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How Do I Know if My Dog is in Pain from Cancer?

Dogs can hide discomfort exceptionally well, so if your dog has been diagnosed with cancer, it will be critical to have pain quickly detected and treated. Here, our specialist vets in Thousand Oaks discuss how to tell if a dog is in pain from cancer and how symptoms can be treated. 

Cancer in Dogs

Any part of your dog's body can be impacted by cancer, which can cause unnecessary discomfort. You may not realize there is an issue. That's why it's important for pet parents to be on alert for any signs of pain in their dog with cancer. 

Types of Cancer Pain

Since dogs do not have the ability to speak, detecting whether cancer pain is affecting your dog can be challenging. Further, understanding the nature of the pain (intermittent, acute or chronic) and the level of pain (dull to severe) can make understanding how your dog might be feeling even more difficult. 

The fact that onset of pain in dogs with cancer can happen and escalate gradually over a long period of time can compound issues. In some cases, cancer treatment, rather than cancer itself, can cause pain or discomfort.  So, how do you know if your dog is in pain from cancer? We'll explore some ways to tell in this post. 

How to Tell if Your Dog is in Pain from Cancer

Changes in your dog's behavior can indicate pain regardless of their diagnosis. Some common signs of cancer pain in dogs include:

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Heavy panting
  • Limping
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Excessive grooming
  • Increased vocalization 
  • Skittishness or aggression 

Since many dog cancers occur later in life, you are likely already familiar with your dog's normal behavior. Monitoring your dog's demeanor and mood can give you early clues that it may be time to consult your vet. 

Treating Cancer Pain in Dogs

Because there are so many variables regarding the type of pain your dog may be experiencing and why, there are a host of pain relief medications and strategies that your vet may recommend to help improve your pet's quality of life. Below are a few common approaches to managing pain in dogs with cancer. It is also important to note that your vet may recommend a combination of drugs or treatments to address your dog's pain.

Hot & Cold Therapy

Hot and cold therapy involving the application of ice packs to painful areas can be particularly helpful in reducing inflammation. Speak to your vet about whether is an appropriate approach for your pup.


Acupuncture can offer relief to dogs with cancer that are suffering from mild to moderate pain. If you are interested in acupuncture as a way to relieve your pet's pain, be sure to consult a qualified veterinary acupuncturist.

Topical Medications

Topical ointments containing lidocaine, benzocaine, cortisone, or dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) may help to relieve different types of localized pain. Be sure to speak to your vet before applying any topical medications to your dog. Many human medications (even topical medications) can be toxic to pets.

Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

There are a number of effective anti-inflammatory drugs which your vet may prescribe to help relieve your pup's mild to moderate cancer pain, including Metacam, Previcox, Deramaxx, and Rimadyl. These medications can impact the liver and kidneys so periodic blood tests will be required to monitor your pet's liver and kidney function while using these medications


Tramadol is a common narcotic prescribed to help manage mild to moderate cancer pain in dogs. This medication is well-tolerated by most dogs and can be used at high doses to treat more severe pain, or combined with NSAIDs.

Neurotransmitter Modifiers

When used alone, neurotransmitter modifiers can be useful in treating chronic low-grade cancer pain in dogs. When used in combination with other pain medications neurotransmitter modifiers can help to relax dogs suffering from cancer. Some of the most common drugs in this category include gabapentin, amantadine, and amitriptyline.

Veterinary Oncology at VSEC in Thousand Oaks

At VSEC, we use advanced diagnostics and treatments to provide the best possible oncological care to pets with cancer. If your pet has been diagnosed with cancer, ask your primary care veterinarian for a referral to see a veterinary oncologist.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Our veterinary specialists provide advanced care for sick animals referred to us by their primary care vet. Contact VSEC for more information about specialized veterinary services if your dog has been diagnosed with cancer.

New Patients Welcome

VSEC Thousand Oaks is accepting new patients! Our board-certified specialists and experienced emergency veterinarians are passionate about restoring good health to animal companions.

Contact (805) 492-2436