Ask Dr. Chris

Where Is My Dog’s Pain Coming From?

Does your dog ever cry out in pain and you don’t know why?

As an emergency vet, this presenting complaint is pretty common and often times, clients are baffled as to why this is occurring. It can be very distressing to puppy parents to hear their dogs acting this way so I thought I would review this problem so you can help your painful pet.

Let me tell you a story…

About 6 weeks ago, Carter Howard, an 11 year old cookie crumb of a pug, began showing signs of pain. He was yelping when he was picked up, he would randomly cry or yelp, sometimes when he was moving and other times when he was just laying still.

His little curly tail wasn’t nearly as active as it had been.

If you had to guess where Carter’s pain is coming from, what would you say?

When examined, Carter was found to have pain in his mid spine area and possibly his neck.  This is the most common cause of sudden pain in dogs.  In most cases, there is probably some chronic pain that they don’t really tell us about or complain about but when they have sudden, sharp pain, they cry out. This happens due to impingement of nerves or the spinal cord.

Occasionally other causes such as gall bladder disease or intestinal problems can cause this but this is uncommon.

Carter had x rays and blood tests and was given medication and rest for his problem.  He was doing ok but hadn’t gotten back to his normal self.  Carter then began to show a more serious change. He was more painful and he knuckling over on his right front leg.  This indicated pressure on the spinal cord in his neck.

An MRI was performed and one of his intervertebral disks was ruptured and was putting a large amount of pressure on the spinal cord.  Surgery was performed to remove the ruptured disk and relieve the pressure. Carter recovered great, was walking the next day and now 2 weeks later, and is almost back to his normal self.

If this condition had been allowed to progress, he could have become permanently disabled.

Previous to this episode, Carter had intermittent pain symptoms and he was treated with anti inflammatory medication, joint supplements, laser therapy and rest.  These treatments helped make him feel better but didn’t erase or cure the underlying problem.

There are some dogs that can be managed conservatively without surgery. In these cases, it is important to avoid trauma to the back or neck.  This can include using ramps or stairs to get on and off beds, reducing the amount of jumping and using joint supplements.

Most dogs with back trouble will get better with time and pain management (including physical therapy) but there are some dogs that will need surgery to recover the ability to walk.  When there is too much pressure on the spinal cord, permanent damage can occur. IF your dog ever is dragging its legs or having difficulty getting up, she should be seen by a vet right away.

If your dog ever cries out in pain for no apparent reason, it is most likely due to back or neck pain. The keys to healing are time, rest and if necessary, surgery.



  1. Heidi

    Jan 1, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    Not to scare anyone but when we got our puppy 6 years ago she was always sensitive and yelped when we touched her head/neck ever so lightly but it was really random. She also was sensitive to being picked up under her front legs. This past year she developed tonsil cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) and she passed away. I often wonder, and found this site while looking for answers. Did her early sensitivity predisposition her to getting cancer? I know when I buy a new puppy, I am going to make sure I pick the one that isn’t overly sensitive and doesn’t yelp out when touched for no reason. I am curious as to anyone else who has had a similar experience with their sensitive dog getting cancer. She was far too young to die, the oncologist said she probably had a weak immune system and the cancer started.

  2. Beth

    Aug 2, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    Would this be true for a 4 week old puppy?

  3. destiny

    Jun 30, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Also my nana’s dog sounds just like the story above about Carter Howard. Except my nana’s dog is only 3 months old

  4. destiny

    Jun 30, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    My nana’s dog is just dragging her back right leg around. She doesn’t cry or yelp, all she does is grunt. Then a couple of days ago he couldn’t even bend down her neck to eat her food. Will someone tell me what I should do to help out my nana’s dog.

  5. kb

    May 3, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    My dog would cry almost every night, come to find out it was bladder stones.

    • Starlie

      Aug 11, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      My dog is doing that now too! She will Yelp or cry almost all night and it came on all of a sudden? Took her to the vet, they couldn’t find anything… They just looked over her and sent us home.. What were the symptoms?

      • Kelly

        Aug 22, 2016 at 7:27 am

        My doggy started doing the same thing yesterday! Any update on your baby?

  6. Garry

    Apr 10, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    In Muslims’ creed, when every dog yelps with no reason it means that the dog is seeing ghost 🙂

  7. sandra sevcech

    Oct 27, 2015 at 12:58 am

    my dog will be three in March yesterday I noticed she did not want to jump on furniture, today when I came home I noticed she did not want me to touch her back legs andher tummy is really tight, what do you think is going on, I love this dog so much I helped her up on the bed to sleep but when I even touch her back side or her tummy hear her back legs she yelps and tries to snap at me, I don’t have a lot of money to spare but I don’t want to lose my little cookie

    • shawn

      May 10, 2016 at 10:38 am

      this is exactly what my dog is doing. what was your dogs outcome?

  8. Vivek Dahal

    Oct 23, 2015 at 9:14 am

    Could you please suggest some medication for my dog? He is in lot of pain….. Its been around one month since he had some trouble … His front right and back right leg was not working properly so he used to drag those legs and used to cry a lot …. After some time he was recovering but today he fell from the stairs … He was fine for 1 hr or more but now he could not stand properly …. And most of all he is crying a lot …. I don’t know who to call what to do … It’s almost 8 pm evening here…. I am so stressed out … 🙁

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