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. Pingback: How to Know What Your Dog is Saying - The Body Language Guide

  2. Britney Hicks

    Jun 30, 2018 at 10:27 pm

    I have a dog that has been yelping for a few days every time he is picked up. I’ve rubbed his whole body to see where the pain is coming from, but he doesn’t seem bothered by it. He does have a red tooth and isn’t eating much, could that be the cause of his pain???

    • maddie

      May 29, 2019 at 11:00 am

      this is such a heart warming story!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Malick

    Feb 9, 2018 at 12:19 am

    Maybe this is not something exactly you are looking for but this is something that we always overlook. If your dog is suffering from injuries especially neck ones then you need to check it out.
    probably when we are sick we also suffer from weakness and deficiency in vitamins that keep us strong, so we might also get damage to our bones, might be same with dogs, so in case they are recovering I guess this can help make sure they don’t get any more injury especially the neck one because that is one soft part

  4. Mark Yates

    Jul 9, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Well I certainly can't afford surgery but would be willing to take on the debt in my name and pay down on it overtime. My dog has recently started the yelping for no apparent reason and it seems to be when any pressure is applied when picking her up or anywhere on here body and it seems very random.

    I love her so much and if there's anything I can do to prevent it or help keep it from getting worse I am going to do so. I may end up calling the vet soon if it continues. I'm gonna check her for any spider bite marks or any sort of tenderness myself when I get home tonight.

    • Susan OConnor

      Sep 9, 2017 at 6:18 pm

      My pup was doing the same as yours, he ate something he could not digest properly. Feed her some whole wheat bread as it will grab onto what maybe giving her problems digesting or casteroil. Bread is better as it wont cause loose bowl movements the yeast in the bread will help it pass. But if this does not work the object is to big to pass and may need surgery. The random pain is coming from movements of object as it is trying to be passed. I could be wrong but this is what happened to my pup.

  5. Lupe

    Jun 23, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    My 9 yr old dog had very similar sysmptoms. He would limp. He would lift his front arm. And he would not want to jump or walk the stairs. He sometimes would not even get out of his cage and just lay and cry in pain. I took him and got an xray done. They said he may need surgery something about the spinal cord and joints rubbing together and that he has arthritis. They gave me medications for inflammatory and for his pain to see if it will help out since surgery was very expensive. It wasn't helping. So I decided to look for some supplements for the hip and joints on amazon. Found Doggie Dailies Advanced hip & joint supplements sift chews. He's been on them for a little over a month and I have seen a drastic change in him. I've been giving him the meds and the supplements. He jumps and runs now. He isn't afraid to go up and down the stairs. He made a recovery. You won't regret buyimg them.

  6. Celeste Mayer

    Jun 20, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Yes ! This sounds just like my dog's symptoms. It is intermittent. The Vet recommended an MRI. She gave me pain meds hoping this will calm things down until I can make up my mind on what to do. The MRI is very expensive. I just acquired this dog last year in PA at a rescue site. They said he was 5 yrs old and was a stray. I cannot get any prior history from the rescue site because he was brought up from a NC rescue. He is a cute little toy fox terrier. I am so bummed.

  7. 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.

  8. Beth

    Aug 2, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    Would this be true for a 4 week old puppy?

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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?

  12. 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 🙂

  13. 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?

  14. 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 … 🙁

  15. janice ayala

    Jul 9, 2015 at 6:00 am

    My dogs was diagnosed with kennel cough and she was given antibiotics and she had her anal glands cleaned out and now all of a sudden my dog yelps all the time outta the blue and after she stops she shakes so bad its so sad and her stomachs is very puffy and tight I can’t stand to see and hear her in pain

    • Maria

      May 1, 2018 at 3:02 pm

      Did u ever learn what was wrong with ur dog?

  16. Trina

    Dec 13, 2014 at 5:27 am

    Why is my dog selling when she moves are sometimes when I pick her up.she went to vet they founded nothing. She a three year old chihuahua.

  17. susan

    Nov 30, 2014 at 1:24 am

    My dog. Cj was in pain let him out side. One day and i heard him crying. We ran outside he was draging his back legs i was horrified. We took him to the vet this one was a joke didnt even diagnose. Said he would need surgery. Gave me another number to call. I called my brother not happy with that hospital/vet. Went to his vet they couldn’t. Diagnose they gave him. Shots steriods and antibiotics. 4 days straight i bought. Cj a pool a dog lifejacket it was for therapy because he couldnt walk he was paralyzed. After a little. Over a week he was walking now it. Been 4 years he has a hard time jumping on bed. And couch built a little step, but he yips when i pick him up

  18. Josefa

    Sep 3, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    At this time it appears like BlogEngine is the best blogging platform available right now.
    (from what I’veread) Is that what youu are using on yoiur

  19. mary

    Jun 11, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    my mini schnauzer was bitten by what the vet says another dog yesterday. He has punctures on the throat and top of his head also under his tail. Today he has bouts of squealing in pain, what can i do to help him. is there something i can give him, do i need to take him back to the vet?

  20. Jody

    Apr 10, 2014 at 12:10 am

    I second the comment about Rimadyl, as my Chihuahua nearly died because of it. He had torn his ACL and was on it for two weeks prior to surgery. He came home with orders to continue it and the Tramadol. He was a little out of it and lethargic when he first came home, but is attributed it to anesthesia recovery. Well, his appetite diminished even more, then he stopped going to the bathroom and started stumbling around. Pre-surgery, he had gotten very good at getting around on 3 legs, so I knew something was wrong. I took him to the regular vet 4 days post surgery and while she was concerned, we were sent home. The next evening, 5 days post surgery, we went to the ER where we found his liver values were through the roof and he was in imminent danger of liver failure. He’d been on the Rimadyl for three weeks at this point, which is about the average time that bad things start happening, often suddenly. Thankfully, after a week in the hospital, he recovered enough to come home, where he appears to be making a full recovery. I am so glad I followed my instincts on this one.

    Now, I know for some of you, Rimadyl is the wonder drug for your dog. For those of you considering it, approach it with extreme caution. Vets aren’t taking the time to fully explain the risks and consequences. I’m so glad I’m one of those stubborn people who reads the literature and tries to pay attention. It saved my dog’s life.

    • raquelia leone

      May 24, 2015 at 9:16 am

      I was just looking for some info on a schnauzer problem and saw your post about your dog and his ACL joint. My schnauzer had this also and all I did was to put one capsule of Glucosamine Chondroitin on her food, you pierce the capsule and squeeze it out onto her food and within a month she was better!
      Try this first. Good luck!

  21. Jeanette Matlock

    Apr 9, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    And never give a dog Rimadyl for pain. This drug has killed many dogs. Can cause liver failure & blood counts to drop to dangerous levels.

  22. DeannFGans

    Apr 9, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    my neighbor’s step-sister makes $73 an hour on the laptop . She has been without work for five months but last month her payment was $15623 just working on the laptop for a few hours. try this out …….
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  23. Debra Opp

    Feb 8, 2014 at 1:10 am

    Thank you very much for your information. It makes perfect sense what is going on with my dog. I kind of figured it was this, but your article made it more certain and now I can sleep better tonight. I will take her to the vet tomorrow..she is also a recovered paralyzed patient thanks to acupuncture so it all makes even more sense.

  24. Amzi

    Nov 16, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks for this article. The issues mentioned here sound very similar to what my dog is going through. He was given anti-inflammatory medication, and he returned to norma, after a while he felt in pain again, stabalized and now he’ seemed to be in even more pain.
    I’m worried that the treatment might require surgery. As a working college student I really can’t affor it.

    • dina harje

      May 16, 2014 at 3:46 am

      Amiz,theres animal insurance that might help with the $…

      • deebee412

        May 3, 2019 at 9:15 pm

        Insurance is the way to go…always enroll before your pup gets sick so there’s no pre-conditions..Healthy Paws is a good choice..

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