Dear Dr.: My Dog Yelps When Jumping Off the Couch–Why?

“I want to know why my dog yelps when jumping off the couch. It doesn’t happen every time. It seems to go in spells. She is a Beagle mix and we don’t know how old she is but the vet said maybe about 10.”

–Wayne R. 

Thanks for the question, Wayne! How many times have I wished for a dog-to-human translation machine? When your dog is yelping in pain, it sure would be nice if they could tell you why.

This startling yelping can happen at other times, too. I’ve had clients report their dogs yelp when jumping up, when they’re picked up, when their tail is lifted and even when they are barely touched. 

Let’s talk about some of the most common reasons dogs suddenly cry out in pain… 

Why Does My Dog Yelp When Jumping Off the Couch?

The most common cause of a dog yelping in pain when jumping off furniture is intervertebral disc disease. You may have also heard the terms “slipped disc” or “pinched nerve.” Dogs suffer from this condition just about as much as humans do. 

Dogs yelp when they jump up or down from furniture because it requires flexion or extension of the spine. That movement can irritate the nerves near the slipped disc and may even cause a muscle spasm.

What Is a Slipped Disc in a Dog?

A dog’s intervertebral disc is a cushion between the bony vertebrae of the spine. Sometimes the fibrous part of the disc breaks down and lets the inner gel part of the disc squish out of its normal position.

The spinal cord and the nerves that exit the spinal cord and travel to the rest of the body are compressed when the disc “slips” out of place. Pressure on these nerves causes irritation, pain and muscle spasms. The medical term for the problem is intervertebral disc disease or IVDD for short.

Slipped discs happen in all breeds of dogs. But some breeds like miniature Dachshunds, Beagles,  Shih Tzus, German Shepherds and Basset Hounds are more likely to suffer from IVDD. Older dogs are also at greater risk of developing IVDD. 

Many dogs have recurring episodes of IVDD. They hurt for a few days then start feeling better, only to start hurting again later. 

Beagle dog lying on sofa (dog yelps when jumping off couch)
It’s comfy on the couch but it sure hurts when I jump off!

Symptoms of IVDD/Slipped Disc in Dogs

The two possible locations for pinched nerves in dogs are in the neck and the mid to low back. Because of their anatomy, slipped discs are rarely seen in the spine located over the rib cage. (1)

Symptoms of slipped discs and pinched nerves in dogs include:

  • Holding the head downward
  • Crying in pain when picked up by front legs, under chest or belly
  • Yelping when jumping off the couch
  • Jumping up suddenly when lying down or sleeping at night
  • Restlessness when lying down
  • Shaking
  • Holding tail down
  • Yelping when trying to poop
  • Limping 
  • Weakness in limbs
  • Falling down
  • Stumbling 
  • Paralysis 

Other Causes of Pain in Jumping Dogs

Although it’s a common cause, IVDD is not the only possible explanation for why a dog is yelping when jumping off the couch. Other parts of the body experience twisting, flexion, extension and sudden pressure when a dog jumps. Even when these body parts don’t hurt very much normally, jumping puts a lot more stress on them. 

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative joint disease but these are technical terms for what most dog owners refer to as regular old arthritis. It happens when the tissues inside a joint break down, causing inflammation and pain. 

The classic symptom of arthritis in dogs is stiffness of movement when they get up after laying down for a while. The stiffness usually improves as they move around for a while. 

Jumping up or down can add acute stress to an already painful joint. For example, a dog with an arthritic elbow may walk around a bit stiff-legged but they don’t seem to be in too much pain until they jump down from a bed or chair. Then it hurts enough for them to yelp. And they might even limp for a few moments after the sudden jolt of pain.

Broken or Infected Bone

Believe it or not, a dog’s bones are very sensitive to pain. So if a dog has a bacterial or fungal infection in their bone, it will eventually become very painful. X-rays and biopsies are usually needed to diagnose a bone infection. 

Broken bones are also very painful to a dog. Most of the time, if a dog has a broken bone, they will not bear weight on the affected limb. But they very well might have to use a leg with a broken bone when they jump onto or off of an object. 

Tumors can cause bone pain, too. The tumor could be arising from the bone or the adjacent tissue. Once the bone is affected, most dogs display clinical signs of pain. 

There’s also a possibility the impact of jumping down off a couch could cause a bone to break. Luckily, it’s not super common but I’ve seen a few toy breed dogs and young puppies suffer fractured bones after simply jumping off the sofa. 

inflamed dog paw
A very sore dog paw from allergies.

Skin Lesions

You might not think skin problems would cause a dog to experience enough pain to yelp, but it really can. Many dogs with allergies get extremely inflamed skin on their feet. I’ve seen dogs limp as a result of allergy-related foot dermatitis. 

If your dog has allergies and/or licks her feet a lot, look on the bottom of her foot between the toes. If the skin is red and raw it’s probably painful, too. 

Soft Tissue Injuries: Sprains & Strains

Sprains and strains are nearly as common in dogs as they are in humans. A dog can strain a muscle or tendon during an activity and then later “tweak” it when they jump from furniture or the car. 

One common injury in dogs is a torn or partially torn ligament in their knee. Dog owners refer to this as “tearing the ACL” as that’s what the injury is called in humans. Neutered/spayed dogs over 4 years of age have a higher risk of cruciate ligament disease. (2)

I’ve seen many dogs who suffer from chronic pain from a partially ruptured cruciate ligament. The pain seems to wax and wane and jumping can definitely make it suddenly worse. 

It’s also possible for a dog to sustain a sprain or strain when they jump off the sofa. The sudden impact might be just enough to do it. If you see your dog limping after the initial yelp, get your vet to check them over. 

white dog yelping

How to Figure Out Why Your Dog Is Yelping

It might be a challenge to figure out exactly what is hurting your dog, but here are some tips to help you. 

  1. Make note of other symptoms. How are his eating, drinking, bowel and urine habits?
  2. Is he limping? Watch him walk and trot and look for a slight head bob. Watch how the dog stands. Does he shift his weight off one limb consistently? 
  3. Feel all over their limbs and spine. Is there any swelling, injury or heat? Use one or two fingers to gently press. If he pulls back suddenly, flinches, yelps or tries to bite it’s an indication of pain.
  4. Does the dog hold his head lower than normal? Does he hold his tail down more than normal? These are classic symptoms of neck or low back pain.

Is a Dog Yelping in Pain an Emergency?

If the dog is acting totally normal other than yelping when jumping off the couch, it’s probably not an emergency. I would still recommend having your vet examine him as soon as possible to see what’s wrong.

If the dog has any other symptoms like decreased appetite or lethargy you need to get help from a vet right away. If he can’t walk, has trouble breathing or continues to cry out in pain it is a true emergency. Call your nearest 24-hour vet clinic if your regular vet’s clinic is not open.

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How to Help Your Yelping Dog

As I said earlier if your dog is in distress, having trouble breathing, can’t walk, won’t eat or has other major changes take him to the vet immediately. 

Assuming your dog is still eating and drinking OK, breathing normally, and having a normal activity level, you should make an appointment to see your vet. In the meantime, here are a few steps you can take to protect your pup at home: 

  • Restrict activity by confining them to a crate or room with no furniture they can jump on
  • Take them outside using a harness and leash only to potty
  • No exercise walks!
  • Avoid picking them up, if you must then support them under their chest and rump to keep their body as straight as possible
  • Do not give any medication unless it was prescribed by a veterinarian for this exact dog. You could cause more problems. If you feel like your dog can’t wait to get prescription medication, take them to an emergency vet right now.
  • It’s never wrong to be overly cautious and seek care from a vet now rather than waiting. 

Summary

If your dog yelps when jumping off the couch, he is likely experiencing pain in some part of his body–often the spine or joints. If this is happening regularly or if he has other symptoms, have your vet do an examination. 

In the meantime, restrict your pup’s activity by not allowing him to jump. The repeated impact will often make the pain even worse.

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References

  1. Brisson, B. A. (2010). Intervertebral disc disease in dogs. Veterinary clinics: small animal practice, 40(5), 829-858.
  2. Witsberger, T. H., Villamil, J. A., Schultz, L. G., Hahn, A. W., & Cook, J. L. (2008). Prevalence of and risk factors for hip dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament deficiency in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 232(12), 1818-1824.

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