Signs of pain are not always obvious in dogs.

Part of the reason has to do with their evolution.

In the wild, sick animals often get eaten.

So we believe that dogs have learned to hide pain and sickness in order to survive.

Sadly that doesn’t always make our job easy!

Here are some ways to tell if your dog is in pain.

Mobility issues

  • Limping
  • Reluctance to walk
  • Reluctance to jump
  • Reluctance to do stairs
  • Reluctance to play
  • Difficulty getting up or laying down

In our practice, where ACL surgery is the #1 procedure by far, most of our patients need help because they are limping.

Since the ACL is in the knee, most of our patients favor one or both back legs.

Others have lameness in a front leg.

These patients typically are not as playful, they struggle on the stairs, and they have a hard time jumping on the couch or the car.

Getting up and down can also be a struggle.

The most important thing to remember is that 99% of the time, limping = pain,

Physical signs

  • Tight muscles
  • Muscle twitching
  • Shaking
  • Arched back
  • Holding the head low
  • Panting

Patients with a problem in the neck (spine) can have subtle muscle twitching in the neck, tight muscles, hold their head down, and be reluctant to move.

Patients with a problem in the back (spine) can also have subtle muscle twitching in the back, have an arched back, tight muscles, and be reluctant to move.

Any dog in pain can pant for no obvious reason, even when it’s not hot at all.

Behavioral signs

  • Reluctance to being touched
  • Excessive licking
  • Crying
  • Restlessness
  • Aggressiveness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Sleep changes: more, less, odd places

A dog in pain can have a variety of behavior changes. They may not want to be touched. The sweetest dog can bite anybody who gets close, even their owner.

They can cry uncontrollably.

They can also lick a sore spot.

If you suspect your dog is in pain, or you notice one of several of the signs above, please call your family vet, go to the ER, or get in touch with a surgeon as soon as possible.

Not every dog in pain needs surgery, but every dog in pain should get pain relief.

If you would like to learn how we can help your pet with safe surgery and anesthesia, please contact us through

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Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified