How to Tell if Your Dog is in Pain or Sick

How to Tell if Your Dog is in Pain or Sick

Your pets are going to get ill every now and then, just like most animals will at some point. You know what to do in some capacity if you’re ‘not right’, but, for dogs, they don’t have the ability to speak and explain what the issue is, so it’s important that you are able to read the signs of them changing their behaviour to display a problem that they might be dealing with that needs addressing.

It doesn’t matter how young or old your pooch is, the role you play in helping your pet to overcome their pain or sickness is pivotal; after all, you want them to be as healthy and carefree as possible, right? This becomes especially important considering the ultimate risk of pet loss due to untreated conditions.

Dogs are unable to explain symptoms to you, but what they lack in speech, they will do their best to make up for in the form of showing you signs of problems. With this in mind, awareness takes precedent if you are to nip any issues in the bud at the first sign.

As we mentioned, dogs are unable to explain symptoms to you, but what they lack in speech, they will do their best to make up for in the form of showing you signs of problems.  With this in mind, awareness takes precedent if you are to nip any issues in the bud at the first sign.

Some of the biggest clues that your dog is in pain or ill include:


Your dog becoming restless at all times of day and night is a common indicator of discomfort and/or pain in your dog. If they’re pacing back and forth repetitively, have a hard time getting comfy, or sleep is interrupted, the chances are that there’s an issue afoot. He may even act like he’s afraid of you if he feels unwell or something hurts when you touch him.

Body and posture changes

If you notice any swelling of the paws, legs, and face, this is a distinct sign that your pooch could be in pain due to inflammation, infection or, in severe cases, from cancer.

Some dogs will become noticeably rigid and display a hunched stance when they are in pain, while others adopt the prayer-type posture whereby they lay their front legs on the ground and their backside is in the air. The latter is usually seen from dogs suffering from abdominal pain because this position gives them the ability to stretch this region out.

Shakes or quivers

Unlike when we shake, this isn’t necessarily down to the fact that your pet is cold, or old, for that matter. The introduction of shakes or quivers can be a sign of pain. It can also be a symptom of something more severe, including issues like poisoning, kidney disease or pancreatitis.

What’s more, if your dog’s swallowed large quantities of chocolate or sugar-free sweetener xylitol, for example, this will set them off into bouts of severe muscle tremors.

Displays of antisocial behavior or aggression

Has your four-legged friend stopped bounding to the door and bum-wiggling upon your arrival home? Have they avoided contact, or shown uncommon aggressiveness?

If the answer be yes to any of the above and your dog’s been hiding away/being oddly antisocial, these signs might signal that they’re in some sort of pain. Noticeable alterations of behavior should always be looked into by taking your pet to the vet.

Diet and/or sleeping habits differ

Should a dog be in some level of pain or sickness and be able to, they will sleep. This is because sleep allows them to heal. It can also be because this gives them the chance to simply lie still and not aggravate the issue they have. So, if they don’t get up to walk over for their meals, or they’ve stopped drinking, this can be why.

If you see that they’re finding it hard to get through their food; particularly dried forms, or can’t chomp on their firm chews, then they might have some problems with their teeth or something in this area.

Excessive vocal behavior

While it may be annoying, dogs often signify that they’re going through some kind of sickness or pain by excessively barking or by growling, yelping, snarling, or perhaps howling. This is just their way of telling you that something isn’t right, so give them the help they need and visit the vets to get them checked out.


You might be thinking, why is my dog restless and anxious at night? But, with the right diagnosis, even when signs like these might be subtler, or indeed much more obvious, taking them to see a veterinarian will help them get the recommended preventive care required.

For an idea of what to expect as part of preventive care testing, it typically entails the following:

  •    An ECG which will screen for any signs of an abnormal heart rhythm, as this can show up underlying heart disease.
  •    Tests to ascertain if your dog’s got heartworm, tick-borne or another infectious disease.
  •    A complete blood count to determine whether blood-related conditions are an issue.
  •    Chemistry and electrolyte tests that assess their internal organ status, while also checking for dehydration or an imbalance of electrolytes.
  •    Urine tests that serve to screen for urinary tract infection, check kidney function, and other possible diseases.
  •    A thyroid test to establish if they’re suffering from a thyroid gland hormone deficiency.

You may find that further tests are conducted on a dog-by-day basis. But, don’t worry, your vet is the best person to be helping when something’s up with your best friend, so just be vigilant and if you see anything unusual, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice for your pooch.

Marie Kron
Marie was born into a family which included a few dogs and by a few, we mean 10-15 at a time. Since growing up in a foster home for dogs in Minnesota, Marie has become a clinical psychologist, but her passion for our furry friends is still at an all-time high.