veterinary giving the vaccine to the ivory labrador dog in clinic

It is only when we articulate that we are in pain that we can receive pain relief. It is distressing to imagine an animal not being able to tell us that they are in pain and the level of pain they are experiencing. Sadly, many dogs may be suffering in silence. It is therefore vital that dog owners remain vigilant to any change of behaviour from their pet, so that pain relief specifically tailored for dogs can be provided.

Qualified vet, Dr Ashley Gray MA VetMB PhD MRCVS describes what you can look out for.

How can you identify if your dog is in pain?

There are ways in which a dog might be behaving if they are in pain:

  • Barking more than normal
  • Panting more than normal
  • Whimpering and whining
  • Lethargy
  • Not wanting to go out
  • Not able to exercise
  • Inappetance

A change in the demeanour of your dog is something to be acutely aware of as it could indicate acute pain. If your dog who is usually friendly and sweet-natured starts to snap and growl, they might be in pain.

A serious level of pain can also cause your dog’s blood pressure to become raised, their breathing to quicken and their heart rate to accelerate.

As a general rule, most domestic dogs have a great appetite and it takes quite a lot to make with a voracious appetite stop eating, so inappetence in dogs is something to look out for as an indicator of pain.

If you notice anything different, prevent your dog dealing with the pain in silence and take them to your local vet as soon as you are able.

Why is my dog in pain?

One of the biggest challenges is investigating your dog’s source of pain. This is partly due to them not being able to tell you where the pain is coming from and also due to the fact that dogs vary reactions to pain.

The variation in response can be down to the dog’s age, species and the surrounding environment.

Just like humans, there are many causes of injuries and accidents from less obvious causes such as discs, arthritis and hip dysplasia. Refusal to eat or drooling can mean pain in the mouth and dental issues. The most common reason of pain in dogs is tissue damage. Treatment options are available from your vet that reduce the amount of pain your dog is suffering from.

While arthritis is seen more frequently in older dogs, some breeds are also more susceptible to the condition, including:

  • German Shepherds
  • Labradors
  • Great Danes
  • Mastiffs
  • Newfoundlands

Dogs can often swallow things that they shouldn’t which can lead to stomach pain, which may then lead to gastroenteritis. Stomach pain may also be a sign of a serious issue. If your dog plays with sticks or chews on bones, splinters can puncture their insides. Note when your dog displays a change of behaviour. For example, your dog may only display signs of pain following a particular activity, like eating, walking or going to the toilet.

Worms or fleas can also cause stomach pain, so be vigilant in preventing this with regular treatment.

How can I treat my dog for pain?

Always consult your vet when it comes to pain relief and do not attempt to medicate without seeking a vet’s advice as this can result in kidney failure or accidental poisoning.

You can’t consider dog pain relief similar to that which is suited to humans – for example ibuprofen is toxic for dogs. A vet may prescribe paracetamol to your dog in exceptional circumstances. Paracetamol poisoning by accident in dogs is sadly frequent – your vet will use other NSAIDs which are safer for dogs.

Even then, some NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can cause an adverse reaction in dogs, even given as a prescription from the vet.

Treating a dog in pain naturally

Natural pain relief for dogs has become increasingly popular in recent years, as many people are hesitant about using drugs due to the risks – especially if the pain relief is long term, for conditions such as arthritis.

While there are situations in which using NSAIDs for dogs are crucial, taking the natural route such as exercise therapy and natural painkillers can often be gentler on your dog’s body.

Many natural pain relievers advertised are controversial amongst the veterinary profession. If you are considering any natural treatments, please consult your vet before administering them to your dog.

Well-known natural remedies for dogs include:

  • Borax remedy – for fear
  • Ledum – for insect bites and puncture wounds
  • Calendula – for irritations on the skin
  • Arnica – for bruising, stiffness and muscle pain
  • Glucosamine – for arthritis
  • Ruta – for injuries to tendons and ligaments / post ligament surgery
  • Silicea – for removing splinters

There are also alternative therapies like acupuncture, massage, chiropractic methods and hydrotherapy, which can be very effective in helping weight loss, muscle recovery after injury or surgery and relieving arthritis.

Laser therapy can help to shorten healing time post-surgery and may help symptoms of arthritis, plus reduce pain from limbs or nerve damage.

Again it is important to consult your vet before starting any alternative therapy because the vet cares for the welfare of your dog. In the hands of unqualified people they could be a waste of time and money – but it would be terrible if the treatment was actually harming your dog.

Pet insurance policies can include the cover for these complementary treatments so make sure you check your plan.

How to prevent pain in dogs

It is important to be vigilant when it comes to the care of your dog to prevent pain in the first place.

You can do this by:

  • Ensuring they have daily gentle exercise
  • Checking your dog’s teeth and gums regularly
  • Taking them for regular checkups with the vet – dogs are very good at hiding pain
  • Recognising changes in behaviour and seeking a vets advice
  • Puppy proofing your house to reduce risk – even for adult dogs
  • Confining your dog when he needs to rest
  • Not stopping dog pain medication early

Information provided by Vetsure. Photo credit: Adobe Images

This story is a guest submission and does not reflect the views of Dogs Monthly Magazine, always consult a qualified expert.


  1. I have limited income and a 14 year old retriever with hip pains (arthritis ?).
    When is it time to put an old dog down?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here