Old Dog Pain

Imagine witnessing your furry friend struggle to climb the stairs, whining in pain as they limp and favor one leg over the other. As a dog owner, it’s heartbreaking to see your beloved pet in pain. But how can we truly know if our canine companions are hurting? It’s crucial to recognize the dog in pain signs, understand the difference between chronic and acute pain, and know when to seek veterinary help. In this blog post, we’ll guide you through the process of identifying physical and behavioral indicators of pain, along with ways to prevent and alleviate discomfort at home.

Key Takeaways

–  Recognize physical indicators of pain in your old dog, such as breathing and heart rate changes, swelling & inflammation, excessive grooming behaviors and vocalizations.
–  Look out for behavioral signs like sleep/eating pattern changes or social interaction alterations to identify discomfort.
–  Get help from a vet if needed and take preventative steps at home like modifying activities & providing comfort measures to reduce suffering.

Recognizing Physical Indicators of Pain

Dogs can’t tell us when they’re in pain, so it’s up to us as pet owners to recognize the subtle signs and physical symptoms that something is wrong. Identifying these signs early can help ensure your dog gets the treatment they need, minimizing their suffering and preventing further complications.

In this part, we will cover the common signs and prevalent physical signs of discomfort in dogs, including shifts in breathing and heart rate, inflammation, and excessive grooming behaviors.

Breathing and Heart Rate Changes

Increased respiratory rate (panting) and heart rate are subtle signs that your dog might be in pain. These changes can be attributed to:

  1. respiratory and heart disorders
  2. stress
  3. anxiety
  4. fear

It is crucial to monitor your pup’s vital signs if you suspect they’re in pain.

You can determine your dog’s breathing rate (number of breaths per minute) by counting their breaths for half a minute and doubling the result. Look for abnormal effort (looks like their is resistance to when they try to breath in or out) and/or a rapid breathing rate that does not look normal for your pet. The most reliable way to determine if a pet’s breathing rate is too fast is by monitoring their sleeping RR which we go into in our sleeping RR email mini-course (this skill can be lifesaving especially in older dogs with heart murmurs).

Similarly, ascertain their heart rate (number of times their heart beats per minute) by placing your hand on their left chest, counting the beats for a quarter of a minute, and multiplying by four.  A normal dog heart rate will vary depending on the size and disease status of the dog.

Heart rates in dogs will range from 60-140, with larger dogs having slower heart rates as their norm and smaller dogs tending to have higher heart rates.  Knowing what a normal heart rate for your dog is key in order to be able to tell if it is rapid or not for that pet.

If you think your dog’s heart rate is rapid or erratic, that warrants a call to the vet.  If you notice any concerning changes, consult a veterinary clinic for further evaluation.

Swelling and Inflammation

Dog's licking can indicate pain/discomfort or itch.

When dogs are in pain, you might see physical symptoms like:

  1. Redness
  2. Heat
  3. Swelling
  4. Decrease in their ability to move around

Swelling and inflammation in areas like paws, legs, and face can be signs of pain in dogs, which can also affect their behavior.  We have seen injuries, allergic reactions, allergies, infections, snake bites (in North Carolina we have a lot of copperhead snake bites which warrant immediate vet attention!) and more.

Observing any of these symptoms warrants immediate consultation with a veterinarian, either in person or via a trusted online method. They can help identify the underlying issue and recommend appropriate treatment options to help alleviate your dog’s pain.

Grooming Behaviors

Excessive grooming behaviors, such as licking or chewing a specific area, can indicate pain, discomfort or itch in dogs. Dogs instinctively try to calm and heal themselves through grooming when they’re in pain, which can lead to physical changes in the affected area. However, excessive grooming can also result from other medical issues like skin conditions, infections, allergies or anxiety.

Should you observe your dog exhibiting these behavior patterns, a consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose the cause of the dog’s behaviour and suggest suitable treatment strategies.

Identifying Behavioral Signs of Discomfort

Signs of pain in old dogs can be silent.

In addition to physical symptoms, dogs in pain may exhibit behavioral signs of discomfort. These can include vocalizations, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and alterations in social interactions. Recognizing and understanding these signs can help you better care for your dog and ensure they get the help they need to manage their pain.

We will now further examine the various behavioral indications of discomfort in dogs and the methods to identify them.


Dogs in pain may express their discomfort through various vocalizations, such as:

  1. Whining
  2. Whimpering
  3. Yelping
  4. Growling
  5. Howling

The type and intensity of vocalizations can vary depending on factors like breed, personality, age, and the specific type of pain they’re experiencing.

Differentiating between your dog’s typical sounds and those indicating pain allows for a more accurate assessment of their discomfort, leading to more suitable action.

Sleep and Eating Pattern Changes

Pain can significantly impact a dog’s sleeping habits and eating patterns. Dogs in pain may sleep more as their body tries to heal or because moving around is too difficult. They may also experience restlessness and have trouble finding a comfortable position to sleep in.

Appetite fluctuations, particularly a diminished appetite, could also suggest pain in your dog. Keeping a close eye on your dog’s sleeping and eating habits can help you recognize when they’re experiencing pain or feeling unwell and need veterinary attention.

Social Interaction Alterations

Pain can also affect a dog’s social interactions and behavior. A dog’s pain may exhibit:

  1. Lethargy
  2. Decreased interaction
  3. Aggression
  4. Seeking more attention from their owners
  5. Increased sensitivity to touch
  6. Becoming more withdrawn
  7. Avoiding social situations they previously enjoyed

Paying close attention to alterations in your dog’s behavior assists in recognizing when they’re in pain and might require veterinary assistance.

Understanding Chronic and Acute Pain

Dogs can experience both chronic and acute pain, and understanding the difference between the two can help you identify the cause of your dog’s discomfort. Chronic pain, such as arthritis or dental disease, lasts for a long time, while acute pain, caused by injuries or infections, is usually shorter-term.

We’re going to delve into the typical causes of chronic and acute pain in dogs, offering a more profound understanding of the spectrum of pain your furry friend might endure.

Common Causes of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain in dogs can be caused by various conditions, with arthritis, dental disease, and joint damage being the most common. Osteoarthritis, for example, affects up to 80% of dogs over age 8 and can cause joint stiffness, reduced mobility, and discomfort due to cartilage degeneration and inflammation. Other less common causes of chronic pain include diabetes, hypothyroidism, and urolithiasis.

Identifying indications of chronic pain in your dog can guide you toward the right treatment, thus enhancing your dog’s quality of life.

Typical Sources of Acute Pain

Acute pain in dogs can result from:

  1. Injuries
  2. Infections, such as deep pyoderma or furunculosis, which require prompt veterinary attention
  3. Surgeries, such as orthopedic procedures or dental procedures, which can cause acute pain that typically lasts for a few hours up to several days.
  4. Severe gastrointestinal disease

Spotting signs of acute pain in your canine can assist in providing the required care and support during their healing phase from an acute injury.

When to Seek Veterinary Help

senior dog guide

If you notice any signs of pain in your dog, it’s essential to seek veterinary help to ensure they receive proper treatment and care. Your veterinarian can help diagnose the cause of your dog’s pain and recommend appropriate treatments to manage their discomfort.

We will now explain how to get ready for a veterinarian appointment and look at an array of treatment possibilities and pain management strategies to relieve your dog’s discomfort.

Preparing for the Vet Visit

Before visiting the veterinarian, it’s helpful to have a clear record of your dog’s pain symptoms and any changes in their behavior. Taking pictures or videos of your dog when they’re showing signs of pain or discomfort can be useful in helping your vet understand their condition. Keeping track of the signs you notice and using owner questionnaires and clinician assessment tools can also be helpful in providing your vet with a comprehensive understanding of your dog’s pain levels.

Treatment Options and Pain Management

There are various treatment options for managing your dog’s pain, including:

  1. Medication
  2. Surgery
  3. Physical therapy
  4. Alternative therapies like acupuncture or massage

Your veterinarian can help determine the best course of treatment based on the cause of your dog’s pain and their specific needs.

Maintaining a transparent and trusting relationship with your veterinarian is crucial to guarantee your dog receives the top-notch care they deserve through a secure proceeding.

Preventing and Alleviating Pain at Home

While veterinary care is crucial for managing your dog’s pain, there are also steps you can take at home to prevent and alleviate discomfort. By modifying their physical activities and providing comfort measures, you can help improve your dog’s quality of life and reduce their pain levels.

We will now explore methods to modify your dog’s activities and implement comfort measures at home to help alleviate their pain.

Modifying Physical Activities

Adjusting your dog’s activities can help reduce pain and strain on their body. This can include moving from running to walking for your dog or taking shorter walks, using ramps and elevated dishes, and modifying their exercise routine. Shorter walks can help maintain muscle mass and reduce joint stiffness, while ramps and elevated dishes can prevent neck strain and joint stress.

Always seek advice from your veterinarian for personalized recommendations on modifying your dog’s physical activities, considering their unique needs and health status.

Comfort Measures

Providing comfort measures can help alleviate your dog’s pain at home. Here are some ways to provide comfort:

  1. Use soft bedding and warm blankets to provide a comfortable resting place.
  2. Give gentle massages to help ease pain and discomfort. Use gentle pressure and circular motions when massaging your dog.
  3. Apply warm or cool compresses to provide relief. Always provide a cloth barrier between the heat source and your pup’s skin when applying warm compresses.

These measures can help your dog feel more comfortable and reduce their pain.

Keep in mind that these measures should be combined with veterinary attention and guidance to effectively manage your dog’s discomfort.


In conclusion, recognizing the signs of pain in your dog is crucial for their well-being and quality of life. By understanding the differences between chronic and acute pain, identifying physical and behavioral indicators of discomfort, seeking veterinary help, and implementing home care measures, you can help your furry friend live a happier, pain-free life. Remember, your dog depends on you to be their advocate and caregiver, so stay attentive to their needs and work closely with your veterinarian to ensure they receive the best care possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are 3 signs your dog is suffering?

Signs your dog may be suffering include lethargy, decreased appetite, trembling, withdrawal, irritability, restlessness, and aggression. Be sure to look out for these behaviors in order to best care for your pup.

How do dogs act when they are in pain?

Dogs in pain do NOT always show signs that are obvious (see our pain download here for 3 common locations/signs to look for).  However, when they do they may show signs such as shaking, withdrawal, lethargy, flattened ears, low posture, aggression, grumpy temperament, panting or crying, excessive licking or scratching a specific area, reluctance to play, interact or exercise, lameness and stiffness after rest, and loss of appetite.

What is silent pain in dogs?

Silent pain in dogs is a type of pain that develops gradually over time, with subtle signs like slower or less fluid movements and the loss of enthusiasm for activities. Dogs often do NOT show vocal signs of their silent pain, even when it is severe. Paying close attention to subtle signs can be really important when trying to pick up on this as this pain largely impacts aging dogs.

How do you know if your dog is in acute pain?

If your dog is exhibiting signs such as panting heavily, whimpering or whining, not eating, or being especially sensitive to touch, they may be in acute pain. Be sure to keep an eye out for any of these indicators.

How can I tell if my dog is in pain?

Pay attention to your dog’s behavior and look for signs of discomfort, such as changes in breathing and heart rate, swelling or inflammation, excessive grooming, vocalizations, and alterations in sleep and eating patterns. This can help you identify if your dog is in pain.  Download our free pdf here which goes through common signs of chronic pain seen in old dogs.


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Senior Dog Revolution

Welcome! We are so glad you are here! At SDR, we are firm believers that senior pets are the most inspiring animals in the world. And our mission is to help promote the needs of senior dogs and help pet parents create a life of health and happiness for their oldest canine friend.

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