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8 Ways to Tell Your Dog is in Pain – and How to Help

In recognition of Animal Pain Awareness Month this September, we are helping pet parents recognize potential warning signs of pain in dogs.

Our fur babies can’t ‘tell’ us that they may be experiencing discomfort or pain in ways that we humans do. Often times, their natural eagerness to please and loving loyalty can make spotting pain, injuries, or illnesses in your canine companion more difficult. However, small changes in their body language and behavioral patterns can often be clues. We just need to know how to ‘read’ them.

animal pain awareness

These warning signs of pain can be used to monitor your dog and potentially prevent the symptoms and condition from worsening. Then, check out the best ways to prevent and relieve the pain your beloved canine feels.

  1. Grooming

When experiencing pain, dogs will typically start to groom the area in an effort to self soothe. You might notice your dog licking, nibbling or otherwise tending to the painful limb or other area. You may see your dog exhibiting this behavior even with internal pain. As pain levels worsen, the grooming activity may become excessive, resulting in redness or hot spots.

  1. Gait

Even the slightest changes to your dog’s gait can indicate a problem brewing beneath the surface. While walking or running, your dog may refuse to put their full weight on limb, which will likely present as a minor limp. Other gait changes may relate to a shortening of your dog’s steps, inability to fully bend or straighten a limb and a reduction in overall mobility.

  1. Mood
A normally friendly, docile pooch can turn into a nervous, potentially aggressive one when in pain. Your normally playful tail-wagger may curl up and want to be left alone, refuse to play or exhibit other signs of a mood change upon experiencing high pain levels. Any sudden changes in your dog’s mood should be seen as a warning sign to start the search for a potential injury or health condition.

pain warning signs in dogs

  1. Breathing

If your dog exhibits fast breathing and panting in the middle of sedentary activity, minor to severe pain could be present. Your dog may show an inability to take a full breath, resorting to shallow breathing patterns instead. Look at the abdominal and chest muscles to note a faster, shallower breathing rate to identify this sign of pain.

  1. Heart Rate

High pain levels will typically cause your dog’s heart rate to skyrocket. Big dogs should have a resting heart rate of 60-100 beats per minute, while a small dog’s pulse can sit between 100-140 normally. Your veterinarian can help you pinpoint the exact ideal range for your dog. When it comes to detecting potential pain or underlying health issues, it’s helpful to have a baseline for your dog’s heart rate as well as ongoing monitoring in order to establish trend lines and detect abnormalities.

  1. Temperature

A healthy, pain-free dog will usually have a temperature in the 101 to 102.5 Fahrenheit range. Higher temperature can indicate a fever or an infection caused by illnesses or injuries that often come with pain and discomfort for your fur baby. Therefore, monitoring temperature changes on a regular basis is a great way to detect any health issues early on.  

  1. Sleep Patterns

When dogs are hurting, they tend to sleep more or less compared to their norm, depending on the underlying cause of the pain. Difficulty sleeping, for example, may arise from an inability to get and remain comfortable while lying down. Sleeping more often is common as well, as your dog’s body will attempt to heal with extra rest.

sleep pattern and position change, pain warning sign in dogs

  1. Resting Body Position

When pain becomes an issue, you may note that your dog looks uncomfortably rigid or otherwise in an abnormal body position while resting. Change in body position may continue even while your dog remains in a deep sleep. For example, your pooch may start sleeping on his/her side when they normally sleep on their belly. Continue monitoring your pet for other signs of pain, such as sleeping pattern mentioned above, and alert your vet to the problem if you notice strange resting and sleeping positions.


How to Help Your Dog Find Relief from Pain and Avoid Future Incidents

Although there is absolutely no replacement for quality veterinary care, you can offer your dog supplemental support in managing pain and reducing the risk of painful injuries or illnesses in the future. Here are a few ways to identify potential health issues early, and help your canine companion find pain relief as quickly as possible.

Helpful gear like the Waggit smart collar can give pet parents peace of mind by making monitoring your dog’s overall health and well-being easier than ever before. The Waggit collar allows you to track and monitor your fido’s resting heart rate, temperature, activity levels, and even sleep pattern and resting body position changes indicative of developing pain. Establishing baselines and trend lines over time on these important indicators is made easy and accurate with the Waggit health monitor. This type of data is tremendously helpful for veterinarians in correctly diagnosing health issues.
Waggit smart collar for dogs
Natural pain relief approaches, such as massage therapy, are an excellent way to supplement your vet’s treatment methods. This alternative pain control method helps relieve muscle soreness, nerve entrapment and other sources of pain in dogs. After massage therapy, you may notice your dog exhibits fewer signs of pain and is able to rest much better than before.

Acupuncture is another alternative pain control approach to use for dogs of all breeds and sizes. This type of therapy activates the body’s natural healing processes by increasing blood flow to the painful area. This pain management method also triggers the release of hormones that help naturally reduce pain and discomfort.

If you remain diligent in paying attention to the warning signs of pain and continuously monitoring key health indicators, you can effectively support your pup’s well-being. At the first sign of pain, consult your veterinarian and pay the office a visit if recommended to identify the cause of the pain and start the appropriate treatment. As a pet parent, you now have the knowledge and power to minimize pain and discomfort in your fur baby, give him/her a better chance at recovering from any health issues by identifying and treating them early, and providing him/her the best chance at living a happy and healthy life.

We'll leave you with this handy infographic that covers a few more pain warning signs that you may observe in your dog. Enjoy!