Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
If your dog loves cuddles, chances are you are picking him up often to snuggle together. But what if suddenly your dog starts crying whenever picked up?
A dog crying when picked up can mean lots of things—from fear and stress to pain and discomfort.
Determining the underlying reason on your own is hard, especially if the crying does not follow a particular pattern.
In such situations, it is normal to ask: Why does my dog cry when I pick him up?
In this article, veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec, a licensed veterinarian graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia, will cover the following:
- 11 different reasons dogs might cry when picked up
- The importance of seeing the vet and ruling underlying medical conditions
- Tips on what to do to solve the problem and stop your dog's crying
- When you should see the vet
- Video on how to correctly pick up a small dog or puppy and create positive associations
If your dog suddenly starts crying whenever you pick it up, you need to schedule a veterinary appointment.
If there is a medical reason, the vet will craft a treatment strategy. On the other hand, if dealing with a behavioral issue, you will be referred to a dog behavior specialist or a dog trainer.
Either way, the sooner you become proactive and get to the bottom of the problem, the sooner your dog will be back to its normal and non-crying self.
11 Causes of Dogs Crying When Being Picked Up
So, there are many reasons why dogs cry when picked up. Some are normal, and others red flags.
The red flags can stem from both physical (and usually painful) problems and emotional issues.
Here is a short review of the most common reasons dogs cry when picked up.
1. Personal Preferences
Every dog is different—while some like being picked up, others can hate the experience. Since dogs cannot talk, they are likely to exhibit their frustration through crying.
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This is normal and something you need to understand. Luckily, the solution is simple—if your dog does not like being picked up, just stop making it uncomfortable.
A dog that genuinely dislikes being picked up will cry every time you do that, regardless of the circumstances.
2. Wrong Holding Position
Maybe your dog likes being picked up, but you are doing it wrong. It may sound unusual, but there is a right way of picking dogs up, and it depends on their age and size.
It is a generally accepted rule that dogs must not be picked up by the legs or tail, and definitely not by the scruff (this is not cats we are talking about).
Talk to your vet if you are not sure how to pick up your dog. Here is a guide on how to pick up a small dog correctly and create positive associations.
3. Crying Out of Excitement
As noted, some dogs love being picked up and can even start crying out and whining out of excitement.
In general, smaller dogs are more likely to enjoy such actions as they prefer being carried around.
If you are not sure why your dog is crying, pay attention to his accompanying body language. A happy dog will wag its tail and have its ears carried low.
4. Unexpected Movements
Dogs are not always very brave, and sudden movements can take them by surprise (which often results in stress and crying).
For example, if your dog was chilling on the sofa and you suddenly picked it up, chances are it will cry due to fear.
Luckily, this is easily avoidable. All you need to do is interact with your dog before picking it up.
5. Fear of Heights
As unusual as it seems, many dogs are afraid of heights. Interestingly, large dog breeds are more likely to be scared of heights than smaller dogs.
In such cases, being held in the arms of the owners is a huge stress trigger.
The fear of heights is not something you can work on; you just need to accept your dog's feelings and avoid making it scared.
6. Traumatic Experiences
In case your dog is only picked up before traumatic events, chances are it associates the activity with a bad experience.
For example, if you pick up your dog before putting him in the bathtub and your dog hates water, the sole process of picking him up is likely to be perceived as traumatic for the dog.
7. Muscle Problems
Dogs often act hyper and are quite clumsy. As a result, they often sustain sprains and strains. These muscle aches are not life-threatening, but they are definitely painful and can result in crying when picked up.
Dogs with sprains and strains will also limp and avoid physical activity.
Rest and pain meds or anti-inflammatories will make things better in no time.
8. Arthritis and Painful Joints
Arthritis is a plausible scenario for dogs. In fact, almost all dogs will develop osteoarthritis at some point in their lives. A dog with arthritis or any other joint disease (hip or elbow dysplasia) will be in constant pain and discomfort.
Picking up will make the pain worse and result in crying. Sadly, arthritis cannot be reversed, but it can be managed with pain meds, joint supplements, and physical therapy.
9. Problems With the Spinal Cord
Spinal cord issues are serious problems and should not be taken lightly. A dog with spinal problems, such as a pinched nerve in the neck or back, is likely to be in pain, and picking the dog up makes things worse.
Spinal cord problems are prevalent among certain breeds, and you need to be extra careful when picking such dogs up.
10. Tummy Aches
Dogs have sensitive tummies and can get tummy aches due to dietary indiscretions and sudden food changes.
In both cases, the digestive upset will cause pain, and being picked up only accents the pain.
A dog with a tummy ache is likely to vomit, have diarrhea, and show a lack of appetite. Minor digestive upsets can be managed at home.
11. Lumps and Tumors
This is probably one of the scariest reasons on this list.
Sadly, lumps and tumors are not unusual in dogs. Dogs are prone to developing various types of cancer.
Sometimes the cancer lump is painful on its own, and other times, the pain may stem from the swollen lymph nodes around the tumor. Either way, urgent veterinary attention is warranted.
What to Do If Your Dog Cries When Picked Up
If your dog cries when picked up, you need to evaluate the overall situation before you take action.
First, you need to assess the circumstances under which the picking up and crying occur and see if there is a pattern. For example, consider the following:
- Whether the problem is present at specific times
- Does your dog cry every time you pick it up or occasionally?
- Is the intensity of crying always the same?
Once you have considered these factors, it is time for some experiments—picking your dog more carefully and approaching him before picking it up. These tips will work if your dog is held in the wrong position or crying out of fear.
However, if the crying persists despite all efforts (even if holding the dog correctly and announcing the picking part), you need to take the problem to the next level and seek veterinary help.
When Do I Need to See the Vet?
As explained, seeing the vet is the logical step if the dog’s crying persists.
You should also seek veterinary help if your dog’s crying is accompanied by other worrisome signs and symptoms such as appetite changes, limping, walking oddly, sleepiness, decreased energy levels, etc. Also, see your vet if you notice any unusual lumps and bumps.
At the vet’s office if the procedure is routine it often starts with a complete physical examination. The veterinarian will take the dog’s history and ask questions about the problem (you need to provide as much information as possible).
Based on the initial findings, the vet will order blood tests (complete blood cell counts and biochemistry panels) and urinalysis.
If there is a suspicion of abdominal pain, an ultrasound is a probable procedure.
On the other hand, if the vet suspects a muscular, joint, or spinal condition, they will take radiographs.
Finally, if there is a lump, the vet will take a biopsy (or fine-needle aspiration) for histological evaluation.
Physical medical problems will be approached as necessary (anti-pain medications, diet changes, surgical corrections) if present.
However, if the vet determines there is nothing physically wrong with the dog, you will be advised to see a dog behavior specialist or trainer to deal with the emotional root of the problem.
How Can I Stop My Dog From Crying When Picked Up?
Simply put, the best way of stopping your dog's crying is to manage the underlying issue. In the case of physical problems, stick to the vet's therapy plan.
On the other hand, if dealing with emotional problems, listen to advice from the canine trainer or behaviorist.
Some underlying issues take time and cannot be resolved quickly. Others (such as canine arthritis) are life-long, and you will have to make adjustments to the way you are picking your dog up to avoid triggering pain.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli