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How Do You Tell if Your Dog is in Pain: Subtle and Serious Signs

how do you tell if your dog is in pain

Would you know if your dog was in pain? Our pets can’t tell us when they are ill, so it’s up to us to recognise the symptoms and act. Dogs can feel pain and discomfort from an injury, surgery, upset stomach, arthritis, or heatstroke. Some signs are obvious; vomiting, refusing to eat or drink, or difficulty walking. Others are more subtle. So, how do you tell if your dog is in pain?

How do you tell if your dog is in pain?

Subtle signs your dog is in pain

  • Increased thirst

  • Lack of appetite

  • General lethargy

  • Increased activity at odd hours

  • Reluctance to get up

  • Changes in stools or urine

  • Increased heartbeat or panting

  • Drooling

  • Eating grass

You know your dog, look for any changes in behaviour. Our dogs can’t tell us when they’re feeling unwell, but we know how they act when they are happy and healthy. Look for any changes in their behaviour.

Are they drinking more than usual? Have they lost their appetite? Are they sleeping a lot, or do they find it hard to settle down? Has your dog stopped wanting to go for a walk? Are they reluctant to get up? Do they get you up at night? Have their stools changed? Is their urine stronger smelling? Has their heartbeat increased and are they panting more?

These subtle signs may not require a trip to the vet, but you should monitor them closely. Environmental factors prompt changes in behaviour. For example, dogs drink more water and lose their appetite in hot weather. They also pant more and are lethargic when the temperate increases.

We can attribute changes in stools or urine to food intolerance. Perhaps you are feeding your dog a different product, or you’ve swapped their normal diet for a raw food one.

If they are struggling to get up, it could be their age. Older dogs are prone to arthritis and may not need long walks anymore. Our older dog is 13 years old. He likes to pop out for 10 minutes, have a sniff around, do his business and sleep the rest of the day. If you have an older dog with joint problems, adding oily fish to their diet is a wonderfully natural way to ease their pain.

An occasional bout of vomiting should not be too worrying unless it continues. We don’t know about you, but our dogs are scavengers and will eat whatever they find on a walk. They’ll then eat grass to soothe their stomachs. Dogs have very strong stomach acids, which break down large amounts of meat and bones quickly. Bacteria and germs cannot survive in this environment, but that doesn’t mean dogs can eat whatever they want.

If your dog throws up and then goes back to its normal self, try fasting them for 24 hours or feeding a basic diet of poached chicken. If they are not hungry, you can always give them the poaching water; it will contain nutrients and keep them hydrated.

Serious signs your dog is in pain

  • Continued vomiting

  • Inability to get up

  • Swollen stomach

  • Panting all the time

  • Trembling

  • Whining or yelping

  • Agitated or anxious

  • Stopped eating and drinking

  • Long-term constipation

  • Excessive drooling

  • Dry retching

When does a sign become serious and warrant medical attention? All the above signs are serious and could be an urgent problem.

If your dog has vomited for over 24 hours, it’s time to call the vet. Your dog might have eaten something poisonous or have a health issue. You should also consider Parvovirus. This is a highly infectious virus that is passed through contact with other dogs, people or faeces. Parvovirus can be fatal, so speedy action is a must.

You can tell if your dog is in pain if they protest when you try to rouse them. There could be an injury or recent trauma. But sometimes, dogs are so ill they just can’t move. Get a home visit from your vet if this is the case.

Swollen stomachs are a sign of a serious problem. Twisted bowels, gas buildup, constipation, or gastroenteritis all cause bloating in a dog. Symptoms include dry retching, excessive drooling, restlessness and rapid breathing. This shows something serious and needs medical intervention.

A dog that pants all the time, despite cooler weather could be a sign of heart disease. The heart is not pumping enough blood and oxygen around the body, so the dog breathes rapidly to replenish low supplies. Your dog may need an ECG to check his heart.

Dogs tremble when they are anxious. Sometimes, there are obvious reasons, such as fireworks or thunder noises. But dogs also get anxious when they’re in pain and they don’t know what is wrong. Is your dog coming to you, whining or moaning, and trembling for no external reason? They are trying to tell you they are unwell.

One of the most serious signs your dog is in pain is when they stop eating and drinking. Dogs with upset tummies often go without food, but they’ll still drink water. If you cannot get your dog to eat or drink, it is definitely time to make a vet appointment.


Our best advice is that you know your own dog. Go with your gut instinct. If you are in any doubt that your dog is in pain, call or make an appointment with your vet.


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