Even the best dog owner can be fooled when it comes to recognizing pain in their furry companion. Dog’s are much better than us humans. When we hurt what do we do? We complain! And we LOVE to complain! But our dog’s are much quieter about their pain. Many people will describe their dog as “stoic” and there is a reason for that.

Senior Dog taking a Rest

If we consider how our dogs evolved to become domesticated, there was once a point in their evolution in which it was not to their benefit to show their pain. Showing pain was weakness, and it could cause a dog to be dropped from the pack. If we wait for our dog to cry out in pain that they are hurting, we’ve possibly missed the earlier signs and now the pain is quite bad. What else can tell us our dog’s are hurting before we get to that point?

Common Signs of Pain in Older Dogs

1. Lameness/limping or difficulty moving

Even the most mindful owner can misinterpret what limping really means. Sometimes there is a belief that because the dog is not crying when they are limping, they aren’t hurting. But consider this – why would your dog be limiting their use of a leg if they don’t hurt? Compare this to when you are limping. Isn’t is because something hurts? Eventually a limp can become a habit if the pain goes away and the dog has been limping so long that they actually forget how to walk normally.


If a dog is stiff when they first get up or they have difficulty moving around, this can be a sign of pain. If a dog “warms” out of their stiffness after moving around for a bit this can suggest that there is some amount of inflammation going on. This is VERY common with arthritis pain and should be treated like any other pain.

2. Change in behaviour

This can take a little bit of detective work on the part of an owner. First of all, we need to be consciously aware of what our dogs normally do. This allows us to identify changes if and when they happen. Here are some examples:

  • Don’t get excited to play or go for a walk like the used to
  • They used to be cuddly, now they avoid your touch, or they used to be more independent and now they are coming to you more often for affection
  • Reluctance to jump up onto furniture or go up/down the stairs
  • Aggression towards people or other dogs
  • No longer coming to great you at the door
Senior Dog Take a Rest
Old Dog Pain

3. Change in appetite

A change in appetite can happen for two reasons. If your dog has pain in their mouth, possibly caused by dental disease, they may be uncomfortable chewing their food, especially if it is kibble. It’s estimated that 2/3 senior dogs has some kind of dental disease.(1) Or, if your dog is in pain somewhere else in their body, they may be less hungry as a result. Either way, a quick change in appetite warrants your attention.

4. Change in breathing rate

This requires keen attention by an owner. A dog who is in pain might start breathing more quickly but with shallow breaths. This change in breathing becomes more evident if your dog starts to pant without doing any activity.

Old Dog Panting

5. Change in sleeping patterns

This can be more sleep or less sleep. Some dogs in pain may have difficulty finding a comfortable position causing them to be restless and having difficulty falling asleep. Alternatively, a dog in pain may to rest and protect an area and thus sleep more to avoid painful movements. Don’t ignore sleeping changes!

As you can see, there are many, varied signs that your dog is in pain. This list is by no means exhaustive but covers some of the more common signs. What is important as a dog owner is to be aware of what normal is for your dog so that you can identify when the not normal happens and act accordingly. We’ve created a FREE cheat sheet to help you determine if your dog is in pain and if the pain is acute or chronic.

Get the cheat sheet!
Dog on PEMF bed
Laser Back

(1) Hiscox, L. & Bellows, J. (n.d.) Dental Disease in Dogs. VCA Hospitals. https://vcacanada.com/know-your-pet/dental-disease-in-dogs