How to Tell if My Senior Dog is in Pain

Posted by Dr. Roth on

How to tell if my senior dog is in pain

Age-related health conditions are generally the first significant indicator a dog has reached their senior years. Issues like arthritis, tooth decay, and others often appear around the age of seven, and they can cause a dog a lot of pain. 

The problem is that dogs are good at hiding their discomfort. They may, however, give subtle indications that something’s wrong. 


How to Tell If My Senior Dog Is in Pain

Where most humans vocalize their pain, dogs tend to hide theirs. It may be an instinct ingrained from wild ancestors, who masked their discomfort to avoid showing weakness. While it serves a survival purpose, this trait makes it difficult for a pet parent to know if their senior dog is hurting. Fortunately, some close observation can uncover the truth. 

Alterations in Normal Daily Habits

A senior dog in pain may stop doing many of the activities they enjoyed. They might have trouble getting on and off the sofa or be reluctant to go for car rides anymore. Some senior dogs withdraw from typical family interactions or become less engaged in their surroundings. 

Decreased Activity Levels

Pain can make it harder for a dog to move around. They may no longer run around outside like they used to or chase their favorite ball. Going for walks may take longer because they move more slowly. 

Some dogs become lethargic and sleep more than usual when in pain. Others might find it hard to get comfortable, so they get up, move, and lie down several times.  

Changes in Appetite

Dental disease can cause oral pain, which can make eating harder. A senior dog might pick at their food or refuse to eat. 

Limping or Lameness

If a dog is experiencing joint pain, they may limp or hobble to avoid putting too much pressure where it hurts. They may adopt an unusual posture to keep as much weight as possible off their hip or knee. Likewise, they may sit — or even lie — down as soon as they stop moving. 


Pain can trigger behavioral changes in even the friendliest dogs. A dog who has never or rarely growled or snapped at anyone may become aggressive seemingly out of nowhere. They might bare their teeth when touched or if someone gets too close. Or, they may suddenly lash out when brushed or otherwise handled. 

Excessive Licking

A dog’s natural response to an injury is to lick it, even if it’s internal. Obsessively licking a seemingly unharmed area of the body is a good indication that there’s a problem.


Some dogs vocalize their pain. They might grunt or groan when getting up or laying down. Or they may whine or whimper when trying to get comfortable or when the affected area is touched. 


Address Signs of Pain and Improve a Senior Dog's Quality of Life

No pet parent wants to see their senior dog in pain. While the dog might not show it outright, they may offer subtle hints that they aren’t feeling well. Noticing and addressing these symptoms immediately allows a pet parent to provide their dog with what is needed to maintain a good quality of life as they age. For further questions about senior dog health, Fuzzy members can connect with licensed vets and behaviorists 24/7 with online vet chat.

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