As pet owners, we are responsible for protecting our dogs at all costs. Dogs have proven to be tough, stoic animals; instinctively, they will try to hide their pain. We want to do our best to care for our furry family members, but what if we don’t even know they’re hurting? Learning the warning signs of a dog masking their pain can be life-changing as you may be able to catch something before it’s too late.  

Physical Changes

Some of the first things you can look for are the physical signs your dog may be displaying. A dog in pain might have a hard time breathing, so if you notice excessive or heavy panting from them for a lengthy period of time, this could be concerning. With that, they could exhibit shaking or tremoring. Unfortunately, both panting and shaking could also be signs of excitement, anxiety, or other feelings that aren’t necessarily associated with pain. So keep in mind these may not be enough on their own to determine that there is an issue. Ideally, you should look for these warning signs in addition to other significant changes before you take any action.

Additional physical changes can be seen in their posture, the way they carry themselves, as well as issues with their mobility. This can look like trouble walking, limping, or no longer being able to jump on or off the furniture. As far as their posture, they may hold their head lower than normal, below their shoulders, and their back may be lifted with an arched spine. 

Physical issues can be difficult to keep track of. You may see them exhibiting a certain behavior and feel something is off, but how can you know that behavior is more than a one-time event? Using the FitBark collar and app can help you pay attention to these issues, especially changes in activity and mobility, so you can detect something fast. Not only will this tracking help you make sense of even the most subtle of behaviors, but it can help you communicate these issues to your veterinarian or trainer.  

Behavioral Changes

A dog who is experiencing pain will show changes in their day-to-day activity. The once happy, excited dog you know could become withdrawn and antisocial. Worse yet, they could become aggressive, even towards the ones they love. If your dog seems to growl or lash out, especially when people approach their space, this may not be a sign of anger towards you or your family but rather, that they are uncomfortable and therefore irritable.

Another change in your dog’s behavior could be that they may not be able to drink or eat. Sometimes this may just be a problem with the food they’re eating, but it could also be a sign of an underlying issue hurting them. The pain your dog is experiencing and the reason for them not eating can be any number of things, from simple oral pain to a bigger issue. It’s especially important to pay attention to changes in your dog’s eating habits. If your dog goes 24 hours without food you should speak to your vet to discuss the problem early on. If your dog goes 24 hours without drinking water you may need to seek emergency medical treatment as they are at high risk of dehydration and you do not want to get behind on such a serious matter. 

In addition, you may notice that they have trouble getting comfortable and therefore are increasingly restless. Your dog could be in pain if they are having difficulty sleeping at night or even laying down during the day. You may notice them pacing more often because they just can’t seem to sit still. Tracking their movement throughout the day can give you a good idea if they are struggling to slow down and rest. The FitBark app is helpful especially if you are not home to monitor their activity. 

The last thing to look out for is excessive grooming. Particularly if there is a wound on the surface of your pet’s skin, they may constantly try to clean and lick the area. Licking is very soothing to dogs; dogs who are feeling nervous or anxious may try to lick themselves as a form of coping. If they’re in pain, licking can feel similar to the way humans roll out a muscle for relief. If your dog is licking one spot adamantly, you should inspect the area for a wound. If you don’t see anything on the surface and the licking persists, you may need a vet visit to determine if there is a problem.

Causes of Pain for Dogs

Once you know what pain looks like in your dog, you’ll want to be alert to the types of issues and injuries that can cause your dog to not feel well. If you are aware of the different possible causes it may be easier to spot the trigger event that could have led to this. To start, overuse and overactivity are very common causes of pain in dogs. Certain breeds of highly active dogs may not always want to slow down the fun even if they need to. If you suspect your dog is not feeling well after a long day of exertion, especially if the symptoms linger on, you may need to take them to the vet to ensure that they didn’t sustain an injury. 

Unfortunately, dogs, like humans, become ill and there are no symptoms or signs until later on. Monitoring their behavior and activity is helpful in situations like this to quickly detect a change. Underlying issues can range from arthritis to cancer, but the sooner you can spot a problem and get your dog to the vet, the better. 

Treatment for Pain in Dogs

Once you understand the warning signs and causes, you can begin treatment. First and foremost, if your dog is showing any signs of pain, whether they were overworked or not, you’ll want to limit or completely stop their activity. Even simple exertion like playing with toys or playing catch should be limited until the issue is understood and treatment can start. 

Vet visits are crucial on the regular, but even more so when your dog starts exhibiting signs of a problem. Your vet can help assess your dog’s well-being, determine the issue, and suggest treatment. Vet visits alone can become expensive, but when you have to add on necessary medications or even potential surgeries to navigate the reason for your dog’s pain, the cost really adds up. There is nothing worse than dealing with the emotional burden of a dog’s pain coupled with the financial burden and the worry of whether or not you can afford to get them the care they deserve. If you’ve ever wondered, “is dog health insurance worth it?” A dog in pain is a crucial time in which it would come in handy. Whether your dog injures itself playing or just becomes sick out of the blue, you’ll want to be able to act fast and help them get relief. Not only is it important to notice the issue early, but so is treating it quickly. Pet insurance helps you to know that you don’t have to delay their treatment to sort through your finances.

As pet parents, we have to pay close attention to our furry friends. Even the most subtle of changes can be a sign of a larger issue at hand. It’s so important to know what to look for and to advocate for your dog since they can’t for themselves. You know them better than anyone and you know when they are not themself. Knowing the signs, monitoring their behavior, and hopefully, quick intervention can make all the difference in helping your dog live the long, healthy life they deserve. 


About the Author: Chelsea is a writer and dog mom to an energetic Chocolate Lab named Bailey! She loves being able to share her experience and the lessons she’s learned along the way with other pet parents. When she’s not writing her favorite thing to do is take Bailey out to the beach to swim and play fetch.