a quick rundown of the most common reasons, as well as signs that you should be on the lookout for:

Arthritis and Joint Pain

Joint pain is probably the most common type of pain in dogs. Over time, connective tissues, like tendons and ligaments, will wear down. 


This allows cartilage and bone to start grinding against each other causing swelling, pain, and the eventual deterioration of the joint. 


Arthritis is more common in seniors due to natural wear and tear, but it’s not just an old dog problem. Large breeds, overweight dogs, and dogs that are prone to joint issues and disease often suffer from arthritis, even at younger ages. 


Here are some of the most common signs that your dog might be dealing with joint pain:

  • Reduced activity
  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Limping or weakening of the limb
  • Swelling, twisting or bulging
  • Abnormal posture or hunching
  • Groaning or wincing during movement or when touched
  • Increased sleep or lethargy
  • Aggression or behavioural changes


Pain stemming from an injury can cause a lot of pain very quickly. Even though dogs often hide their pain, the signs of injury might be more noticeable. In this case, a vet visit should always be your first action. 


Remember that not all injuries are visible, so don’t wait to get your dog checked out. X-rays or blood tests may need to be done to rule out broken bones, infection, or internal injuries. 


Look for these signs of injury, and act quickly:

  • Pain when touched, aggressive reactions
  • Yelping or wincing
  • Immobility or limping
  • Bleeding, lacerations, or bite marks
  • Swelling
  • Loss of appetite or not drinking
  • Difficult or abnormal breathing
  • Pupil dilation, constriction, or rapid eye movements
  • Abnormal posture or hunching

Surgery or Recovery

A recent surgery can lead to a painful recovery period, especially in cases of infection. While dogs are often given pain medication post-surgery to manage severe pain, this is only for a short time. 


Minor pain may still be present after the medications are gone, so you might have to find other ways to help manage that pain throughout the rest of the recovery period. 


Identifying if your dog is in too much pain after surgery is tricky, but here are some signs to keep an eye out for:

  • Mobility issues, abnormal to their recovery
  • Immobility
  • Falling or unsteady on their feet
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling, puss or other signs of infection


Contact your vet if you have concerns. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to recovery.

Dental Pain

Dental pain is an often-overlooked reason for changes in eating habits, weight issues, and aggression. A cracked or broken tooth can be debilitating for some dogs and a mild annoyance for others.  


The signs of dental pain are usually connected to behavioural and dietary problems. A consistent at-home dental routine will give you the chance to evaluate your dog’s oral health and will help with early detection.


Bacteria in their mouth can travel to their heart, liver, and kidneys, causing secondary infections and damaging the organ function. This can be life-threatening to don’t skimp on your dog’s dental health.


Signs of dental pain include:

  • Loss of appetite or only eating soft foods
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bleeding gums
  • Pain when touched
  • Not drinking or dehydration

Safety Precautions

Avoid trying to self-diagnose or treat your dog. Guessing, even if you feel confident, can make the issue worse, or even create a new one. 


Always be cautious when handling a dog in pain. Avoid lifting or moving injured limbs, as you could cause significant pain or worsen the injury.


They may be protective of the injured area. This could cause them to show signs of fear or aggression. You know you are trying to help them, but they don’t. 


A scared dog may try to escape, run into the road, or injure themselves further in the struggle. Transporting an injured dog should be done in a secured kennel or crate, or on a leash and collar if your dog is still mobile. 

What can you give your dog for pain?

Pain management can be broken into three categories: Prescription, over-the-counter, or nutraceuticals.


Alternative therapies like massage, chiropractic, hydrotherapy, and laser treatments may also be recommended by your vet, depending on the type of pain your dog is dealing with. 


Depending on the severity of the pain, prescribed medications may be needed. This will be recommended by your vet after a thorough examination to assess your dog’s pain. 


These drugs range from opioid painkillers to powerful anti-inflammatories. Talk to your vet about which medication is right for your dog’s pain, and ask about side effects and long-term use. 


Common prescription drugs for pain management include:

  • Tramadol
  • Gabapentin
  • Carprofen
  • Deracoxib
  • Meloxicam
  • Firocoxib


Never give your dog a human prescription or the prescription of another animal. Dosages will not be accurate, and the medications could be toxic to your pet. 


At-home pain management should be discussed with your vet. Many over-the-counter medications are extremely toxic to dogs, so ask your vet before sharing your pain killers. 


There are four common human pain relievers. Unless instructed by your vet, you should never give these to your dog: 


  • Advil (Ibuprofen)
  • Aleve (Naproxen)
  • Tylenol (Acetaminophen)
  • Aspirin (Acetylsalicylic Acid)


While we don’t recommend giving your dog any over-the-counter medications, Aspirin is technically the safest of the four. The other 3 common otc’s can lead to organ damage, ulcers, and bleeding. 


Stick to Buffered Aspirin that is made for pets and check with your vet before administering. 


Buffered Aspirin has been combined with an acid-reducing agent, like calcium carbonate, to prevent the medication from damaging the stomach lining or intestines. 


When it comes to pain management, a natural approach may be appropriate for your dog’s pain. Check out some of the best pet-safe options for relieving pain:

1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Many Omega 3’s have natural anti-inflammatory properties that can aid in minor pain relief. The best source of omega 3 fatty acids is fish oils. You may already be feeding a diet that contains fish oils, but don’t be afraid to add a fish oil supplement to further relieve pain.

2. Turmeric

This well-known superfood is loaded with antioxidants and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It inhibits the production of enzymes that contribute to swelling. 


Turmeric can be added to food or broths and can be used daily. Like any supplement, start with half doses and slowly work your way up to the full amount. This will help your dog adjust to the new ingredient and flavour. 

3. White Willow Bark

Nature’s little known secret is White Willow Bark. It has similar pain-relieving properties to Aspirin because white willow bark contains salicin, the main pain-relieving component of Aspirin. 


It was later replicated synthetically, creating Acetylsalicylic acid, which we know today as Aspirin. White willow bark has both pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties that are effective and safe when managing arthritis and joint pain in dogs. 

4. Glucosamine and Chondroitin

These two supplements will probably come as no surprise. They’ve been recommended for hip and joint care for years, and for good reason: they work. 


Let’s break them down separately:


Many of your dog’s connective tissues are made up of collagen. Glucosamine helps to repair and rebuild collagen in these tissues. It protects joints by preventing further wear and tear, as well as inflammation. 


Cartilage is the tissue that surrounds joints and prevents bones from grinding on each other. A big part of cartilage is chondroitin. Helping build and maintain cartilage will reduce the inflammation that causes pain and mobility issues in dogs.  

5. CBD

CBD can do wonders for pain management. CBD helps regulate how the brain and the immune system respond to pain. It’s not a pain killer per se, but it can alter how the brain perceives pain for a short time. 


CBD also stimulates cells that aid in regulating inflammation. Reducing inflammation can minimize pain and improve mobility.


Sadly, CBD is still a controversial subject for us patiently waiting Canadians. For now, we’ll have to settle for the other nine options on this list. 

6. Boswellia

Boswellia reduces inflammation by regulating immune system responses and stabilizing mast cells. Mast cells are a type of white blood cell that causes inflammation to protect the body in the presence of a perceived threat.


By regulating mast cells, you will reduce the inflammation and pain. Boswellia has long been used for hip and joint-related pain, including arthritis.

7. Ginger

Although the reasons behind gingers’ anti-inflammatory properties aren’t nailed down yet, multiple scientific studies offer many possible reasons for its effectiveness. 


In trials, ginger has been shown to have both mild painkiller and anti-inflammatory properties, particularly in response to arthritis and joint pain. 

8. Capsicum

Capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers spicy, helps to calm neurotransmitters that send pain signals to the body. It also increases blood flow to the pain site to help speed your dog’s natural recovery.


Don’t go putting Franks on your dog’s dinner. Instead, mix a small amount of cayenne pepper with wet food or bone broth to help him safely and voluntarily eat the spice. 

9. MSM

MSM is a power hitter when it comes to joint inflammation. It reduces swelling in tissues around the joint and increases fluid mobility. 


You will often find MSM in combination with both glucosamine and chondroitin in many hip and joint care supplements. Together they are more effective than they are alone. 

10. Hyaluronic Acid

The active ingredient in hyaluronic acid is hyaluronan, a substance that helps the body to hold on to moisture. 


In the joints, it has a lubricating effect, allowing for easier movement, reducing wear and tear and protecting delicate connective tissues.  


In their early years, your dog will produce hyaluronic acid, but over time the production slows. Older, overweight dogs, and large breeds need more hyaluronic acid to help keep their joints functioning well. 

The Natural Way isn’t the Fastest Way

Nutraceuticals aren’t an exact science. They are what most would call pseudoscience. Like any other supplement, they work well for most, but not all. 


Avoid over supplementing your dog by only trying one supplement at a time over the course of a few weeks. Nutraceuticals are best for managing mild to moderate long term pain and mobility issues. 


You won’t see immediate results as you might with prescription medication, so if your dog is experiencing a lot of pain, then you should contact your vet immediately. 


How do you help ease your dog’s pain? Share your tips and stories in the comments below!

Krystn is a passionate animal enthusiast with over a decade of experience in the pet industry. She loves to share both work and personal experience in hopes of enriching the lives of humans and animals. She is currently the content writer for


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