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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

How to Know If Your Dog Is In Pain

Updated: March 15th, 2021


How to know if dog is in pain? There are dozens of signs of pain in dogs, and MOST of them are unrecognizable. Learn how to know if your dog is hurting. 🙁

One of the most surprising, and frankly, upsetting, things that we have learned from Dr. Dressler, author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, is how often over the years we’ve missed signs that our dogs were in pain. And now that we know what the signs are, we’re very different caregivers.

There are many signs that a dog is in pain, and we’ll tell you about them in a minute. But first, it’s important to understand a fact of dog psychology. If you don’t know this, you might always miss signs of your dog in pain!

Dogs are Not Like Humans When It Comes to Pain

Dogs are pack animals, and back when they were in the wild, they never, ever wanted to be separated from their pack. Being part of the pack meant everything: life, food, companionship, protection. And if dogs couldn’t keep up with the pack? They slowed the pack down, made it more vulnerable, made it more difficult for everyone to survive.

Therefore, weak, old, and sick dogs (or wolves, coyotes, etc.) are left behind to face their fate by the pack. And that usually means death for a lone dog.

Think about your dog and how much he hates to be left alone. Being left behind by the pack means he is not part of it anymore. It’s an awful fate for a pack animal.

Today’s dogs still have that Wild Instinct inside, an instinct that forces them to act as if they are strong and healthy, no matter what. Most dogs will do everything they can to hide pain or illness from their pack, even if we humans are their pack.

We might know we would never leave them behind, but dogs don’t.


This is why cancer is so often found late, and why dogs so often get sick “overnight.” They may feel ill for a long while, but if they are able to hide their symptoms, or, as medicine calls it, compensate for their symptoms, they do so. When they can no longer hide their symptoms, they decompensate quickly.  They seem almost to fall apart.

We bet you know some humans like this, too. Maybe you have an uncle who has an old and clearly painful injury who insists it doesn’t bother him. Or a mother with migraine headaches who smiles through dinner, eyes red and glazed, while her head pounds incessantly – but doesn’t go to bed until everyone’s left and the dishes are done.

That’s what our dogs are like. They don’t want us to know when they are in pain, and they will do everything they can to hide it.

They’re afraid if we find out that they are in pain, we will think they are weak and we will leave them behind.

For more helpful information and tools, get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Cancer Causes Pain – Unless It Doesn’t

Any tumor that presses on other structures probably causes pain. And some cancers just plain hurt: osteosarcoma, nasal tumors, brain tumors are all likely to cause pain due to their locations.

But other tumors – breast tumors, for example, don’t seem to cause pain in dogs. Tumors that are on the outside of the body often don’t seem to bother the dog.

Of course, dogs can’t tell us whether they feel pain or not. At least not in words. So how do you know if your dog is in pain?

How Dogs Signal Pain

Dogs don’t use language to communicate, and most don’t even use their voices much in general. So, unlike in humans, listening for sounds might not be your best strategy to know if your dogs in pain. Here are the other signs that might signal your dog is in pain:

  • Limping ALWAYS means your dog is in pain
  • Doesn’t want to be touched
  • Resistance to using a certain area of the body.
  • Bunny-hopping (it looks cute, but it’s not normal)
  • Vocalizing (whimpering, whining, yelping) for “no reason,” particularly when lying still or standing still
  • Unusual Panting
  • Unusual Trembling
  • Resistance to climbing stairs or getting up on furniture
  • Guarding: hunching over as in a stomach ache
  • Straining to urinate or defecate
  • Listless or apathetic behavior
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of engagement (isolating, withdrawn, refusing to play or walk)
  • Aggression

If you see any of these signs, it could mean your dog is experiencing some measure of pain, and you should get it figured out so you can address it.

As you know from your own life, feeling pain and not finding relief is disheartening and can lower the mood. And a depressed dog just can’t fight cancer as well as a happy one. A pain-free dog is better equipped in all ways to deal with cancer’s ordeals.

Pain Management is Possible

There’s an entire chapter on pain management in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Chapter 17 starts on page 229 and in it you will find recommendations for both medical and non-medical pain management strategies. You’ll also find out that there are different types of pain, and what their causes are. And you’ll find out why it’s better to use several different forms of pain management together, rather than just one.

Even though dogs are part of our families, and we feel like we know them really well, learning more about their psychology and understanding how cancer works in their bodies can be very enlightening. And it makes us better dog owners and caretakers, especially when it comes to pain.

Best Wishes & Doggy Kisses from Our Homes to Yours,

Dog Cancer Vet Team

(The Team of Dog Lovers Who Understand What It Means to Have a Dog with Cancer)

Also Read:

Pain Management Update PLUS Natural Pain Relief for Dogs

Leave a Comment

  1. […] even if they get sick or weak so they hide it until they can’t. At this point, they “decompensate” where they unravel quickly. This is why cancer in dogs is often discovered […]

  2. Mrs howard on September 15, 2019 at 1:33 am

    My dog has just been diagnosed with a soft tissue scaromia on her hip . It too late for treatment. How long potentially do we have her with us for . I appreciate it’s a very difficult question to answer

  3. Denise McMullan on August 21, 2019 at 2:20 am

    I have a 3year old street dog from the Dominican, she has had a rough start. Scarred, scared and hates to be left.
    She has had a full work up at the vet when I got her 6 months ago.
    She screams in pain for about 4 hours intermittently once a month. I hold her tight and it goes away. I’ve taken her to the vet again and he has no idea. I don’t want to put her through more surgeries if it’s only period cramps

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on August 21, 2019 at 6:48 am

      Hello Denise,

      Thanks for writing and we’re sorry to hear about your girl. As we’re not vets, we can’t offer you medical advice. But it sounds like you should probably get a second opinion from another vet or a holistic vet. You can search for one in your local area via &

      They may be able to investigate this further and make recommendations for your girl.

  4. paula on May 21, 2019 at 5:02 am

    This is indeed a wonderful book!

  5. Connie Culbertson on April 1, 2019 at 2:35 am

    Kendall has a grade 2 soft tissue sarcoma. We had the mass removed as it was located on his elbow and everything kept bumping it and making it break open. The vet recommended amputation, radiation and chemo. We did not do any of these things as we feel with Kendall approaching 14 years old his quality of life will be greatly diminished. He refuses to eat, so for 3 weeks we have been feeding him ensure and baby food and pediolyte. We have been giving him hemp seed oil for pain and also Life Gold from Pet Wellbeing. If there’s anything else you can suggest, we would be forever grateful.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on April 1, 2019 at 8:51 am

      Hello Connie,

      Thanks for writing, and we’re sorry to hear about Kendall 🙁

      As Dr. D writes in the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, there are a number of treatment options, besides chemo, surgery, and radiation, in the Full Spectrum Cancer Care that you could consider, under your vet’s supervision– Nutraceuticals, Diet, Brain Chemistry Modification, and Immune System Boosters and Anti-metastatics. 🙂

      In addition to Chapter 25 of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, you may find these articles to be helpful:

      We hope this helps!

  6. Misti platt on March 1, 2019 at 10:26 am

    I’m not a vet but my German Shepherd was diagnosed with a sarcoma in June of 2017. The cancer specialist said it was wrapped around shilo’s vulva and down her leg so she would not be a good candidate for surgery. Shilo was 11 years old and the vets also thought she had spinal myothopy so I didn’t want to put her through chemotherapy. I was devastated and didn’t think she would make it more than a month or two, the vets didn’t give me a time frame. I switched her from kibble to lightly cooked ( freshpet) or raw food ( Stella and chewy or answers) high in protein low in carbs… Carbs feed cancer. I also read sometimes CBD oil kills or slows down some cancers so I bought some from dogs naturally magazine. Her tumor was bigger than a tennis ball and it shrank to a grape but unfortunately it did slowly start growing again, now it is back to a tennis ball but I believe that the high protein diet and CBD have given me extra time with shilo. She just turned 13 and I will have to put her down soon but I’m grateful for the extra time with her.

  7. Tammy Wood on February 19, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    My Sweet Precious Furbaby is A Black Lab. He has STS
    AND I NEED TO KNOW EVERYTHING I CAN ABOUT THIS HORRIFIC DISEASE. We noticed a swollen place on his left back leg thigh area and groin area exactly 2 weeks ago today. My husband took him to the Vet that day. We were leaving to go to our Son’s 6 hours away.We hired Sitters to stay with him as always. When we returned 5 days later the place still looked the same so my husband took him back to the Vet. Neither visit did she tell us that “Ace” had a mass. We then took him to the University of Ga. Veterinary Hospital Emergency Room and immediately they RAN X RAYS and did Aspirations and told us he has a Very Aggressive STS SOFT TISSUE SARCOMA . We know that he could have an amputation but that will not save his life.He could have Chemo and Radiation. If we did anything we would have to start out with the Amputation and then move forward with the other 2 options. Still he would not survive. I would like to hear some case studies or Scenarios. I am really wanting to know what kind of time frame to think about and what would be the best to feed him plus any information that I can get. I’ve fed him steamed carrots for a long time. Also Grain Free Dog Food and only Greenies for Snacks . I need to know about Supplements; anything helpful. Thank you in advance. He’s like my Baby. I’m desperate for help. Sincerely Tammy,

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on February 20, 2019 at 7:43 am

      Hello Tammy,

      Thanks for writing. As we’re not veterinarians here in customer support, we can’t offer you medical advice. But we can definitely say that you should get Dr. Dressler’s book. It’s a must-read for you! Chapter 37 of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide is dedicated to soft tissue sarcoma, and written by Dr. Ettinger, a veterinary oncologist.

      Making a decision on which treatments to undergo can be one of the hardest things that you have to do as your dog’s guardian. You know your boy the best, and will be able to decide what treatment options YOU think would be best for him. Is he mentally, and physically, able to undergo surgery, radiation or chemotherapy? Are you willing to handle the side-effects that occur now, as well as in the future? How important is life-quality to you? Those are just some of the things that you will have to take into consideration when making your decision, and for each dog guardian, the answer will be different because each dog, and their situation is unique.

      In addition to what you find in the book, here are some articles that you may find helpful in making a decision for your boy:

      In this article, Dr. D provides a list of Supplements for Dog’s with Cancer in Order of Importance. With help from your veterinarian, you may be able to implement some of these into your dog’s current treatment plan.

      As Dr. D writes in the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, there are many things that you can do to help your dog with cancer, such as conventional treatments (chemo, surgery, or radiation), diet, nutraceuticals, mind-body strategies and immune system boosters and anti-metastatics.

      Please consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your boy’s treatment plan, and ask if you may be able to implement some of these into your dog’s current treatment plan 🙂

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