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How To Comfort A Dog In Pain: A Complete Guide To Easing Suffering In Canines - PawSafe

How To Comfort A Dog In Pain: A Complete Guide To Easing Suffering In Canines

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

How To Comfort A Dog In Pain A Complete Guide To Easing Suffering In Canines

Just like humans, dogs will experience pain from injury, illness, or aging sooner or later, so knowing how to comfort a dog in pain is essential. Of course, whenever we have a suffering dog, the emphasis is on making them comfortable and providing safe but essential dog pain relief. This means a cozy dog bed for them to lay on and canine joint supplements for older dogs with arthritis. 

Seeing our dogs in pain is upsetting, and it can leave many of us emotionally distraught. So let’s look at what you need to know about helping your dog with pain, whether from surgery, chronic pain from arthritis, or the worst-case scenario when a dog is dying. We will also look at how to identify different pain symptoms, manage pain, and way to relieve pain in dogs to care for your pet.

If you are helping an older dog in distress, be sure to read our articles on dogs knowing when they are dying and dealing with weight loss in older dogs.

Pain can either be acute (like when a dog is injured or has a condition like pancreatitis) or chronic (like when dogs have arthritis). Identifying pain in our dogs and the cause is paramount. After that, we need to take multiple steps to really help comfort our dogs.

Here are the general guidelines for comforting a dog when they have pain.

1. Observe the Dog’s Behavior

Observe the dog's behavior

The first step in comforting a dog is recognizing their suffering. Pain is not always apparent to the eye. Furthermore, dogs cannot communicate their pain as humans do, but they exhibit signs indicating discomfort. These signs may include:

  • Whining; 
  • Whimpering; 
  • Limping;
  • Restlessness; 
  • Excessive panting;
  • Decreased appetite: 
  • Lethargy; or 
  • Avoidance of physical contact. 

Dogs with chronic pain, such as from arthritis or another condition, may not display obvious signs. In these dogs, you may see:

  • Stiffness;
  • Difficulty lying down or reluctance to get up;
  • No longer as interested in favorite activities;
  • No longer as active; or
  • Struggling to navigate stairs or get on the furniture.

Signs of acute pain because of something like a bee sting can differ from pain from a medical condition like pancreatitis and a sliding kneecap. So while some symptoms of pain in dogs, such as excessive panting and restlessness are common, you may need to look for other behaviors if the immediate cause of the pain is not apparent. 

Of course, if your dog got hurt in front of you, you probably already know what is causing their pain. But since they can’t talk, we are often faced with the problem of a dog showing signs of pain, but it isn’t clear what the issue is. So here is a quick guide to some common clues of pain for specific disorders:

Pain indicatorUsual source of pain
Head shakingEar infection
“Prayer position” (Rear end up, lower body down)Pancreatitis
Pawing at face or rubbing face on carpetTypically an eye irritation, toothache, or nasal issue
Straining or crying when urinatingUrinary tract infections or kidney stones
Swollen abdomen (also painful)Bloat
Stiff, hunched positionBack pain

Checking Your Dog for Pain:

  • Check your dog for any signs of injury or trauma. Look for any visible wounds, limping, or abnormal behavior.
  • Identify the location of the pain in the dog’s body. Are they crying or whining when they move a certain way or when you touch a particular area of their body? Is there any sign of blood or discharge, including in their poop? 
  • Feel for heat, swelling, or tender spots on their body.

If you suspect that your dog has pain, it’s time to see the vet.

2. Consult Your Veterinarian About Treatment and Give Safe Pain Medication

Before taking any steps to help your dog at home, make sure to consult with your vet about treating your dog’s pain effectively. Of course, you need your vet to deal with any immediate issues, like a broken bone or an ear infection. But you also need your vet to assess your dog’s pain and devise the best treatment for your dog.  If you’re wondering “what can I give my for pain,” remember that dog pain medications differ from human ones.

It can be tempting to reach for human medications to alleviate a dog’s pain at home, but you need first to check that those medications are:

  • Suitable for dogs (many human medications are potentially toxic to canines;
  • Given in the correct dosage for your dog’s size; and
  • Are not contraindicated for any conditions your dog may have, such as liver or kidney problems.

If your vet prescribes medication, follow the dosage instructions and give the medication on time as prescribed. Some medicines may cause drowsiness or nausea, so monitor your dog’s behavior for adverse reactions.

Types of Pain Relief Medication Specifically for Dogs That Your Vet May Give a Dog Include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat inflammatory pain that is safe for dogs;
  • Tramadol;
  • Steroids; and
  • Pentosan polysulfate.

If you are at home and your dog is in pain, you may be rummaging through your medicine cabinet for human OTC pain relievers. But many human pain medications can be fatal to dogs, so be sure to read our FAQs section at the end of this article before reaching into your medicine cabinet to help your dog with their pain.

3. Provide a Comfortable Environment

Provide a comfortable environment

Once you have identified that your dog is in pain and you have seen a vet for the right medication, provide them with a comfortable environment. This may involve creating a quiet, warm space, providing a cozy bed, and minimizing noise or disruptions. Don’t let children or other animals pester your dog.

If your dog has just had surgery, they may soon want to return to old activities before properly healing. So you will need to keep them distracted with toys like snuffle mats and control their environment by crating them or keeping them in small enclosures while they heal. You may also need to keep an Elizabethan collar, bandages, or other devices to keep your dog from scratching or biting at any wounds.

4. Be Present With Your Dog as Much as Possible

One of the best ways to ease pain in dogs is to be with them as much as possible. Dogs get oxytocin (the love hormone) from being near us. Our presence also lowers the cortisol or stress hormone in their bodies. So when we are near our dogs (and we are calm), we significantly reduce any suffering. 

So, spend time with your dog, offer praise and positive reinforcement, and give them gentle pats or cuddles. Dogs are social animals, and they thrive on human companionship. Your love and attention can provide a sense of comfort and security for your furry friend.

5. Use Nutraceuticals for Chronic Dog Pain

Some nutraceutical supplements have natural anti-inflammatory properties that can help ease chronic joint pain in dogs. Good supplements that help with chronic inflammation include:

  • Elk velvet antler;
  • Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate;
  • Green-lipped mussel extract; and
  • Omega-3 fatty acids from fresh fish and krill oil.

6. Use Heat or Cold Therapy

Heat or cold therapy can help alleviate your dog’s pain. You can use a hot water bottle or a heating pad on a low setting to provide warmth, which can help soothe aching muscles or joints. On the other hand, a cold compress can help reduce inflammation or swelling. Wrap the hot or cold therapy device in a towel to prevent burns or frostbite.

7. Massage or Gentle Touch

Massaging your dog’s muscles or gently rubbing their ears or head can provide comfort and relaxation. This can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can exacerbate pain. However, be careful not to touch any areas that are sensitive or painful.

8. Engage in Quiet Activities 

Dogs in pain may not have the energy or physical ability to engage in high-energy activities. Instead, opt for quiet activities such as puzzles or simple obedience training that do not require a lot of physical exertion. Hydrotherapy is also linked to decreased pain in dogs, so this may be a good gentle, therapeutic exercise while your dog recovers from an injury or if they have a degenerative disease. These activities can help distract your dog from their pain and provide mental stimulation.

9. Help Overweight Dogs Lose Weight

Dogs with chronic pain from arthritis tend to move less and often become overweight; sadly, this puts more stress on their already painful joints. A healthy diet and keeping your dog slim can significantly reduce the pain in dogs with joint issues.

10. Passive Stretching and Range of Motion Exercises

When dogs with osteoarthritis move less and try to protect their sore points, it can cause their soft tissues to shorten, as well as fibrosis. So gentle passive stretching can:

  • Help stiff, tense muscles and soft tissue elongate and relax
  • Improve a dog’s range of motion
  • Help the body produce more synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints.

Here is a video to help you stretch your dog:

You can also take your dog to physiotherapy for professional help dealing with pain.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I give my dog paracetamol?

Dogs can have paracetamol in small doses (speak to your vet first), but it can be toxic in large doses. As a side note, it is very toxic to cats, so don’t give it to your feline friends. Dogs can have up to 33 mg of paracetamol for every kg (or 2 pounds) of body weight thrice daily

Can I give my dog Ibuprofen or Tylenol for pain?

Do not give your dog Ibuprofen or Tylenol for pain relief. According to the ASPCA, both of these human painkillers are on the list of the top 10 causes of canine poisoning. Ibuprofen is toxic to dogs in comparatively low doses. Even though this is an NSAID, it can cause severe stomach ulcers and kidney failure in dogs. Meanwhile, Tylenol (Acetaminophen ) damages red blood cells and the liver.

Can I give my dog aspirin?

Technically dogs can have aspirin, but again it’s best to speak to your vet first about the correct dosage and how long it is safe to use. An adult human’s dose of aspirin is potentially fatal to an 11-pound dog (5 kg) dog. But human aspirin also often has a coating that dogs can’t digest, illustrating again why you need to speak to your vet before giving your dog any human pain medication.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, seeing your dog in pain can be distressing, but there are ways to provide comfort and alleviate their suffering. By observing their behavior, providing a comfortable environment, offering pain relief medication, using heat or cold therapy, massaging or gentle touch, engaging in quiet activities, and showing love and affection, you can help your furry friend feel better and recover faster. Remember to always consult with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your dog’s pain management.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.