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What Causes Joint Pain in Dogs?

What Causes Joint Pain in Dogs?

Joint pain is one of the most common issues affecting dogs. It occurs across many different breeds and can stem from various root causes, including developmental and degenerative issues. Joint pain can severely impact a dog’s ability to be active and decrease their overall quality of life. Knowing the warning signs to look out for and the common causes of joint pain in dogs can help owners find a solution before it becomes severe. 


What are the main causes of joint pain in dogs?

There are various causes of joint pain in dogs, including issues that are specific to certain breeds and common issues that affect dogs of all shapes and sizes. Developmental issues are conditions that are present from birth and develop as a dog grows. Degenerative issues occur over time as a dog ages. 


Developmental issues

A dog with developmental joint problems will have been born with the issue, typically due to its genetics. This can prevent the joints from developing properly as the puppy grows into an adult dog. Two common outcomes that poor joint development can lead to are hip and elbow dysplasia. These are both severe issues that require treatment. 

Certain types of dogs are more prone to developmental issues like hip and elbow dysplasia than others. For example, large dog breeds like Newfoundlands, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers have predispositions for these ailments. However, any type of dog can have these issues as it often comes down to individual bloodline genetics. Other factors that can contribute to the development of these conditions in puppies with a genetic predisposition include overfeeding and too much exercise when they’re young and developing. 


Degenerative issues

Degenerative issues are not linked to genetics and typically occur from wear and tear caused by repetitive use. This can lead to injuries to the tendons and ligaments, as well as the breakdown of cartilage. As a dog ages, the overuse and wear and tear on these areas can lead to issues like cruciate ligament disease or injury. Another common degenerative joint condition among dogs is osteoarthritis. The longer a condition progresses without treatment, the more severe and painful it becomes. 

As with developmental joint conditions, degenerative issues are also more common in certain types of dogs than others. Large dog breeds carry a lot of weight and put more strain on their joints during exercise than smaller dogs, and are therefore at a higher risk of developing joint problems. These breeds may include Great Danes, Burmese Mountain Dogs, and Labradors, among numerous others.

In addition to size, age and weight both play major roles. Ageing dogs that fall into the senior category are more likely to develop this type of condition than younger dogs. This is because the joints will have been under stress and worn down over the span of the dog’s life. Therefore, the older the dog is, the higher the risk of a degenerative joint problem occurring. If a dog is overweight, regardless of the size of the breed, this puts more pressure on the joints and raises the risk of joint problems. 


Symptoms of joint pain in dogs

While the symptoms they exhibit can differ from dog to dog and largely depend on the specific condition causing the joint problems, these are the most common signs to look out for:

  • Lethargy
  • Reluctance to run or jump
  • Finding it difficult to sit, stand, or lay down
  • Difficulty with stairs
  • Limping 
  • Obvious swelling of the joints
  • Less interest in normal activities like playing and walking
  • Licking and chewing the affected joint(s)
  • Mood changes, including low mood and irritability
  • Frequently slipping or losing balance when moving
  • Becoming slower on walks and when getting up after resting


Treatment options for dogs with joint problems

The best treatment for joint pain in dogs can vary depending on what’s causing it and the severity of the condition. Here are some common options that vets often recommend:

  • Surgery
    • This is common in cases of severe developmental issues such as hip dysplasia, as it helps correct the deformity of the joints. 
  • Better nutrition and weight management
    • Dogs that are overweight put more pressure on their joints and are therefore at a higher risk of developing degenerative joint problems.
  • Specific exercises
    • A vet can advise which exercises are good for joint mobility and strengthening the supporting muscles.
      • They may require physical therapy or rehabilitation from a professional depending the condition’s severity. 
  • Injections 
  • Medications
  • Health supplements
    • Specifically, owners can offer foods and supplements with natural anti-inflammatory ingredients like fish oil and turmeric (with vet approval).


Ways to support dogs with joint problems at home

It can be very distressing for an owner to see their dog in pain and unable to partake in their usual activities. As their habits change due to their condition it can make their daily life difficult, which can cause some owners feel helpless. However, there are plenty of small changes owners can make to help their dog live an easier and less painful life. 

The first and most important step is to take the dog to a qualified vet when any symptoms of joint issues arise. The sooner they catch it, the sooner they can begin a suitable treatment plan to help manage it and prevent it from worsening. Once the dog is on its treatment plan, owners can make changes around the house and in their routines to accommodate their dogs. 

Adding things like non-slip mats and rugs can help prevent any further injuries. Additionally, offering ramps that help the dog avoid jumping on furniture or climbing stairs can make navigating their way around the house much easier and more comfortable. In terms of general comfort, an orthopedic bed may be a good option if the dog is struggling with restlessness due to discomfort. Adding supplements that help with inflammation into the diet can help ease symptoms of joint problems, however, it’s important to always consult a vet before doing so. This is especially important if the dog is on medication, as some supplements can interact with medications and reduce their effectiveness. 

Patience is arguably one of the most important parts of caring for a dog with joint problems. They need to feel supported and confident, and an impatient owner will not help them achieve this. Taking some extra time on walks to allow them to walk at a comfortable pace can make a world of difference. Pushing them too hard can cause the issues to worsen and further problems to occur, so owners should always make sure to listen to their dog’s body language and their vet’s advice.



Key takeaways

Here are the key points to remember about joint problems in dogs:

  • Joint problems can either be developmental (present since birth often due to genetics) or degenerative (occur over time due to overuse, weight or age).
  • Common joint problems in dogs include hip and elbow dysplasia (developmental) and osteoarthritis (degenerative).
  • Symptoms of joint problems can vary depending on the dog and the exact condition, but there are common themes to look out for like stiffness, inflammation, and difficulty partaking in normal activities.
  • As with symptoms, treatment options depend on the dog and the specific condition as well as its severity, but can include surgery, medications, and lifestyle changes.
  • There are plenty of ways for owners to support dogs with joint problems, including getting proper treatment, showing patience and compassion, and making changes in their environment to accommodate the dog's needs.