Is My Dog in Pain?

Dogs are sentient creatures like us—they feel pain and can suffer with both acute and chronic pain. As we age, many of us will have at least minor aches and pains on occasion. What do we do? Take our choice of over-the-counter pain medications. But what happens when that headache or back pain lasts for hours or days? How does it affect you? Your sleep or performance with athletics or your job? What happens with your interactions with your friends, family, or coworkers? Are you bright and cheerful, or reserved, grouchy, and ready to go back to bed?

Unfortunately, most of our four-legged friends don’t give us clear signs when they are uncomfortable or in pain. Occasionally, they will cry out or limp, but most of the indicators are subtler. We can easily pass these changes off as “old age,” cognitive dysfunction, or behavioral issues, such as aggression.

There are numerous resources to help you and your veterinarian identify if your pet may be in pain, such as the International Veterinary Association of Pain Management, AAHA/AAFP Pain Management Guidelines, Colorado State University canine and feline pain scales, and others.

The following are general guidelines for behavioral changes that may indicate pain in dogs; however some may also indicate poor health or anxiety:

-Whimpering, vocalizing, crying out
-Abnormal posture (guarding a specific area, hunched posture)
-Inability to get up, lie down, or stay in the same position for more than a few seconds
-Over-grooming or licking an area
-Decreased or picky appetite
-Staying in the same location for hours, inability or unwillingness to walk
-Biting caregivers or other animals (uncharacteristically)
-Urinating or defecating with no effort to get up or move
-Restlessness or agitation, commonly at night
-Barking or growling when approached, intermittently, or constant in some cases

There are certainly more changes or behaviors that can appear in dogs. It is important to remember that all pets respond to pain differently. They also respond to treatments differently, and it is important to evaluate your pet to see if you see positive, negative, or negligible changes with treatments.

Uncontrolled pain in both acute and chronic settings can set animals up for long-term, difficult-to-break pain cycles. It can affect their overall healthy, including weight, organs, blood sugar, and overall health.

In most animals, there are many avenues beyond pain medication that can be pursued, including rehabilitation modalities, such as massage, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, laser therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, and more. A little tweaking can make a big difference in your pet’s overall quality of life. If you think your pet is in pain, speak with your veterinarian or seek out certified pain management/physical rehabilitation professional. Learn more on our website, or at


Dr. Julie Wentzel is the Medical Director of Veterinary Surgical Centers Rehabilitation, with locations in Vienna and Leesburg, She is certified in canine rehabilitation, veterinary pain management, and veterinary acupuncture. and




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