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Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

This article was written by TOBALIE in cooperation with Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

Pain in dogs can appear in many different ways and can be caused by a variety of reasons, including injuries, various diseases or simply age-related wear. Unfortunately, our beloved dogs cannot speak and tell us when something is causing them pain. But dogs “speak” with their bodies, with their facial expressions and gestures, their posture and their behaviour. As a caring owner of a dog, it is therefore extremely important to look out for certain signs and signals that may indicate that the dog is in pain.

Pain as an alarm signal.

Have you ever wondered why we humans and animals feel pain?  As unpleasant and distressing as it can be, pain performs a very important function in the body. 

Pain alarms and makes us living beings aware that something is wrong in the body. Pain plays an essential role in protecting us from suffering further harm. 

It can be felt in different ways, from a mild pulling and stabbing sensation to severe, throbbing and sometimes unbearable pain. It can be acute, meaning it occurs suddenly and is usually associated with a specific event (injury), or chronic, meaning it persists over a long period of time.

Pain in dogs: What are the causes?

Pain can be caused by a variety of reasons:

  • Injuries, Accidents, Burns
  • Inflammations
  • Diseases
  • Stress, Overload
  • Signs of wear and tear
  • Disturbance of the nervous system
  • and more.

However, pain can also be of emotional origin, such as trauma, stress or fear. In any case, it is extremely important to recognise pain in dogs and treat it appropriately (professionally by a veterinarian or/and animal trainer) in order to maintain the well-being and health of your pet, or restore it if necessary.

Why is it sometimes so difficult to recognise pain in dogs?

Dogs are individuals with different needs and also pain sensations. How they react to pain varies from dog to dog. Some dogs continue to run and romp for hours even though they have kicked in a thorn, for example, while other dogs react overdramatically in the same situation. 

It is therefore sometimes not so easy to recognise pain in a dog (immediately). From an evolutionary point of view, there is a good reason for this: when wolves – who are known to be the ancestors of our domestic dogs – appeared weakened due to pain, they were vulnerable. For self-protection, they “hid” their pain. In some dogs, this instinct is still very pronounced and you can only see their pain when it becomes unbearable for the four-legged friend. Consequently, many suffer in silence.

Unfortunately, chronic pain in dogs is often more difficult to recognise than acute pain. 

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How do I recognise pain in a dog?

Now for probably the most important question in this article: How do I recognise that my dog is in pain? Changes in behaviour and posture, temperament and movement patterns can tell us. Accordingly, your good powers of observation are called for. Look for the following warning signs:

Changes in behaviour and/or temperament:

Your previously lively darling is suddenly noticeably quiet and reserved, possibly withdraws, no longer enjoys his favourite activities (playing, going for walks, cuddling, romping with dog friends)? Maybe he seems sad, lethargic, even depressed? These could be indications that your pet is in pain. On the other hand, it can also happen that a previously calm dog suddenly seems very restless, nervous and stressed. It can also happen that a previously friendly and curious dog suddenly distances himself and reacts frightened or aggressively when he tries to approach him. Some dogs also show more calming signals, are reluctant to be touched, petted and/or refuse to carry out certain signals. 

Changes in mobility and/or posture:

If a dog has pain in a certain area, it is often noticed that it does not perform certain movements as usual or avoids them altogether. Does he suddenly move forward with a limp or lift his paw up in the air and not rise at all? This could be a sign that he has pain in his paw, leg, shoulder or hip area, for example. In most cases, dogs adopt a protective posture. The painful area is consciously not used as much or at all and the dog will avoid certain movements such as climbing stairs, jumping out of the car, etc.

The so-called prayer position (front body down, butt up) can also indicate pain in the dog.

Change in eating behaviour:

Usually dogs suffering from pain show a decreased appetite. Strange chewing may also be an indication of toothache.

Other signs of pain in dogs can be:

  • Uncleanliness, problems urinating and defecating.
  • Licking or scratching certain areas.
  • Increased panting, smacking, yawning, salivating, shaking.
  • Dilated pupils, increased respiratory rate, fever.
  • Vocalisations: whimpering, whining, yelping, crying out.
  • Changes in coat, skin.
  • Bad smell from the mouth or ears.
  • And many more.

How do you treat pain in a dog?

It is understandable that as a loving dog mum or dad you only want the best for your darling. However, keep in mind that you should never administer medication to a dog on your own,  without a doctor’s prescription. Especially not medicines from your own medicine cabinet.

Caution: Painkillers should only be given to the dog after consultation with a veterinarian!

If you suspect that your pet is in pain, a visit to a veterinary clinic or similar is the first step. Not only will the doctor be able to make a precise diagnosis, but the further therapeutic and medicinal procedure will also be discussed in detail.

Tip: If you suspect pain in your dog due to a specific behaviour, try to film it. This can help veterinarians find the cause. 

Record all abnormalities in your pet profile. This will help to identify correlations. 


Pain is unpleasant, exhausting and sometimes extremely agonising. This applies equally to humans and animals. When our beloved dogs are in pain, they often suffer in silence. That is why it is so important to take any change in temperament, behaviour and posture seriously and seek professional advice.