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How Dogs and Cats Show Pain

Signs of Pain in Pets Our pets can suffer from pain for many reasons. Arthritic joints, leg or paw injuries, and upset stomachs are all pretty common although other types of injuries and disease can also cause pain. It's not always easy to recognize when our dogs or cats are in pain. Our pets are so very good at hiding it that it becomes our job as their people to look for the subtle clues and signs that may indicate pain in pets. Here are a few symptoms to watch for.

Unusual Vocalizing

Whining, whimpering, yelping, grunting, groaning, howling, or hissing when your dog or cat wouldn't normally do so could indicate pain. Vocalizing could occur any time - when your pet is lying down or resting, when moving around, or when being petted. Vocalizing could also occur when another pet approaches him.

Physical Signs and Changes in Posture

Changes can be very subtle sometimes, so it is up to us to try to recognize when our dogs seem 'off'. Signs can include:

  • Excessive panting while resting;
  • Restlessness - unable to get comfortable, such as pacing or repeatedly getting up and lying back down again;
  • Limping or a change in gait;
  • Stiffness;
  • Refusal to lie down - standing until exhausted;

  • Lying with the back end up and the front end down on the ground may indicate abdominal discomfort/pain;
  • Standing with a hunched back;
  • Holding the ears flat and back on the head;
  • Fixed stare;
  • Trembling;

  • Weight loss;
  • Loss of muscle mass - for instance, many old dogs have thin, weaker hindquarters which make it more difficult to rise to a standing position or to walk, jump, etc..

Changes in Habits & Behaviours

Any change that persists should be suspect. Common signs that dogs or cats may be in pain include:

  • Reluctance to move - could include sitting down, getting up, or climbing up or down stairs;
  • Reluctance to play or go for a walk, or a lack of interest in his usual favourite activities;
  • Walking more slowly or lagging behind when taken on a walk;
  • Unusual quietness or lethargy / spends more time sleeping than usual;
  • Restlessness during sleep / frequent position changes;

  • Withdrawal from seeking affection or attention from the owner;
  • Pulling away, growling, snapping, or aggressive behaviour from a previously mild-mannered pet. This can also happen when meeting other dogs - dogs who normally enjoy meeting or playing with others may start to avoid them or snap at them, in an effort to protect themselves from possibly getting more hurt;
  • Depression;
  • Hides and does not want to socialize, or isn't his normal cheerful self;
  • Unusual clinginess; seeks more attention or reassurance;

  • Obsessive or frequent chewing and licking of a particular part of their body;
  • Frequent staring or looking at a painful area of their body;
  • Decrease in appetite or inappetence;
  • Poor grooming in cats - coat may look dull and unkempt;
  • House soiling accidents in housetrained dogs, or cats who eliminate outside of the litter box when they never used to do so.

Seeking Veterinary Care

Take your pet to the veterinarian if you believe he may be in pain. Do not give your pet human medication, or even pain meds for pets that have not been prescribed by the vet for your pet's current situation. Carefully follow the instructions for pain medications. Ask your vet about possible side effects and monitor your pet. If your pet doesn't react well to the medication, or if the medication doesn't appear to be working as hoped, or if you just have questions, talk to your vet. Don't change the dosage or add any other types of medications without consulting your vet first. Quick medical intervention can help prevent needless suffering in your pet and get him back to feeling better.


"No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does." (Christopher Morley)

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