Pain in dogs

There are many different causes of pain in dogs. Dogs don’t often show pain in the way we expect. The symptoms of pain can appear as physical and behavioural changes and can affect dogs of any age. Dogs try to hide when they are in pain, so the signs may be subtle.

Pain can range from mild to severe and can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term).


Many human pain relief medications are toxic to dogs. Do not give your dog any human pain medication without speaking to a veterinarian.


What to do

What to do if your dog is in pain

If your dog is showing signs of pain, speak with a veterinarian.

They will be able to:

  • Determine if they need a physical appointment and any further tests.
  • Determine if they need pain relief.

In the meantime, make sure your dog has somewhere quiet and comfortable to rest. Avoid touching any painful areas.

How to know if your dog is in pain 

Physical signs of pain

  • Limping, stiffness, or moving more slowly
  • Not eating or drinking
  • Licking or biting at certain areas of the body
  • Panting more than normal
pain in dogs
Holding up a limb indicates pain

Behavioural signs of pain

  • Lethargy or tiredness
  • Sleeping more than normal
  • Growling and aggression
  • Seeking more attention than usual
  • Shaking and trembling
  • Pacing and restlessness
  • Vocalising more, yelping, whining, or howling
  • Avoiding climbing stairs or reluctance to jump on the sofa or in the car


Facial expressions associated with pain

  • Grimace, wide-eyed, flattened ears, and tense facial muscles.

Body language associated with pain

  • Hunched posture, yawning, licking lips, praying position, and flinching when approached or touched.
pain in dogs stretching position
Prayer position can indicate pain
pain in dogs
Hunched position of pain



Most common causes of pain in dogs

There are many different causes of pain in dogs. The most common causes include:


When to worry

When you should be worried about pain in dogs

Seek help from a vet if

  • Your dog is unable to put any weight on one or more of their legs.
  • Your dog needs pain relief.
  • Your dog has suddenly become aggressive but hasn’t had a physical exam in the last 6-12 months.


Joii can help if

  • You are unsure if your dog is in pain.
  • You have any questions about joint or other supplements in dogs.
  • You have any questions about tooth brushing in dogs.
  • You need advice about how to help your dog lose weight.
  • Your dog is showing mild signs of pain and you are unsure what to do.



Tips on how to prevent your dog from being in pain

Not all types of pain are preventable. Seek help from a veterinarian at the first sign of pain developing. Early treatment results in a better outlook.

  • Joint supplements can help with mobility and stiff joints. Some supplements can help with skin, urinary, dental, and digestive diseases.
  • Clean your dog’s teeth regularly from a young age.
  • Keep exercise regular and controlled. Avoid sharp stops and repetitive movements. Growing joints in puppies are more vulnerable.
  • Avoid breeding dogs with progressive and severe joint diseases.
  • Keep your dog at a healthy body weight and feed good-quality, complete food.

Body Condition Score (BCS) is a scale that gives a practical evaluation of the fat coverage of your dogs body. By checking how easy or not it is to feel certain bony areas of the body, a score is then produced. There are several scales, from 1 to 5 or 1 to 9. The ideal body condition lies in the middle, so either 3/5 or 5/9.

The body areas normally checked for fat coverage are:

1. ribs and spine

2. hips and shoulders

3. waist

Body condition scoring (BCS) in dogs

Here are a few tips on how to do it.

With your pet in a standing position:

  • Place your hands on the rib cage and gently feel for each rib, without pressing too hard
  • Feel the waist and look from the top and the side (if you have a very furry breed, it may be harder to assess)
  • Feel the spine, which runs down the middle of the back
  • Feel the top of the hips and shoulders



Diagnosis of the different causes of pain

The following tests may be performed to find out what is causing the pain

  • A full physical examination
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Imaging, such as x-rays, ultrasound, CT or MRI scan


Home treatment

How to help your dog at home if they are in pain

You can help your dog recover at home when they are in pain in many different ways.

  • Allow them to rest. Make sure they have somewhere comfortable and quiet to sleep.
  • Keep food and water easily accessible.
  • Give any medication as advised by your vet. Keep to the correct dose and time as advised. Unfortunately, there are no home remedies that can be used as pain relief.

Painkillers for dogs are only available on prescription. Do not give any human medications unless advised by your veterinarian.

  • Heat packs are useful for muscle pain and joint stiffness. Ice packs are useful to help reduce inflammation and pain in a recent injury. Wrap the packs in a towel to avoid any discomfort for your dog.
  • Supplements may be helpful for certain problems, such as joint or skin conditions.
  • Controlled or zero exercise is recommended if the pain is due to a musculoskeletal or neurological disorder. This includes arthritis, disc disease, and soft tissue injuries.
  • Monitor your dog carefully. If they still seem to be in pain despite treatment, speak to your vet. They may need different medications or doses throughout the process.


Vet treatment

Vet treatment of pain in dogs

The treatment will depend on the cause of the pain. Several different treatments may be required at the same time. Some dogs may need hospitalisation for monitoring until they are stable.

Pain relief

  • There are many different types of pain relief medications available for dogs. The type prescribed by your vet will depend on how severe the pain is, the cause, and the location.
  • Pain relief doses may need to be changed or new medications added along the way, depending on how the disease progresses or improves.
  • Pain relief medications for dogs include NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories), opioids, gabapentin, amantadine, and others.

Other medications

Used to treat the root cause of the pain

  • Antibiotics or antifungals
  • Anti-itch medications
  • Medication for the digestive tract, such as anti-nausea or antacids


If the cause of pain is

  • Dental disease
  • Spinal problems
  • Fractures or dislocations
  • Wounds

Complementary therapies

  • Acupuncture

Available from specially trained veterinarians in the UK. Commonly used to help with pain, specifically longer-term pain such as arthritis. Helpful for other diseases too.

  • Physiotherapy

Useful to help recovery after surgery or an illness. Should be done by trained professionals, you can find them on the following website.

  • Hydrotherapy

Useful for a variety of conditions such as spinal disease, arthritis, and soft tissue injuries.

Should be done by trained professionals, you can find them on the following website.

  • Laser therapy

To reduce pain and inflammation, often alongside pain medications.



Are some dogs more at risk of pain than others?

Dogs of all breeds, ages, and genders can develop pain. Specific causes of pain may be more common in some dogs than others.


  • Older dogs
  • Overweight dogs
  • Very active dogs


  • Overweight dogs
  • Dogs with developmental joint problems, such as elbow or hip dysplasia
  • Dogs that have had a previous injury, trauma or surgery involving a joint
  • Certain breeds, such as Rottweiler, Labrador and German Shepherd

Dental disease

  • Older dogs
  • Smaller breeds such as Chihuahua, King Charles Spaniel, and Toy Poodles.
  • Greyhounds and spaniel breeds are also at a higher risk.

Back and spinal disease

  • Dachshunds, German Shepherds, Cavalier King Charles and Bulldogs are at a higher risk.

Other causes of pain in dogs

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