Arun Veterinary Group

Recognising pain in dogs


In a series of three articles we’ll be looking at how to tell if your dog, cat or small pet is in pain.

We all know what pain is. For humans, communicating to others that you are experiencing pain is easy – it’s actually lot harder to disguise the fact that you are in pain than it is to show it. For animals though it’s usually the opposite: communicating pain is often harder than disguising it. Firstly let’s look at dogs – who are perhaps the easiest species to recognise pain in.

When we, as veterinary professionals, are assessing pain levels we look at three different areas: body language, behaviour, physiological parameters. It is the combination of results from all these observations alongside a physical examination that allows us to allocate a ‘pain score’ in a patient and then select the most suitable form of pain relief to give. Regular assessment and pain scoring in hospitalised patients allows us to be sure that we are providing adequate pain relief and keeping your dog as comfortable as possible.
So, how confident are you that you are able to tell when your dog is in pain? Here are some signs to look out for:

Body language:
changes in posture such as an arched back
sensitive to being touched
prayer position: with the front legs on the ground as if lying down but their bottom in the air
periods of trembling or shaking
Changes in behaviour:
being withdrawn, less keen to interact, not wanting to go on walks
eating less, having difficulty eating or not eating at all
drinking more
being restless, not able to settle, pacing around the house
being more vocal: groaning, yelping
sleeping much more or less than usual
excessively licking a particular area
licking lips

Physiological parameters:
rapid, shallow breathing or panting
increased heart rate

Despite all these signs, some dogs are so stoical that they will give very little away and the only clues you will get are very tiny changes to their behaviour that can be easily missed. Identifying pain in your pet can therefore be a tricky business. Please remember though we are here at the Storrington hospital 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to offer advice over the telephone and see your pet if necessary. If in doubt a phone call may confirm the need for a visit to see the vet or just be all it needs to provide reassurance.

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