Dog Pain: What Every Pet Owner Needs to Know | 2023

Dogs, like humans, can feel pain, but because they cannot speak, they cannot convey their pain in words; instead, they exhibit certain symptoms. Fortunately, because of advances in veterinary science, there are several effective ways to provide quick pain relief to dogs. 

Dog with cone over his head

In general, the treatment of any pain is determined by the cause, duration, intensity, and location of the pain in the dog’s body. Pain in dogs can be caused by various factors, including trauma, infections, medical conditions such as arthritis, and many others. 

Vets use a variety of medicines, including NSAIDs, opioids, and steroids, as well as CBD oil, acupuncture, and chiropractic care, to relieve pain in dogs.

If you are a dog parent concerned about your dog’s strange behavior and suspect it is in pain, we are here to help you. This article is a comprehensive guide prepared by a small animal veterinarian on pain relief in dogs and the causes and symptoms of pain in dogs, so read on.

What Is Pain: Vet Explains

According to medical science, pain can be defined as the “undesirable sensory and emotional experience associated with tissue injury or some type of trauma.” 

Like people, dogs can react differently to the same type of pain. Generally, pain in dogs is classified into two types: acute and chronic. Acute pain is typically abrupt and short-term pain caused by tissue damage. 

Chronic pain, on the other hand, is long-term pain that is frequently associated with medical conditions such as arthritis.

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What Are The Causes Of Pain In Dogs?

Chihuahua with cast on rear leg

Following are some of the most common causes of pain in dogs: 

Periodontal Disease:

The most common cause of dog pain is periodontal disease, which affects the teeth, gums, and oral cavity. 

According to one study, 80% of dogs over three suffer from this dental condition. This bacterial infection begins with plaque buildup and progresses to dental tartar and gingivitis (gum inflammation). It can even reach the nerves and blood supply of the teeth, resulting in bleeding gums, tooth loss, and oral pain.  

Periodontal disease causes severe oral pain in dogs, and they can lose their appetite, begin to lose weight, and even suffer from dehydration.


Arthritis is a relatively prevalent ailment in dogs that causes severe pain, especially in senior dogs. According to a study, over 80% of dogs over the age of 8 years have arthritis, and approximately 30% of dogs of all ages have this ailment. 

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints that can lead to a condition known as a progressive joint disease in dogs, in which the smooth layer of the joint capsule begins to erode, causing friction between the bones, which is an extremely painful condition.

Soft tissue injuries

Soft tissue injuries are quite common in dogs and are caused by lacerations, bite wounds, accidents, and physical trauma. These injuries can be excruciatingly painful for the dog. Soft tissue injuries in dogs can also occur due to strenuous physical activity.\


Dogs are particularly susceptible to developing cancer; about 1 in every four dogs will develop some cancer during its life, and half of the dogs older than 10 have some type of cancer. 

Cancer can be painful for dogs, depending on the type. Bone cancer, commonly known as osteosarcoma, is prevalent cancer that causes severe dog pain. 

Osteosarcoma can induce joint inflammation, resulting in intense discomfort that makes the dog unable to move or walk. Tumors in dogs, such as mammary tumors, anal tumors, testicular tumors, and so on, can also be excruciatingly painful. Cancer is typically treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery.

Elbow or hip dysplasia

Elbow and hip dysplasia are frequent causes of pain in many dog breeds, particularly large dogs like Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Siberian Huskies.

This condition is typically inherited and passed on from parents to offspring. Elbow or hip dysplasia usually starts with joint degeneration and progresses to bone displacement or dysplasia. 

This is a common cause of pain in many dogs. Dogs with elbow or hip dysplasia experience difficulty walking and are hesitant to climb stairs or run. We have an entire article on hip dysplasia you can check out

Cystitis, pancreatitis, hepatitis, peritonitis

Infections of various organs, such as cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder), pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), peritonitis (inflammation of the peritoneum), and others, can cause pain in dogs. 

Because the majority of these organs are placed in the dog’s abdominal cavity, they cause abdominal pain. However, stomach cramps and bloating can also cause abdominal pain in dogs.

Ear infections

Ear infections are a major cause of pain in dogs. Bacteria are the most common cause of ear infections, although trauma, mites, and fungal infections can also cause pain in your dog’s ears. 

If your dog is constantly shaking its head, pawing at its ears, or rubbing its ears against the walls or the ground, it could be due to ear infections, so take it to the veterinarian immediately.

Sprains and strains

Strains and sprains are among the most common causes of pain in dogs and are frequently caused by intense physical activities, obesity, and injuries to the dog’s ligaments, tendons, or muscles.

Spinal issues

Senior dogs are particularly susceptible to spinal issues and can cause severe pain. Spinal problems usually result in deep nerve pain. Dogs with spinal problems are hesitant to move and prefer to stay put.

German Shepherd in dog wheelchair.

What Are The Symptoms Of Pain In Dogs

Pain symptoms in dogs might differ depending on the cause and location of the pain. However, the following are some general symptoms associated with pain in dogs.

Increased vocalization

  • Whining 
  • Howling
  • Whimpering
  • Yelping

Changes in mobility and posture

  • Restless
  • Reluctance to move
  • Difficulty getting up and climbing stairs 
  • Trembling
  • Hunched posture 
  • It prefers lying on its side

Changes in the daily routine

  • Little to no interest in playing and socializing 
  • Poor coat and reduced grooming 
  • Reduced appetite 
  • Changes in sleeping or drinking
  • Lack of interest in training
  • Increased sleeping duration 

Other changes

  • Lameness
  • Doesn’t like to be held or touched 
  • Tends to hide from owners 
  • Persistent licking on a particular body spot 
  • Scratching or biting a particular area of the body
  • Increased panting during rest 

How To Relieve Pain In Dogs

Dog with bandage around his torso

Following are some methods to relieve pain in dogs. 

Veterinary treatments

The following is the pain management treatments that veterinarians typically prescribe to address various types of pain in dogs: 

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are anti-inflammatories and painkillers that are commonly administered by veterinarians to treat various types of pain in dogs. 

The good news is that most of these medications are FDA-approved for use in dogs and do not contain any steroids. 

Steroids typically reduce a dog’s immunity, which is undesirable since the dog becomes more susceptible to infections. NSAIDs work by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase through the COX blocker mechanism. 

When a dog’s body lacks the cyclooxygenase enzyme, prostaglandins cannot be produced. Because prostaglandins are the compounds responsible for pain, inflammation, and fever, analgesia (pain relief) is achieved.


Opioids are potent pain relievers that alleviate severe pain in dogs, most commonly cancer or nerve pain. They suppress neuronal activity by blocking certain receptors in the body that produce pain responses. 

Morphine, codeine, fentanyl, and other opioids are commonly used in dogs for pain management. 

These medications should never be given to dogs without the advice of a veterinarian because even a minor overdose can result in major health issues and even anesthetic effects in dogs.


Veterinarians also use steroids to treat pain and inflammation in dogs. Because steroids are powerful anti-inflammatories, they help relieve pain and are commonly used to treat tumor pain in dogs. 

Because they can have a negative impact on a dog’s general health, veterinarians prescribe them in extremely small doses and in desperate situations when other drugs don’t work. 

Certain steroidal drugs have been approved for use in pets by the FDA, and one frequent drug used in dogs to help with pain management and inflammation is Dexamethasone, a corticosteroid.

Medication alternatives

We all know that veterinary treatments can be costly. If you are not a fan of medications and drugs, we have compiled a list of several alternatives to medications that can effectively relieve pain in dogs.

Dog taking CBD oil


CBD oil usage has increased in recent years, particularly in dogs. It is also known as Cannabidiol, is a non-psychotic chemical compound present in cannabis that does not make your dog high.

Although the FDA has not approved CBD in pets, it is commonly used as an over-the-counter treatment for various dog health issues, including pain. CBD is available for pets and humans in oil, treats, topical gels, creams, and lotions.

According to research, CBD oil has proven beneficial in reducing pain caused by osteoarthritis in dogs. Studies demonstrate that dogs administered CBD oil showed fewer pain symptoms and started to walk and jump normally after some time of regular administration. 

Regarding the safety of CBD oil in dogs, the results are biased and little research is available regarding this aspect. However, dog owners that have used CBD oil in their dogs reported no side effects, and a few studies also state that no adverse effects are observed at low doses in dogs. 

Because the FDA has not approved CBD oil for use in dogs, there is no specific dosage. However, according to various research findings, a dose of 2mg/kg body weight is considered safe for dogs. 

Nevertheless, while using any CBD product, it is advisable, to begin with a very low dose and gradually raise the dosage if your dog displays no negative effects. If you give your dog CBD oil, treats, or anything else, be sure it doesn’t contain any harmful ingredients, such as xylitol, chocolate, and so on.


Acupuncture for dogs is also an effective pain-relieving alternative to medicines and drugs. This method is a traditional Chinese technique that is increasingly used on dogs to help with pain management. 

To perform acupuncture on dogs, needles are inserted into their bodies at certain locations where their nerves and blood supply intersect.

The insertion of needles activates the nervous system and triggers the release of anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving compounds in the dog’s body, thereby providing pain relief.

Acupuncture can help reduce pain caused by arthritis, spinal issues, strains, nerve pain, and hip dysplasia in dogs. 

Heat therapy

Certain types of pain in dogs can be effectively and quickly relieved by heat therapy, often known as the warm compress. 

Heat therapy or a warm compress can help relieve muscle, ligament, tendon, and tissue pain while increasing blood flow to the injured area. 

You can use a hot water bottle, heating pad, or hot wet cloth for heat therapy. For optimal effects, apply heat therapy for 10 to 15 minutes.

Cold therapy

Cold therapy or cold compresses are useful pain treatment techniques for soft tissue injuries, arthritis, osteoarthritis, and muscle spasms. 

This therapy relieves pain by lowering blood pressure and decreasing inflammation at the affected location. Cold therapy is often beneficial for dogs’ chronic pain (long-term pain). 

Crushed ice or ice cubes can be used in plastic bags, cold, wet cloths, or frozen vegetables such as peas or corn. Ice gel packs can also be used in dogs for cold therapy. Cold therapy should last 10 to 15 minutes and no longer than 30 minutes.

Chiropractic care

Importantly, Chiropractic therapy is one of dogs’ most effective drug-free pain alleviation techniques. 

Chiropractic therapy addresses problems in your dog’s musculoskeletal system alignment, especially along the spinal cord.

This technique reduces nerve pressure, relaxing the nervous system and relieving pain. 

Veterinary chiropractic therapy can help dogs minimize pain caused by strains, muscular spasms, arthritis, hip dysplasia, slipped discs, nerve pain, and other conditions.


Sad pug

In conclusion, pain is a common experience for dogs that various factors, such as periodontal disease, arthritis, soft tissue injuries, cancer, elbow or hip dysplasia, infections, ear infections, and strains or sprains, can cause.

Since dogs cannot communicate their pain in words, it is up to dog owners to look out for any unusual behaviors or symptoms and take their pets to a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

Fortunately, advances in veterinary science have led to the development of several effective methods to relieve pain in dogs, including medication, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and CBD oil. By being proactive and attentive to their dogs’ health, owners can ensure their furry friends live pain-free and happy life.

It’s important to note that you should always consult your veterinarian if you suspect your dog is experiencing pain or any other health issue. While this article serves as a guide to common causes and treatments of pain in dogs, every dog is different and may require a personalized approach to their care.

Your veterinarian can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend the best treatment for your furry friend. Ignoring signs of pain in dogs can have serious consequences, so don’t hesitate to seek professional advice if you suspect something is wrong.


What Are The Common Causes Of Pain In Dogs?

The following are the most common causes of dog pain: Periodontal disease, arthritis, soft tissue injuries, cancer, elbow or hip dysplasia, cystitis, pancreatitis, hepatitis, peritonitis, ear infections, sprains, strains, and spinal issues.

What Are The Symptoms of Dog Pain?

Pain symptoms in dogs might differ depending on the cause and location of the pain. However, the following are some general symptoms associated with pain in dogs: Increased vocalization, mobility and posture, changes in daily routine, hiding, scratching and biting a particular area of the body.

How To Relieve Pain In Dogs?

Following are some methods that veterinarians use to relieve pain in dogs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, opioids, and steroids. Some alternative methods include CBD oil, acupuncture, heat and cold therapy, and chiropractic care.

What Are Some Alternative Methods to Treat Dog Pain?

We all know that veterinary treatments can be costly. If you are not a fan of medications and drugs, we have compiled a list of several alternatives to medications that can effectively relieve pain in dogs. Some alternative methods to treat dog pain include CBD oil, acupuncture, heat and cold therapy, and chiropractic care.


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