Dog Yelps When Picked Up Under Chest? 3 Unexpected Reasons

It’s always concerning for us dog owners when our beloved pet yelps and cries.

It’s even scarier when it’s seemingly random, and you can’t tell immediately what the cause is.

Sometimes it’s clear what’s hurting your dog, such as if there are visible signs of limping or a suspicious raccoon jaw-shaped bite mark.

Other times, it’s completely invisible to the naked eye. If your dog yelps when picked up from under its chest, you probably can’t see anything wrong on the surface- no matter how hard you look.

When situations like this arise, there can be multiple different possibilities as to why your dog might feel pain.

Pain can result from soft tissue trauma or bruising to the ribs, especially if your dog has recently played with other dogs, or been involved in any kind of accident or collision. There may be an infection or growth hidden in the armpit area that feels sore when touched.

Pain when being picked up from under the chest could also indicate neck or abdominal issues– the whole body is connected, after all. One of the most common reasons behind a dog yelping when being picked up is the existence of back or spinal cord dysfunction.

Finally, it might not be physical suffering that’s causing your dog to cry out when being held. Some dogs that are startled, or are unaccustomed to or dislike being picked up in a certain way, will react accordingly. If you find this to be the case, simply adjust the way you hold your dog!

However, in order to rule out all the possible physical causes, it’s best to pay the vet a visit first. Yelping indicates significant discomfort in your dog, and it needs to be examined in case it’s something more serious.

Why Is My Dog Yelping When I Pick Him Up?

Woman carrying her dog

There are a few possible reasons why your dog may yelp when it is picked up under the chest. Throughout the rest of this post, I will outline three possible causes, as well as the recommended solutions and actions to take. Onward!

Possible Reason Number 1: Mental Anguish

This is the most straightforward and harmless of all the possible reasons that your dog may yelp when picked up. It may simply have gotten a shock!

If your dog was resting, sleeping, or otherwise not paying attention when you lifted it into mid-air, you might have scared the living daylights out of it. Imagine if someone did that to you, out of nowhere- you’d probably feel just a little annoyed and let out a little scream too!

Medium and large breeds of dogs will usually be less thrilled about being picked up, both out of knowing their own size and a fear of heights. Any dog that has been previously mishandled or dropped before will understandably feel hesitant about being carried as well.

The Solution

The solution is simple: don’t pick your dog up unless you really have to!

If you do have to lift your dog up for transport or emergency reasons, make sure you approach it slowly from the front and give plenty of vocal and visual notice that you’re about to touch and handle it.

If your pup wasn’t previously fearful of being held, hasn’t been dropped recently, and only very lately developed this trait, it would be a good idea to take it to the vet as soon as possible as there may be other issues present.

Dogs are usually stoic, resilient creatures that tend to hide signs of pain- so if it is yelping it could really mean that there is something more serious going on (like the reasons below).

Possible Reason Number 2: Soft Tissue Injuries And Skin Infections

Chihuahua lying down on its side, black and white photo

Soft tissue injuries such as an open wound or bruising in the chest region may also cause a dog to yelp when touched. These areas will obviously be tender and your dog will express any soreness that it feels by whining when lifted.

There may also be abnormal growths or skin infections in the area that are causing your dog significant pain. If your dog has developed a blister, cyst or tumor, any pressure that is placed on them can cause significant discomfort.

Due to your dog yelping only when picked up under its chest, you may also wonder whether a broken rib might be the issue.

If that is indeed what has happened, your dog will also exhibit symptoms related to pulmonary issues, like coughing or difficulty breathing. If the rib has become significantly displaced, you will see an obvious dent in the chest wall.

However, if the dog does not yelp sporadically and only when it is picked up, then fractured ribs are unlikely. Broken ribs will cause severe discomfort and panting whenever the dog breathes- not just when it is touched.

The Solution

In order to treat a soft tissue injury appropriately, you have to diagnose it correctly first.

If it’s a visible surface wound like a scrape or cut, that’s easy enough to identify. Treat it by thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the site using medical ointments or sprays like Bactine, then providing a bandage or dressing like Blu Kote over the area.

Skin infections, bumps and lesions can have a variety of causes, and these can only be accurately diagnosed by a trained vet.

Reasons can range from a clogged oil gland, to infectious diseases, to cancer. Therefore, your dog really should be professionally examined to establish the root cause.

However, if you can’t spot anything on your dog’s skin that could be causing it so much agony, then the injury may be lurking below the surface.

Evaluate your dog in the following ways:

  • Think back: Is there any trauma, such as falling off a high place, being accidentally kicked, or getting hit by a car, that you can remember occurring?
  • Is your dog coughing, or having any trouble breathing?
  • Run your fingers along its rib cage and firmly press each rib. Is there any sign of soreness? Make sure to check along the sternum/breastbone too.

If your dog shows any signs of pain from the pressure that you exert with your fingers, then there is likely a soft tissue injury such as a strain or bruise present.

At this point, while it’s best to take it to the vet for a more thorough examination, there are ways to ease its pain and kickstart the healing process, such as using an ice-pack over the area multiple times a day to reduce inflammation.

Limit your dog’s exercise and activity level by keeping it confined in a small, safe space where it can’t run or jump onto furniture. When it needs to go for a toilet break, use a leash so it doesn’t dash away the second you let it out. Reassess it’s status day-by-day.

Also, make sure that you don’t give your dog any human OTC painkillers you might have lying around at home- leave that to the professionals. If it doesn’t seem to be getting better after a few days, take it to the vet for X-rays and prescribed animal pain medication.

Possible Reason Number 3: Neck, Spine, Or Other Musculoskeletal Problems

Beagle sleeping on couch

The third possible reason your dog may yelp when picked up from under the chest is due to it having arthritis, a hurt neck, abdominal tightness or back pain.

Dogs with musculoskeletal issues will not be as mobile as they once were and will be more reluctant to run and jump as before.

Older dogs are naturally more likely to develop arthritis as their cartilage and joints become progressively worn down with age. Any movement or jostling when you pick your dog up may therefore be a painful experience for it to endure.

Try to notice if there is anything unusual in the movement or posture of your dog.

Is it having problems walking- such as being wobbly, or dragging its back feet?

What about the location where your dog holds its head? A clear sign of neck soreness is if your dog’s head always faces downwards. Even in situations where it tries to look around, it will try to only move its eyes.

There is also a strong possibility that if your dog yelps only when you lift it up from under the chest that it has injured its back or spine somehow.

This would especially be the case if the yelping is not accompanied by other unrelated symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea or loss of appetite. Notice in particular whether or not your dog has an arched back, and feel it’s abdominal region for abnormal tightness.

Back issues often result in the stomach becoming very tight and hard, and cause what is known as referred abdominal pain.

The way to differentiate between back pain and actual abdominal soreness is whether your dog will touch food in their miserable state. Dogs with spinal pain will still eat.

In cases of back injury, the dog may have suffered an injury to its vertebral column, such as a pinched nerve or a bulging or slipped disc. This is more common in breeds with short legs and long bodies, such as corgis and dachshunds- and especially if they are overweight.

Though this may seem counterintuitive, it actually makes perfect sense as lifting the dog causes its spine to bend, putting pressure on the injured section. Bulging and ruptured discs that press on the spinal cord can be very serious and in some cases lead to paralysis.

Don’t panic prematurely though- like in human beings, not all cases of neck pain and slipped discs are serious. Some can be minimally managed with anti-inflammatory medication and plenty of cage rest. No matter what, the injury needs to be properly diagnosed.

The Solution

Woman holding her dog looking at laptop

If you suspect that a neck or back injury might be the issue with your dog, you can do an initial check at home as instructed below.

A warning however: As mentioned previously above, dogs don’t tend to express pain very much, so you can worsen the damage if you examine them with too much force.

If you are not comfortable assessing them, leave it to the vet- he will be able to tell from subtle muscle tension differences if there is anything going on with your pet.

Testing Movement

Extend your dog’s legs back and forth, flexing and straightening while doing so. Do you notice any pain in this movement? Let your dog walk around for a bit. If it sways or keeps looking down while moving, you need to take it to the vet for a neurological exam as soon as possible.

Next, hold the head and move it slowly and gently up and down so that your dog looks up at the ceiling, then down at the floor. Then, move its head from side to side, flat against its body. The goal is to see if there is any pain or resistance at all.

If there is: Stop immediately, as this is an indicator of neck pain.

If there have been no issues so far, you can then test for back pain. Using firm yet gentle pressure, press your fingers over your dog’s back to see if there is any particularly sore spot. Start from just behind the neck and work your way slowly to the tail.

If your dog does show pain by yelping at any point, you will need to book an appointment to take him into the vet for a thorough examination.

At The Vet’s Office

Once you have taken your dog to the vet, treatment usually begins with a neurological assessment, physical examination, and X-rays.

This will help to determine the extent of damage and whether the patient can be treated just with cage rest and medication, or if a more serious procedure such as surgery is needed.

Disk lesions may not always show up on a standard X-ray, unless they have already deteriorated to the point of becoming bony and mineralized. In these cases, you will be able to see that the spaces between the discs have become narrow. If a standard X-ray does not reveal anything out of the ordinary, another imaging procedure like an MRI may be needed.

If the issue is found to be back pain, the dog will usually be prescribed anti-inflammatory medication such as a NSAID, steroid or muscle relaxant, as well as STRICT cage rest.

Strict cage rest means:

  • Only moving around when absolutely necessary- even food and water should be brought to the dog
  • No playing
  • No going on walks
  • No going up and down stairs
  • No jumping up and down furniture

Luckily, with enough strongly enforced rest, many dogs will be able to make a full recovery and return to life as before. Some will relapse and have episodes every now and then that will need to be continually managed with rest and medication.

While surgery in these situations is thankfully rare, it may be necessary when there is a risk of ongoing and worsening pain, or permanent nerve damage.

In Summary

It’s worrying enough as it is when a dog yelps after vaccinations or when it has been accidentally cut by scissors. When the cause is unknown and your dog cries out while being picked up under its chest, it’s downright frightening.

Dogs seldom yelp unless they are in true pain and discomfort, and some of the possible reasons in this particular situation can include mental distress, soft tissue trauma, or musculoskeletal issues like a hurt neck or back.

Mental distress and surface wounds can be resolved at home the majority of the time, unless they are particularly serious. However, in the case of structural pain, the best course of action is to take your pup to the vet ASAP when you find any soreness or unusual posture differences.

With well-managed rest and properly-administered medication, your dog stands a good chance of returning quickly to a pain-free, normal, and active life.

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