Joint Problems in Dogs: Common Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments 

joint problems in dogs

Joint problems in dogs can show up at any moment. How do you show your dog you love him? If you’re like many pet parents, you shower your pup with plenty of affection, regular exercise, and good nutrition so your pup can live his or her best life. 

When your pup is healthy and energetic, it shows in the glow of his coat and in the way he moves. Think of those dogs at the Westminister Dog Show trotting around the show ring. They glide like eagles soaring over a lush forest. 

If your dog has a smooth gait, his joints are healthy. Yet, as your dog ages, he may start showing signs of joint pain. 

Large Breeds are Predisposed to Joint Problems

large dog

Joint problems can affect any dog. However, large breeds are especially predisposed to joint issues. So-called “gentle giants” like Bernese Mountain Dogs and Newfoundlands often develop joint problems — in part — due to their size. 

Even smaller Rottweilers, German shepherds, and Labrador retrievers fall into the dog breeds most likely to face joint problems as they age. 

As a concerned pet parent, it helps to know the common causes and symptoms of joint pain. It’s also helpful to take a proactive approach to your pup’s joint health with a nutritious diet and preventive care. 

Typical Causes of Dog Joint Problems 

Some joint conditions are genetic, and a good breeder will inform you of any potential hereditary concerns for a specific dog. Yet, if yours is a rescue pup, you may not know much about the dog’s genetic line. Plus, any dog can suffer from painful joint issues if prone to excess weight and poor nutrition. 

Here are four of the most common joint pains in dogs. 

1. Hip Dysplasia 

This common orthopedic problem develops during adolescence as your dog grows from a frisky puppy to an adult. Specifically, hip dysplasia refers to when the hip socket and the ball at the top of the leg don’t fit well together. Hip dysplasia is usually genetic and tends to affect large breeds more than small ones. 

2. Elbow Dysplasia  

Another common dog joint issue is elbow dysplasia. Like hip dysplasia, this occurs during the developmental growth phase. Some of the bones, ligaments, and tendons at the elbow don’t form properly, leaving your dog with joint pain later in life. It’s also usually genetic but can also come about due to excessive exercise and poor nutrition. 

3. Cruciate ligament tear 

This common knee injury results from a ligament tear in the knee. Known as the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), it’s responsible for balance and stability. Large dogs are particularly at risk due to their size. According to the Colorado State University James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching College, CCL injuries are complex and usually occur gradually. 

4. Osteoarthritis

Also known as degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is a painful condition affecting older, sedentary, overweight dogs. 

In fact, a major contributing factor to joint pain is obesity. Even a few pounds of excess weight can strain your dog’s joints. How can you tell if your dog is a healthy weight? The Association of Pet Obesity Prevention says you should be able to see or feel your dog’s ribs. Your veterinarian can give you guidance for your dog’s ideal weight. 

Common Signs of Joint Pain 

joint pain in dogs

Some signs of joint pain are apparent, such as limping or when your older dog strains when getting up from a nap. Others are less obvious such as “bunny hopping.” If your dog holds his hind legs together to “hop,” that’s a symptom of joint pain. 

Most often joint pain in dogs happens gradually and is most evident in old age.

Here are eight typical symptoms of joint pain in dogs. 

  1. Stiffness when rising from a resting position. 
  2. Lameness or limping – If sudden, it could result from a CCL injury. 
  3. Unstable knee joints 
  4. Swelling around the knee joint 
  5. Reluctance to go on a walk or climb stairs or onto your bed
  6. Wincing if you touch the painful area
  7. Clicking sound in the joint area
  8. Loss of muscle mass in the hind quarters 

Some dogs excel at hiding their pain, but it usually shows in their movements if you know what you’re looking for. Other pain symptoms aren’t specifically joint-related but are indications that your pooch may benefit from a veterinarian check-up. For example, lethargy, grouchiness, or excessive licking and chewing of an area are signs your dog isn’t feeling well. 

Joint Pain Treatment Options 

The sooner you catch your dog’s joint pain, the sooner you can take pain mitigation steps to improve your dog’s quality of life.

One step is choosing healthy food for your dog. When choosing your dog’s food, you can select a high-quality, nutritious diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids from the start because good nutrition is the basis of good health.

If your dog needs to lose weight, then you’ll want to make a plan with your veterinarian to cut back on treats or meal portions and increase exercise. 

Treatment options for worsening joint pain include rehabilitation therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), weight loss, injections, surgery, and moderate exercise. Rehabilitation therapy can enhance the mobility of older dogs with joint pain. Such therapy includes walking on an underwater treadmill and swimming.

Your veterinarian will evaluate your dog for root causes and treatment recommendations suitable for your dog. 

How to Prevent Joint Problems in Dogs 

There’s only so much you can do about genetics, but you can reduce your dog’s risk factors for joint pain by following a healthy lifestyle. 

Prevent Obesity

Many older dogs spend more time lounging than they do romping. As such, they tend to put on weight. Unfortunately, the excess weight adds to your dog’s joint pain. Pet parents who help their dogs maintain a healthy weight will improve their pup’s quality of life. 

Get Appropriate Exercise 

long hair dog breed collie

Regular walks tailored to your dog’s energy levels also help with mobility. You’ve heard the expression, “Use it or lose it.” That applies to dogs, too, because exercise helps keep the joints lubricated. Even short walks throughout the day can help reduce joint pain and keep weight down. 

Feed a Nutritious Diet 

Nutrition starts inside. Good nutrition is a balance of healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates. What your dog eats feeds his coat, bones, brains, eyes, and internal organs. Healthy, fresh food means your dog enjoys more nutrients than traditional kibble.

Start Joint Supplements Early If Appropriate 

If you feed your dog a healthy fish-based diet, your dog may get plenty of essential omega-3 fatty acids in his food. Otherwise, joint supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, chondroitin, and glucosamine can help your dog maintain joint health by reducing inflammation and boosting cartilage production. 

Now that you know the common causes of joint pain in dogs, you know the importance of good nutrition, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight. Together, these can prevent or reduce joint pain for a happy, healthy dog. How can you be proactive today to help your dog feel his best? 

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