Wondering how to comfort a dog in pain? Help is here. Integrative veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby explains how to recognize the signs of pain and shares nine great ways to provide comfort and reassurance to a painful dog.
Dr. Buzby’s Innovations only endorses products we use and recommend. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission.
Before learning how to comfort a painful dog, we need to talk about how to recognize your dog is in pain. Sometimes it is pretty obvious. But other times, not so much.
How do you know your dog is in pain?
The symptoms that your dog shows can vary with the type of disease that is causing your dog to be painful. If your dog is experiencing acute pain that has come on suddenly, the signs may be more noticeable than if your dog is experiencing chronic pain from an ongoing condition.
Dogs who are suffering from an acute injury (such as a dog who ripped a nail off) might have more dramatic symptoms—suddenly crying out, holding the foot up, or whimpering. However, a dog with a chronic, long-lasting disease, osteoarthritis in dogs, for example, may only have subtle symptoms like sleeping more or not eating as much.
Signs of pain in dogs
Depending on what part of your dog’s body hurts, the exact symptoms may be different. But some of the common signs of pain in dogs include:
- Decreased energy, sleeping more, and being a lethargic dog
- No longer being interested in favorite activities (such as playing, hiking, or swimming)
- Hiding or not wanting to socialize
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased water intake
- Changes in urination—not urinating or urinating more than normal
- Changes in bowel movements—diarrhea, blood in the stool, or lack of bowel movements (If you are concerned your dog isn’t defecating often enough, check out my blog post, How Long Can A Dog Go Without Pooping?)
- Panting or a dog who is breathing fast or having difficulty breathing
- Being uncomfortable when lying down or trying to stand up
- Restlessness (including senior dog anxiety at night)
- Tense or painful abdomen
- The dog limping, the dog’s back legs collapsing, or the dog being unable to stand or walk normally
- Excessive licking or biting of an area
- Excessive scratching or shaking of the head
- Crying out, yelping, or whimpering
What should I do if I think my dog is in pain?
If you are noticing some of these symptoms, the first thing you should do is make an appointment with your vet. With the more subtle signs, it is usually okay to make a “regular” appointment. But if your dog seems to be in extreme pain, can’t get up, is having trouble breathing or profusely vomiting, or has other more urgent symptoms, you may need to take your dog in for an emergency vet visit.
9 ways to comfort a dog in pain
Once you have reached out to your vet, you may want to consider trying out some of these nine ways to comfort a dog in pain. They aren’t a substitute for appropriate veterinary care. But they can definitely help reassure and comfort your dog.
#1: Provide love and companionship
If you have ever been sick or hurt, you might know that one of the best remedies is having someone take care of you and comfort you. Well, the same is true for our dogs.
Regardless of what type of painful problem your dog is experiencing, providing love is an excellent way to comfort and help your dog. These “snuggles” can show your dog that you are present. And they can help reduce stress because your dog sees you will take care of him or her.
During difficult days, all your dog wants is to be with you—his or her best friend. The simple act of spending time sitting or snuggling can help your dog feel more relaxed and less painful. Plus, it helps strengthen your bond.
#2: Give your dog a comfy bed
In addition to spending time together, providing a comfortable place for your dog to lie down or sleep is also very important. Whether your dog is sick, healing from surgery, or is painful for a different reason, relaxation and sleep are necessary for healing. Creating a safe and comfortable space for your dog is a great way to help comfort him or her.
Some dogs will prefer to use a big, squishy bed—especially if they are suffering from joint pain or a broken bone. In these cases, an orthopedic dog bed can help cushion their joints and relieve pressure so they can rest more comfortably. A thick bed can also help prevent pressure sores on dogs who spend a lot of time lying down.
Other dogs may prefer to lie on cooler surfaces like a cooling mat. This may be the case for dogs who tend to run on the warm side or have trouble staying cool due to a medical condition. Plus, cooling mats can be soothing to dogs who have itchy skin.
Finally, some dogs may be used to sleeping on your bed or the couch. And they prefer that location because it is familiar and near you. That is fine too! Wherever your dog is happiest and most comfortable is the right place for him or her to be when in pain.
#3: Use a mobility harness
Some dogs may have no problem finding a place to lie down and get comfortable. But they start to struggle and experience pain when it comes time to get up. This may be especially true for senior dogs, dogs with arthritis, or dogs recovering from surgery.
If your dog is weak, painful, or struggling to get up after lying down, the Help ‘Em Up® Mobility Harness might be a great solution. I love this particular product because it supports your dog’s whole body, not just the back end. Plus, it is made to be worn all day. This means you don’t have to take it on and off every time you want to help your dog stand or walk—just at night to give your dog a break.
Using the handle at the top, you can lift your dog to a standing position or help him or her move from place to place. I joke that it turns your dog into a suitcase, but it helps people picture what it does!
The other mobility harness I really like is the GingerLead® Support and Rehabilitation Harness. It is great for dogs who are recovering from knee surgery or just need a bit of extra support for their back end. But it isn’t going to provide the same level of support as the Help ‘Em Up harness.
These sorts of mobility aids also help comfort dogs in pain by removing some of the pressure on their bones and joints when standing or walking. And they can decrease the risk of further injury and pain due to the dog struggling to get up.
#4: Apply Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips® dog nail grips
Harnesses are a great way to help dogs stand up and walk. But they aren’t always an effective method long-term, and they don’t provide added traction, just added support. If your dog is able to walk on carpet or grass but struggles to stand or walk on smooth, hard surfaces (like tile or wood flooring), Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips® dog nail grips can be a great way to comfort your painful dog.
ToeGrips provide additional traction to supplement a dog’s natural mechanism of using their toenails for walking, balancing, and gripping the ground. This makes ToeGrips a great way to comfort painful dogs who need traction on smooth floors.
ToeGrips make it easier for the dog to walk on smooth or slick flooring without falling, losing their balance, or further injuring a muscle or joint. And, as a result of the added traction, the dog can also walk with more confidence. This provides psychological comfort, especially for dogs who are afraid of hardwood floors.
ToeGrips can help dogs who are diagnosed with:
- Hip dysplasia in dogs
- Luxating patella in dogs
- Torn ACL in dogs
- Hind end weakness
- Iliopsoas injury in dogs (injury to the muscle and tendon that brings the hind leg forward)
- Spinal stroke in dogs
- Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD in dogs)
- Conditions requiring surgery (e.g. dog hip replacement, dog leg amputation, etc.)
#5: Work with a veterinarian who specializes in rehabilitation
Just like us, dogs who are experiencing ongoing pain or have suffered an injury can benefit from physical therapy. This may involve one or more of the following:
- Exercises to help your dog build muscle and improve strength, mobility, and balance
- Hydrotherapy using an underwater treadmill for dogs
- Laser therapy for dogs
- Acupuncture for dogs
- PRP for dogs
- PEMF for dogs
- Dog chiropractic care
Many of the options on this list provide great pain management. Some of them, like PEMF and rehab exercises (under the direction of your rehab vet), can be done at home to provide comfort for a painful dog. Your veterinarian or rehab specialist can help you decide what is right for your dog’s situation.
#6: Give your dog a daily joint supplement
In addition to rehab, dogs with orthopedic issues can also greatly benefit from joint supplements for dogs. These products can help decrease pain and support joint health.
There are many joint supplements on the market that I like and believe are beneficial when a dog is hurting. Some of my favorite ones contain:
- Omega-3 fatty acids for dogs (fish oil)
- Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
But my favorite joint supplement of all is Dr. Buzby’s Encore Mobility™ hip and joint supplement. Encore Mobility contains New Zealand deer antler velvet for dogs and green lipped mussel for dogs. Together, these powerful ingredients provide fatty acids, anti-oxidants, glucosamine, chondroitin, collagen, peptides, and growth factors.
All of these components make Encore Mobility a superstar supplement. Not only does it provide joint pain relief, but it can also renew vigor, vitality, and stamina.
#7: Administer veterinarian-prescribed pain medications
While I love joint supplements and natural pain relief for dogs, it is also important to talk about pain medications.
With all the medication options and considerations, it is important to follow your vet’s instructions regarding pain medications. Do not give your dog human pain medications. And don’t give him or her leftover pain medications from a past problem or those intended for another pet. Instead, contact your vet for guidance if you suspect your dog is in pain.
Dogs who are very painful or experiencing non-joint-related pain may need pain relievers to adequately control their pain. Some of the most common include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Carprofen for dogs
- Tramadol for dogs
- Gabapentin for dogs
- Amantadine for dogs
And this isn’t even all of them. There are many different options for pain medications. And then there are also medications like methocarbamol for dogs (Robaxin®), which doesn’t directly relieve pain but does reduce painful muscle spasms.
It is good news that there are so many options because it means your vet should be able to find a pain medication that works well for your dog. Exactly which medication (or medications) will depend on:
- The condition your dog has (for example, pancreatitis and a sliding kneecap may require different pain control approaches)
- Your dog’s concurrent medical conditions (Liver disease in dogs and kidney failure in dogs may make it hard for your dog to break down some medications.)
- If your dog experienced severe side effects from a certain pain medication in the past
- Your dog’s pain level, type of pain (i.e. acute or chronic), and source of pain
#8: Work closely with your veterinarian
As you have probably gathered from the section on pain medication, appropriately treating a painful condition can go far in comforting a dog in pain. So if your dog has recently started showing signs of pain, or has a chronic condition that is causing increased pain levels, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your vet.
During the appointment, the vet will ask about the symptoms and changes you have noticed at home. And he or she will perform a thorough physical exam. Based on that information, your vet may recommend a series of diagnostic tests including bloodwork, X-rays, or an ultrasound.
Once your vet reaches a diagnosis, he or she will work with you to create a treatment plan. It is important that you listen carefully to the plan and provide feedback about whether it is doable. Then, once you agree on a plan, try to stick to it as much as possible, especially when it comes to pain medications.
#9: Be your dog’s advocate
Once you bring your dog home from the veterinary clinic, it is your responsibility to follow the treatment plan and monitor your dog’s condition. You know your dog better than anyone else, which makes you the perfect person to advocate for your dog. If your dog is not improving or appears to be getting worse, please let your veterinarian know. That way your vet can recheck your dog and modify the plan accordingly.
A weekly health scan can help you advocate for your dog
As part of being your dog’s advocate, it is also important to regularly assess your dog. By knowing what is normal for your dog, it will be easier for you to recognize signs of pain or other issues. The best way to do this is to perform regular “exams” at home.
In a nutshell, this involves petting your dog all over and checking him or her for any changes. While there are a variety of ways you can do this, the most important thing is to be thorough and do your exam the same way each time so you don’t miss anything. (To learn the specifics of how to do a 5-minute dog wellness scan, check out my 10 Touches: Tip to Tail Health Scan™ online course.)
Always pay attention to how your dog is feeling and acting during your “exam.” A painful dog or one who is uncomfortable with you handling a part of the body (like the feet) might snap or bite as a defense mechanism. Please use your best judgment and don’t do anything unsafe just for the sake of performing the whole exam.
If you do notice anything abnormal, reach out to your vet for guidance. That way you and your vet can start addressing the problem while it is small (and hopefully less painful).
Your dog wants to say “thank you”
If your dog could talk or type, he or she would probably want to say “thank you” for reading this article. It shows that you care about your dog and want to do everything you can to help him or her. I know it is hard to see your beloved pup in pain. But remember that you are doing the things you can to comfort your dog, and that matters a lot.
Even if it doesn’t always feel like it at the moment, by working closely with your vet and implementing some of the things you learned in this article, you are doing a good job caring for and advocating for your dog. And your dog appreciates it greatly.
How do you comfort your dog when he or she is in pain?
Please share your tips and ideas below.