Dogs have a canny ability to hide their pain. But why do they do this to begin with? 

Simply put, it's instinctual for them and goes back to the pack lifestyle of their ancestors. In the wild, it’s dangerous for an animal to show signs of weakness, as it leaves them vulnerable to attack. For instance, to protect themselves and their social rank within a pack, wolves will often hide pain as a means of survival in the wild. 

Even though they’ve traded in the forests for our living room couches, dogs have still inherited this instinct from their wolf forebearers. As a result, it’s not uncommon for dogs to hide pain from their pet parents for as long as possible. 

In fact, by the time a dog begins showing noticeable signs of pain, whatever condition they’re suffering from may be relatively progressed. For this reason, it’s absolutely essential that you act right away the moment your dog shows any amount of distress, no matter how small. A trip to the veterinarian may very well be called for to assess what’s wrong and to develop the appropriate care plan in addressing your dog’s pain.

That said, it’s important for pet owners to be able to recognize when their dog is in pain. The good news is that you don’t have to be a mind-reader to detect distress in your pup. 

How To Tell If Your Dog Is In Pain: 7 Tell-Tale Signs


The first notable sign that your dog may be in pain is a significantly decreased energy level.

But how can you determine if your canine friend's energy levels have decreased?

First, it's helpful for pet owners to know their dog's "normal" energy level and then compare it to their present-day behavior. 

For example, if Spot is typically bouncing off the walls and is now glued to the couch instead, it's likely a sign that your pup is in pain or combating some other health issue. If your four-legged companion tends to be on the lazy end of the energy spectrum to begin with, however, a little extra lethargy may not be something to worry about.

Again, it's all about knowing what's normal for your dog and their every-day behavior.


Just like with energy levels, your dog's appetite may take a nosedive when they're experiencing any type of pain.

It makes sense, and this same lack of appetite when dealing with pain is commonly seen in people as well. When we're in pain, the last thing we want to do is get up, go to the fridge, and expend energy on consuming a meal. 

Likewise, when our pups are in pain, their appetite usually goes down. If you notice that your dog isn’t eating or drinking as much as they used to, pain may be the reason.


Another sign of pain or distress in dogs is biting, including biting themselves or biting others.

When a dog doesn't want anyone near them or anyone touching an area that may be sensitive, it's not uncommon for them to bite as a means to protect themselves from further pain. Think about it: if you're in pain, the last thing you want is for someone to pick you up or poke at a spot on your body that's tender. The same holds true for dogs.

Dogs may also bite at themselves, however, when in pain. In fact, this is a common behavior in dogs dealing with issues like arthritis or hip dysplasia. You may also see this behavior when dogs are suffering from hot spots or from flea and tick bites.  


Howling, whining, whimpering, grunting, groaning, and yelping are all sounds that dogs can make when they are experiencing pain.

If your pup is keeping you up at night with their vocalizations, it’s time to figure out what’s causing so much discomfort with a trip to your veterinarian.

Remember, dogs will typically go out of their way to hide pain, so if the discomfort has progressed to the point where your dog is vocalizing their distress, they're most likely in a significant amount of discomfort. 


The most visually noticeable sign of pain and distress is swelling and inflammation. 

Inflammation occurs when your dog's body tissues respond to a harmful stimuli such as an injury or an infection. This immune response is a natural, biological process that is meant to protect and repair the body. However, the fact that the inflammation exists in the first place means that your dog is dealing with some kind of pain that needs to be immediately addressed.

Pet owners should make sure that they are always keeping a close eye on any changes in their dog's body in order to catch problems like inflammation early on.

Natural Anti-Inflammatory Agents: Our Top 12 Choices

Your Dog's Tail 

Believe it or not, your dog's tail can communicate a lot of information, especially when your canine companion is in pain.

If you're worried that your pup may be dealing with discomfort, look no further than the position of their tail.

If your dog's tail is usually upright and is now either between their legs or sagging, it's typically a sign that they aren't feeling like their best selves, often due to pain or distress.

Your Dog's Eyes

Finally, as they say, the eyes are a window to the soul, and your dog's eyes in particular can be very telling.

Dogs that are experiencing pain will often have dilated pupils or bloodshot eyes. Alternatively, their eyes may have a droopy, tired, dull, or sick look just like our own eyes look when we're under the weather or recovering from physical pain.

If there's usually a certain brightness or alertness to your dog's eyes that has recently dimmed, it may also be an indication that your dog is feeling unwell and/or dealing with some kind of discomfort.

So now that you know the signs that your dog is in pain, you must be wondering what are the solutions?

First of all, it's important to know what not to do when your dog is in pain.

Then it's important to know what can you give a dog for pain relief.

No one likes seeing their four-legged friend in any kind of discomfort, but don't be quick to offer your pup something from your own medicine cabinet.

The following over the counter (OTC) human medications should never be given to dogs:

  • Ibuprofen – found in Advil, Motrin, and Nuprin

  • Acetaminophen – found in Tylenol and many decongestants

  • Naproxen – found in Aleve

Potential Side Effects of NSAIDs

NSAID stands for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug. NSAIDs are popular pain meds known to treat a wide array of ailments, including joint pain caused by arthritis.

Naproxen is an NSAID that is found in common medications such as Aleve, and is one of the most commonly purchased human OTC medications for pain relief.

However, it bears repeating that human NSAIDs like naproxen are not safe for dogs. In fact, NSAIDs like Aleve are incredibly toxic for dogs and should never be given to dogs to help with pain.

Instead of fighting your pup's fever, human NSAIDs can cause a slew of additional health issues that can prove dangerous, so avoiding NSAIDs altogether is your best option when it comes to your dog.

Potential side effects of a dog ingesting NSAIDs:

  • Severe, painful intestinal issues

  • Vomiting (with or without blood)

  • Diarrhea (with or without blood)

  • Lethargy

  • Weakness

  • Depression

  • Kidney problems

  • Kidney failure

  • Bleeding of the gastrointestinal tract

  • Liver dysfunction

  • Liver failure

  • Death

As you can see, human NSAIDs should never be given to dogs for the purpose of pain management. The risks are simply too great, considering the potential side effects.

Holistic Options for Helping Your Dog With Pain

If you are looking for a holistic approach that can help with your dog's discomfort but that won't have the same side effects as an over the counter drug intended for human consumption, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Some of the most popular holistic options include feverfew and turmeric.

These days, it's easier than ever to purchase supplements containing one or more of these herbs. Turmeric in particular can be found in a number of forms suitable for pets, which is a good thing for pet owners, considering increasing evidence that suggests that the effects of turmeric are comparable to those of cortisone--without the potential adverse reactions.

Additional herbal supplements that pet owners may want to explore include:

You can view even more natural anti-inflammatory options here.

In addition to supplements, you may also consider measures such as acupuncture, physical therapy, massage therapy, hydrotherapy, and aromatherapy to further assist in easing your dog's discomfort.