How to identify pain in your dog?

Jan 31, 2023 | Welfare

Reading Time: 3 minutes

As a professional football player, Jamie was no stranger to injuries. Although his strong physical presence tormented many defences, his body was quite prone to picking up small knocks every now and then. In an interview, Jamie’s wife once joked that every time there is a match she prefers Jamie not getting injured instead of scoring a goal. It is because if he gets injured, even the smallest of knocks, he is a different person.

dog outside on patio resting with flowers

“He’s not a good patient. He gets cranky, complains about the smallest of things and makes my life miserable,” she added.

Does your dog’s behaviour change when in pain?

In order to be able to identify pain, we first need to know what exactly is pain. Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that is associated with actual or potential tissue damage.

Pain can be of two types from a duration perspective – acute and chronic. Acute pain is the pain experienced while the damaged tissue is healing while chronic pain lasts beyond the healing process. Dogs can feel pain just like humans, in different parts of their body. They can feel peripheral pain which includes pain in their organs and muscles, skin, joints, bones, etc. Dogs can also feel neuropathic pain in the nerves within their body and spinal cord.

What happens when a dog is in pain?

A dog who is experiencing pain has a different outlook than a dog who is healthy. The brian and body’s priorities change to help the dog heal when the dog is in pain. At that moment, we can notice some changes in their behaviour because pain is influencing the dog. Behaviour will also be affected by severity of the pain. As you can imagine, a dog in no pain, little pain and extreme pain will function in different ways.

A dog might increase resting time to heal

How can you identify pain in your dog?

Daniel Mills et al published a paper in 2020 which stated that 80% of dogs seen by behaviour specialists for undesired behaviours were found to have pain as a contributing factor of that behaviour. So if you feel that your dog’s behaviour is different, there is a possibility that there is pain in the body. There might not always be visual or vocal signs even when the dog is in pain. 

Some of the signs to look out for when a dog is in pain are:

  • Increase or decrease in sleep
  • Changes in movement and play. For example a dog might not want to climb up the stairs or play with another dog or might be hesitant to jump down from the couch
  • Changes in appetite
  • Might be a bit aloof
  • Appear to be more irritated or agitated
  • Withdrawing from daily activities which might make the dog look depressed
  • Increase of abnormal behaviour such as licking of the paw, nibbling or tail chasing
  • Excessive chewing
  • Increase in growling and distance increasing signals
  • Stiffness in the body
  • Tilted head
  • Abnormal walking gait
  • Sensitivity to touch

There could be some other signs depending on what the dog is going through, where the pain is and how severe it is. But these signs are good indicators that something is wrong and it could be a good time to check with your veterinarian to get to the root cause of the pain.

A dog’s body language can tell us a lot

Understanding your dog’s language helps in knowing what your dog is going through. Nordic International Dog Trainer School’s Level 1 will teach you more about your dog in order to have a happy relationship together. We conduct level 1 multiple times in a year with one of the lectures focusing on pain and behaviour by veterinary behaviourist Dr. Amber Batson. For more details visit In case the registration is closed, please sign up to ensure you get access to the next batch.

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