Signs of Pain in Dogs

No pet parent wants to see their little furry friend in pain, but unfortunately, injuries happen sometimes. Here, our La Mesa vets share some of the signs of pain and discomfort in dogs, what types of pain they may experience and how it can be treated.

How Pain Affects Your Dog

All pet parents want to help their dogs live the happiest and healthiest life possible. This can be extremely difficult if we do not know what is happening with them internally. 

While dogs can be good at hiding their pain you also spend plenty of time with your pup and should be able to notice even the smallest of changes in their behavior. This will allow you to have them examined and treated as quickly as possible.

What might your dog do when in pain?

Your dog will try their best to hide every symptom of pain until it becomes too much the handle, and this is typically the point at which most people notice that there is something wrong.

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 is crucial for you to seek veterinary care for your dog at the first possible sign of discomfort, 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. 

What are the different types of pain in dogs?

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, an 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. 

Common Symptoms of Pain in Dogs

If you are wondering what the actual signs of pain in dogs look like, there are a few subtle symptoms to look out 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 you have a pup that has always displayed a happy, playful and outgoing personality and they are suddenly avoiding you and refusing to eat then they may be suffering from pain.

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. 

Just like humans experiencing pain, your dog will also display a noticeable difference in activity level while feeling discomfort. You may notice that your pup is sleeping much more than usual, especially if 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 La Mesa can also detect, diagnose and treat health conditions that cause chronic pain. 

What are the treatment options for pain in dogs?

Depending on the cause of your pet's pain and their diagnosis, we may recommend treatment options such as pain medication, wound care, various therapies or surgery.

Which medications are commonly used to treat pain?

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs are used to treat mild to moderate pain and discomfort by impeding your dog's body's production of the inflammatory molecules that trigger pain and swelling. While often effective, these drugs must be used with caution since they can lead to the development of liver, kidney, stomach, and/or intestinal problems in some dogs.


Opioids including morphine, codeine, fentanyl, buprenorphine, and hydromorphone are typically used for more severe pain in dogs such as surgical pain, or pain caused by severe arthritis or advanced cancer. This class of drugs can help dogs to maintain a good quality of life by managing chronic pain.


Although traditionally used to help control seizures and anxiety in dogs gabapentin can also be used to manage some types of chronic pain including pain from degenerative joint disease


Vets often prescribe tramadol for dogs suffering from pain due to arthritis, cancer, surgery, or chronic pain disorders. In some cases, tramadol is also helpful in treating anxiety in dogs.

Cortisone & Synthetic Cortisone-Like Medications

Drugs such as prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone can have a very profound impact when it comes to treating dog pain thanks to their potent anti-inflammatory properties.

What therapies are recommended for pain in dogs?

Veterinary Acupuncture

Acupuncture for dogs can help to stimulate healing and provide effective pain relief. When used post-surgically, veterinary acupuncture can help to improve the dog's comfort level and speed healing. In some cases, this therapy can be an effective way to reduce or eliminate the need for chronic medications. Acupuncture for dogs is most often used in conjunction with medications and other treatments.

Cold Laser Therapy for Dogs

Laser therapy can be used to manage your dog's pain by stimulating the lymphatic drainage system which can help to reduce painful inflammation, activating nerve cells in order to block pain signals from reaching your pup's brain, and stimulating the production of endorphins that can be helpful in counteracting pain.


As with people, massage techniques can be used to relax your dog's muscles, reduce stress, improve circulation, and decrease pain. Massage can be especially helpful in pets suffering from pain due to athletic injuries or arthritis.

Neuromuscular Stimulation

When electrical stimulation is used on dogs it can help to strengthen muscles and reduce muscle wasting in dogs suffering from temporary or partial paralysis. TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) can be used to stimulate the release of pain-relieving substances from nerves.

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.

Are you worried that your dog is suffering from a condition or illness and experiencing pain? Contact our La Mesa vets to schedule an appointment.