Understanding pain and recognising when a dog is in pain is important for pet professionals and pet owners alike.

Whether you’re a vet, a pet sitter, pet groomer, or trainer, it’s important to be able to identify a dog in pain. After all, some dogs will become subdued, while others will show their pain through aggression.

Despite the different ways in which dogs demonstrate their pain, recognising a dog is in pain is the first step towards treatment.

Common signs of pain in dogs

Of course, if a dog has suffered an obvious injury, you might assume there is pain present. However, sometimes it may be difficult to identify a dog in pain. For example, if there’s an internal injury or the dog has suffered from a sprain or broken bone — these won’t necessarily be visible.

This is why it’s so important to recognise the popular signs of pain in dogs. Here are some common signals to watch out for.


Aggression is a really common sign of pain in dogs, particularly in dogs that are normally quite passive. Similarly, if the dog displays unusual antisocial behaviour, such as avoiding eye contact or hiding behind its owner, this could be an indication of pain.

Changes in normal habit

Loss of appetite could certainly be a sign that a dog is in pain, especially if the dog usually scoffs its food down and has suddenly lost interest in food.

Likewise, changes in water intake, different toilet habits, changes in sleeping patterns and lack of interest in going for walks or playing could all suggest the dog is suffering from some level of pain.

Vocal signs

While dogs can’t talk, they can vocalise pain and discomfort. Yelping, whining, growling, snarling and howling are all potential signs the animal is in pain.

Constant licking

Excessive chewing or licking could suggest the dog is trying to soothe its wound or alleviate its pain. An example might be licking its paw when it has something sharp suck in its pad.

Heavy panting or labored breathing

Changes in breathing may be linked to the dog’s heart rate. They could be accompanied by restlessness or aggression. These changes should be carefully monitored.

Mobility difficulties

Changes in general mobility, such as limping, stiffness, wobbly legs or inability to jump suggest a possible injury or pain. It’s important to identify the underlying cause of these mobility issues.

dog lying on bed, how to comfort a dog in pain

Comforting a dog in pain

If you recognise that a dog in your care is in pain, no doubt you will want to comfort him or her as best you can.

Certainly, the best way to treat a dog in pain is to find the underlying cause, which will often require a trip to the vet. While a vet might prescribe pain relief medication, such as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, it’s important not to simply select pain relief from the medicine cabinet.

Some human medicines, such as Ibuprofen, for example, can be very dangerous to dogs. Even a relatively small dose can have an adverse effect.

However, while you contact the pet’s owner or the local vet, there are some actions you can take to comfort the dog. This can help reduce the pain and discomfort the dog may be feeling.

  • Remain calm to help the dog feel more secure.
  • Find the dog a comfortable and warm place to rest. This might be their dog bed or a makeshift bed.
  • Remain with the dog to ease their stress and fear.
  • Gently stroke or talk to the dog and help them to remain still.
  • If the dog is wounded, try not to allow the dog to lick or bite its wound, as this might make it worse.
  • Keep a close eye on the dog and note any changes in discomfort levels. This may be helpful information for the vet.

When you work with animals day in day out — for example as a pet sitter, dog walker, animal trainer — it’s not uncommon for accidents and injuries to happen. Understanding when a dog is in pain and what you can do to comfort it, until you can get it to the vet, is essential.

Can you remember an instance where you managed a dog in pain? What action did you take?

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Liz has a passion for all things cat and dog, and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure for the past 12 years, and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote a better life for all animals.

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