Assessing Postoperative Pain

Set a standard for canine pain assessment

Dogs often experience pain after surgery, but don’t always get the treatment they need.

Dogs may hide their pain

It’s helpful to use an assessment tool when implementing a pain management protocol. Below is an example of a scale you could use to help guide your patient assessment.1

Canine Acute Pain Scale1


Not bothered by touch to wound or surgical site

Interested in surroundings

Content and comfortable


May whimper when wound is touched

Content to slightly unsettled

Easily distracted


May whimper or cry; might lick or rub surgical site when unattended

Not eager to interact with people or surroundings

May appear worried (droopy ears, arched eyebrows, darting eyes)

Reluctant to respond when called

Appears uncomfortable when resting


May bite or chew at surgical site

May be unwilling to move

May growl, cry or threaten to bite

Restless, crying, groaning

Reacts aggressively to any touch; pulls away


May bite or chew at surgical site, but unlikely to move

May react aggressively to touch to surgical site

Constant groaning or screaming

May cry at non-painful touch

Difficult to distract from pain

Adapted from reference
*Reassess analgesic plan

Help dog owners recognize the signs of postsurgical pain

Let your clients know the signs of pain they should watch for once they get home. Advise them to contact you if they answer yes to any of the following questions.

  • Does your dog whimper, growl, cry or moan when left alone, petted or moved?
  • Does the surgical incision look red or inflamed?
  • Is your dog protecting, licking or biting the surgical site?
  • Does your dog seem unwilling to move?
  • Is your dog less interested in playing?
  • Is your dog eating less than usual?