Sometimes it’s obvious when your dog is in pain – they might whimper, cry, tremble, limp, or curl up in their favorite spot and refuse to move. Other times, pain in dogs isn’t so obvious. They might simply act lethargic, be more reluctant to play or jump, or have a poor appetite.
Studies show that 38 to 56 percent of dogs that check into emergency veterinary clinics are in pain. And although there are many situations that can cause your dog to feel discomfort, including injuries, ear infections, dental disease, arthritis, and surgery, no pet parent wants to see their dog in pain.
So, how do you provide care and relief for a dog in pain? In this article, we’ll go over the basics of how to help a dog in pain, including specific tips on how to provide them with a sense of comfort.
What to Do When Your Dog Is in Pain
“Whether your dog experiences acute pain, chronic pain, or situational pain following surgeries or dental extractions, it can affect their mood and their quality of life,” says Dr. Amber Karwacki, veterinarian and partner at Heart + Paw vet clinic in Philadelphia. “Dogs who are in pain will not want to interact with their family as they normally do.”
Your veterinarian will be able to determine the source of the pain and then determine the best course of treatment. Providing pain relief medication to help manage a dog’s pain could be part of the plan, but Dr. Karwacki notes that you should skip the drug store because most over-the-counter pain medications made for pet parents are toxic to dogs.
In addition to veterinarian-prescribed pain meds, there are other ways to comfort a dog in pain.
8 Tips for Comforting a Dog in Pain
It’s important to stick to a schedule with medications that help relieve dog pain. Set a reminder in your smartphone to ensure that you don’t miss a dose or accidentally give your dog their medication before the next dose is due, which could increase the risk of side effects.
Create a Safe Space
Dogs in pain might need more rest and not feel up to interacting with their families or other pets, according to Dr. Karwacki. Setting up a crate in a spare bedroom or other quiet spot will give your pet a space to recover and decrease the risk of making the pain worse.
“You want to provide a space where your dog feels safe and protected,” Dr. Karwacki adds. “This will keep them from having any fight or flight reactions and possibly reinjuring themselves.”
Your veterinarian may also recommend crate rest and limited movement as part of the healing process.
Keep in mind that for some pets, particularly those with separation anxiety, being restricted to a separate room may increase their anxiety levels, causing them to exacerbate their pain. For these dogs, it may be best to set their safe space in an area you frequent.
Keep Them Cozy
Providing items like an orthopedic bed and soft blankets will keep your dog comfortable while they recover from an injury or surgery, or rest during illness — but think twice before setting up a heating pad.
“Heating pads can be helpful but most likely should not be on for long amounts of time,” Dr. Karwacki says. “If your dog is unable to get off the heating pad, a thermal burn could occur.”
She also advises keeping their water bowl and food bowl nearby so your dog doesn’t have to move too far to eat or drink when they aren’t feeling well.
Consider Complementary Therapies
When it comes to managing pain in dogs, massage or acupuncture could help.
Dogs with musculoskeletal pain due to injuries, arthritis or other orthopedic conditions showed improvements in gait, posture and behavioral issues, and were more able to engage in daily activities after receiving massage .
Acupuncture can also improve quality of life for dogs suffering from neurological disorders and musculoskeletal diseases . Dr. Karwacki also suggests cold laser therapy and physical therapy for dogs in pain.
“Not every veterinarian offers these services, but make sure to ask your vet who does offer these services as we usually know what is available in your area,” she says.
Make Movement Easier
For dogs experiencing pain due to arthritis or other chronic illnesses, adding ramps up to the bed, couch, or cars makes it easier for your dog to get to their favorite spot without jumping and putting added pressure on their joints.
Installing non-slip mats or carpet runners on hardwood or tile floors can also prevent your dog from slipping and improve their ability to move around the house.
For acute pain due to injuries or post-surgical pain, Dr. Karwacki suggests veterinarian-prescribed anti-inflammatory medications, but supplements could help dogs dealing with arthritis or other types of chronic pain.
Among dogs diagnosed with osteoarthritis, a supplement containing glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate was found to be “significantly beneficial” for alleviating pain and reducing symptoms . CBD supplements may be another option, with one study at Cornell showing that 80 percent of dogs that received CBD supplements experienced decreases in osteoarthritis pain.
Talk to your veterinarian about which supplements might be helpful if your dog is in pain and confirm that supplements are safe to use with their current medications.
Prioritize Quality Time
Pain may make it difficult for your dog to go for long walks or play in the backyard so it’s especially important to prioritize their wellbeing while they heal.
Set aside special time for bonding and gentle snuggles to provide comfort — but make sure your dog welcomes the attention. Some dogs may prefer to be left alone (and pain may sometimes cause fear or aggression) so watch for clues that your dog takes comfort in gentle petting and the reassuring sound of your voice, or whether they would prefer to have some alone time.
Alternatively, buying a new squeak toy or special bone that your dog can play with on their cozy bed can provide important mental stimulation.
“Puzzle toys can also help occupy their time if your dog can no longer do their normal activities,” Dr. Karwacki adds.
Watch for Signs
Sometimes pain management plans need to be tweaked. Watch for signs that medications, supplements, alternative therapies and lots of TLC aren’t easing your dog’s pain.
Dr. Karwacki advises looking for things like limping, a hunched back, a stiff gait, shying away from being touched, ears in a down position, or laying in unusual positions, adding, “If signs of pain are seen, you should bring your dog to the vet for an exam to determine the source and receive treatment.”
It’s hard for pet parents to see their four-legged companions in pain. Working with your veterinarian to identify the source of the pain, creating an appropriate treatment plan, and incorporating strategies to ease your pup’s discomfort can help them feel a little better while they rest and recuperate.
- Riley, LM, Satchell, L, Stilwell, LM, Lenton, NS. Effect of massage therapy on pain and quality of life in dogs: A cross sectional study. Vet Rec. 2021;e586. https://doi.org/10.1002/vetr.586
- Silva NEOF, Luna SPL, Joaquim JGF, Coutinho HD, Possebon FS. Effect of acupuncture on pain and quality of life in canine neurological and musculoskeletal diseases. Can Vet J. 2017 Sep;58(9):941-951. PMID: 28878418; PMCID: PMC5556488.
- Martello E, Bigliati M, Adami R, Biasibetti E, Bisanzio D, Meineri G, Bruni N. Efficacy of a dietary supplement in dogs with osteoarthritis: A randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. PLoS One. 2022 Feb 16;17(2):e0263971. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0263971. PMID: 35171954; PMCID: PMC8849458.