Did you know that although they have four legs, the front legs of a dog are different from the hind legs? Their anatomy is very complex, allowing them to be constantly active, running, and jumping. We often wonder if they ever get tired. The answer is yes, they get tired and feel pain in their joints and legs just like us.
The joint is the part of the body where the two bones join in a complex structure that allows dogs to jump and move. Precisely due to the fact that the joint is a complex structure and because it has more functions and is constantly in use, dogs often have joint pain as well as different joint diseases. Joint pain can occur in all dogs, whether it is a puppy, a middle-aged, or an older dog. Here you will find out how to prevent joint pain, how to recognize if it occurs, and what you can do to help your dog.
Table of Contents
Causes of Joint Pain in Dogs
There are several types of joints; they are classified by the type of tissue from which they are built and by the type of movement they perform. No matter what type of joint, each can get worn and torn and be subject to trauma or disease.
Some joint problems are congenital; these can be noticed in puppies. Some joint problems are acquired by trauma or infection. Some components of the joint can lose function, and there can be tumors growing on them. There are several joint diseases that often occur in dogs, we will introduce you to the most common dog joint diseases and how to handle them.
Hip dysplasia happens when joint laxity occurs and partial to complete dislocation of a bone from its joint occurs along with degenerative changes at the joint. This disease is more common in large breeds, in dogs that are prone to obesity and in irresponsible breeding.
Symptoms of hip dysplasia:
- Weaker movement
- Decreased activity
- Weaker thigh muscle
- Bunny hopping
- Dogs are not happy climbing stairs, getting in the car, and jumping
The treatment of this problem depends on several factors. If the veterinarian finds that surgical treatment is necessary, it is radical, but it can certainly solve this problem. In dogs that are not candidates for surgery, it is necessary to completely change and adjust the lifestyle.
Dogs who live with hip dysplasia will have good and worse days. The veterinarian will certainly give supplements that affect better joint mobility and recommend a modified diet because such dogs can’t gain weight, as the weight of the body is transferred to the joints.1Harari J. (November 2020). Hip Dysplasia in Dogs. MSD Veterinary Manual.
If you want to know more about this disease, read our Hip Dysplasia in Dogs article carefully.
Arthritis is a joint disease that is very commonly diagnosed in dogs. There are two types of arthritis that have different causes but are clinically manifested similarly, such as joint pain, swelling, and disabling normal dog movement.
Osteoarthritis (Degenerative Joint Disease)
This is a progressive joint disease that can be caused by joint trauma or infection, or it simply occurs when the cartilage of the joint wears out and deforms and inflammatory processes begin to occur.
“It affects 4 out of 5 older dogs. It is a disabling, non-curable, and progressive disease which initially focuses on moving joints but eventually affects the whole dog and is a major cause of euthanasia due to loss of quality of life.”2Canine arthritis management. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
This disease occurs when the dog’s immune system targets joints, creating inflammation and generalized stiffness. Why rheumatoid arthritis occurs is still unknown, but it is very often confused with osteoarthritis, so it is crucial to diagnose this disease in time and to act quickly.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis:
- Swollen joints
- Reduction in muscle mass in the limbs
If you want to know more about this disease, read our Arthritis in Dogs article carefully.
Elbow dysplasia means one or more disorders in the elbow joint, which can be caused by uneven growth of all components of the joint; heredity plays a major role. Also, factors that can influence the onset of the disease include a propensity to gaining weight and physical activity.
Symptoms of elbow dysplasia:
- Irregular and limited elbow movement
- Decreased activity
This problem is diagnosed by examination, but in order to determine the degree of the problem, it is necessary to make additional findings and to seek the opinion of an orthopedic expert. Treatment is more favorable if it is detected earlier, and in more severe forms, surgery is the ultimate solution.
Luxating Patella (Slipped Kneecap)
The patella or kneecap is part of the knee joint, and without it, the joint cannot function normally. The kneecap is connected to other structures of the joint by ligaments; its dislocation occurs when some of the ligaments that keep it in place are damaged. This can be the result of trauma, or by accident, due to sudden moves when jumping from a great height or when getting out of a car.
Dog owners see this problem usually when dogs are running, because when they have knee pain, the leg on which the kneecap slips is lifted into the air, or they lean on the ground with it only with the tip of the paw.
Unlike other joint problems that are more common in large breeds, dogs that most commonly have this problem are small breeds, such as toy breeds, Poodles, Maltese, Pomeranians, and Chihuahuas.
The disease is diagnosed by a veterinarian and treated depending on the stage and whether other joint structures besides the kneecap are damaged. If surgical treatment is needed, the dogs recover very quickly, and it is advisable to give them supportive therapy with supplements that contain active substances in combination, such as glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and omega-3 fatty acids in order to get back in shape as soon as possible.
Symptoms of Joint Pain in Dogs
Symptoms depend on which joint problem the dog has. The dog may show one or more problems. The most common symptoms that indicate joint pain are the following:
- Swollen joints
- Muscle mass reduction
- The dog avoids activities, such as running or long walks
- Bouncing on hind legs
- The dog frequently lifts one leg
- Avoiding jumping on the bed or in the car
- Shows signs of pain by being quiet, grumpy, or depressed
- Sensitivity to touching the front or back legs
- Loss of range of motion of joints
Symptoms can occur during physical activity, when playing with other dogs, and some can occur in the morning or when the dog gets up after a long rest. The dog does not have to show all the symptoms at once and usually shows one symptom over time.
Breeds That Are More Prone to Joint Problems
All dogs can have joint problems, regardless of breed, gender and age. However, much research has been done to determine if some joint diseases are genetically predisposed, as well as to determine what all factors may be involved in the onset and prevention of joint problems.
Thanks to data availability, you can see if your dog falls into one of the predisposed categories so you can more easily spot symptoms and act on time.
A study on kneecap luxation (patellar luxation) in England, done on 210,824 dogs attending 119 clinics in England, provided interesting data on the prevalence and propensity of certain breeds in this problem.4Anderson K.L., O’Neill D.G., Brodbelt D.C., Church D.B., Meeson R.L., Sargan D., Summers J.F., Zulch H., Collins L.M. Prevalence, duration and risk factors for appendicular osteoarthritis in a UK dog population under primary veterinary care. Sci Rep. 2018 Apr 4;8(1):5641. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-23940-z. PMID: 29618832; PMCID: PMC5884849.
These breeds stood out in the research:
- Yorkshire Terrier
- French Bulldog
According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, their breed statics also include:
- Australian Terrier
- English Toy Spaniel
- Tibetan Spaniel
- Jack Russell Terrier
Hip dysplasia statistics by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, with at least 50 evaluations from 1974 thru 2019, singles out these races as predisposed:
- English Bulldog
- St. Bernard
- Black Russian Terrier
- Cane Corso
- German Shepherd
Elbow dysplasia by breed with at least 50 evaluations from 1974 thru 2019, according to OFA:
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- German Shepherd Dog
- Labrador Retriever
- French Bulldog
- Perro de Presa Canario
If a dog is genetically predisposed to a disease, it doesn’t mean that the disease is certain, but that more attention should be paid if any of the symptoms that characterize the disease are noticed. It is also very important that the breeding of these breeds is done responsibly and that dogs that have been diagnosed with a joint disease are excluded from breeding.
Diagnosis of Joint Pain in Dogs
The diagnosis is made by a veterinarian when examining the dog. If the veterinarian finds that the problem is serious, he will probably refer you to an orthopedist, who is specialized in the problem he suspects. In order to attribute joint pain to a particular disease and to find the cause, additional diagnostic methods must be done.
Some of the diagnostic methods used include the following:
- Clinical examination with observation and palpation, where the veterinarian examines the dog, asks the owner to walk the dog and observe its movements to determine if there is pain, mobility, and swelling in the joints.
- X-ray or radiograph is the diagnostic method most commonly used to detect the cause of joint pain. These images allow veterinarians to see inside the body, to see the condition of joints, broken bones, tumors, and arthritic changes in bones and joints. When X-rays are done, dogs usually have to be sedated or anesthetized to be in a good position for taking pictures.
- CT/CAT scan is a method of computed tomography that gives three-dimensional images of the dog’s skeleton and allows all abnormalities on the bones and joints to be seen as clearly as possible. This method is quite useful for orthopedic surgeons so they can plan surgical procedures in detail.
- Blood and urine tests are used to determine autoimmune diseases as well as precaution for sedation and anesthesia.
- Special palpation techniques such as the cranial drawer test, tibial compression test, and Ortolani test.
Joint Pain Treatment
In order to be properly treated, it is necessary to diagnose the problem and target it. The most common causes of joint pain are degenerative diseases for which there is no cure, and treatment is done in order to improve dogs’ everyday life and to make it pain-free.
In conditions such as trauma, fractures, and ligament injuries, the prognosis is good with adequate therapy. Treatment can be conservative and involves the use of long-term therapy with painkillers and supplements, as well as the practice of physical and therapeutic exercises.
Treatment in many cases can be surgical if the veterinarian thinks it is the solution to your dog’s problem. Surgical procedures are recommended for joint trauma, for severe ligament damage, and in some cases of hip and elbow dysplasia.
Orthopedic surgery is a specialized field of veterinary medicine that deals with surgical procedures on the bones, joints, and all injuries of the musculoskeletal system of the dog. Surgery is performed on dogs that are anesthetized, and the self-sufficiency of the operation depends on the size of the injury.
In order to perform the procedure, it is recommended to do a blood test to determine the condition of the dog before anesthesia. It is also necessary to do X-rays of the injury so the surgeon can choose the method and material needed for surgery.
Orthopedic procedures are specialized procedures that are divided into open and closed types. The closed type of procedure involves the fixation of joints and bones, while the open type involves the operation and use of instruments and auxiliary tools for fixation such as sutures, screws, orthopedic fixation plates and implants.
The most common joint disease that is treated surgically is kneecap (patella) luxation, where each surgeon individually approaches the operation and uses the surgical method that is needed.
Hip dysplasia is a disease that can be treated surgically if the dog is a good candidate according to the surgical assessment. According to OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals), the best candidates for surgery are TPO/DPO (triple/double pelvic osteotomy) who are diagnosed early and who are not obese. For dogs who are diagnosed with hip dysplasia late and who already have arthritic changes in the joints, surgery will not be the choice of treatment.
Another surgical procedure that can be used in hip dysplasia is FHO (femoral head osteotomy), one of the surgical procedures that has been shown to be good in hip dysplasia where removing one part of the bone reduces pain in the joint. The disadvantage of this operation is that it does not restore the full function of the joint, but the body recreates the “false” joint. Another surgical option for hip dysplasia is THR (total hip replacement) which is the best option for this disease, where the damaged joint is removed and replaced with an implant, and its function is restored completely.
In ligament injuries, the most common injury is the cranial cruciate ligament, whose function is to preserve the stability of the knee joint. This problem is often caused by injury, and can be caused by obesity, poor physical activity, and ligament degeneration. In this problem, the most common treatment of choice is surgery because it is the best way to fully restore the stability and movement of the joint. Some of the surgical options include tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO), tibial tuberosity advancement (TTA), and extracapsular suture stabilization.
The treatment of elbow dysplasia depends on the cause and severity. Most often, surgical treatments are performed arthroscopically, which is a less invasive method, where smaller incisions are made in the joint. It doesn’t open completely, so recovery is easier with such procedures.
Pros to surgical treatment:
- In many diseases, this is the only way to solve the problem
- A quick way to deal with the disease
- Gives lasting results
Cons to surgical treatment:
- Expensive; most joint surgeries cost several thousand dollars
- Risky; each procedure poses a risk to the dog because the dog must be placed under complete anesthesia and the owner must sign a consent
- Recovery is long and slow
- The dog must not gain weight after the procedure
- Recovery After Surgical Treatment
Recovery depends on how difficult the surgery was. Certainly, any recovery from orthopedic procedures requires the dog to rest in a supervised house and in a limited space and on a comfortable orthopedic bed. After surgery, the owner usually receives instructions and medications for the dog, and these are most commonly painkillers and antibiotics. After a few days spent in total rest, the dog can move, but to a limited extent, and this period usually lasts from 2-6 weeks. Many recommend physical therapies that shorten recovery time.
For some problems, such as arthritis, surgical treatment is not an option, and many other joint diseases are treated by veterinarians with non-surgical methods, and such dogs live long and happy lives.
For non-surgical treatment, veterinarians most often use the following:
- Medications: anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers
- Physical Therapies and Acupuncture: For many dogs, physical therapies that involve exercise with a professional walking in a pool help restore mobility. Acupuncture has been shown to be very good in dogs with chronic and inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis and dysplasia, and is considered the best adjunct to drug therapy.
- Supplements: These are chondroprotective, supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin and other auxiliary active substances that help the diseased joint to restore function.
Dog Joint Pain Medication
You must not give the medicine to your dog on your own. All the medications that are used as painkillers in dogs must be prescribed and instructed by your veterinarian. You should never give your dog human painkillers because of their toxicity to dogs.
NSAIDs/nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for dogs that are FDA approved include the following:
These medicines are given as tablets in a suture (orally) or by injection given by a veterinarian. They work by acting on fever, reducing pain, and increasing blood flow to the kidneys. The side effects that these medications can cause are vomiting, diarrhea, decreased activity levels.
These are strong drugs used in severe and painful diseases. They are also used after difficult orthopedic surgeries where recovery can be very painful. Currently in the USA, the FDA has approved only butorphanol as an opioid for dogs. Veterinarians can also use human products that the FDA has provided as substitutes, namely hydromorphone hydrochloride injection and morphine sulfate injection.
Dog Joint Pain Diet
Diet is very important when joint pain is present, because dogs that have a joint problem must not be obese. It’s important that the dog does not gain weight and that it eats food that contains added nutrients. It is very important that the food contains proteins that feed the muscles that support weak joints. You should be aware of the following points:
- Dog size: Small and large dogs cannot eat the same food because of the size of the bite.
- Age: Puppies and younger dogs require a special protein-rich diet as they grow and are much more active. It’s not recommended for older dogs that are less active to eat food high in protein.
- Dry or wet food: It’s always a veterinarian’s recommendation to give the dog dry food because chewing dry food also cleans the teeth, and the dog will have fewer problems with the formation of tartar on the teeth.
- Portions: On the back of each food package is a list of instructions for use that you should always read and follow, especially if your dog is not active because it can gain weight easily.
If you have doubts about your dog’s nutrition, or if you notice that your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea after a diet change, it means the food does not suit your dog, and it is best to ask your veterinarian for advice.
Supplements for Joint Pain in Dogs
Supplements used for joint pain in dogs are primarily chondroprotective and contain glucosamine and chondroitin. In addition to these two most important substances, they can also contain other ingredients that help normal functioning of the joint.
Supplements can be found in the form of chews, powders, or tablets. For dogs, soft chews are always a better choice, especially for puppies. Supplements are made in the form of delicious chewable snacks that are fun to eat for the dog and in addition, they clean the dog’s teeth while chewing them. They are made with food flavors and are tempting for dogs, so owners have no need to put supplements in the food or to wonder if the dogs have eaten them. Dogs take chews out of their owner’s hand and happily eat them.
This substance is normally produced by the cells in the dog’s body, but if joint disease occurs, this compound is reduced. The great advantage is that today, you can find synthetic glucosamine, which is used as a supplement and which the body absorbs in large quantities to help maintain healthy cartilage and joints.
Like glucosamine, this compound has a great impact on the health and mobility of the joints, and veterinarians often recommend it in combination with glucosamine. It works by inhibiting cartilage-destroying enzymes and preventing further destruction.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The addition of this compound gives good results for joint pain in dogs. Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from fish and have good effects on dogs’ skin, hair and allergies.
This compound can be found in certain foods but in extremely small quantities, so it is produced synthetically and is one of the necessary ingredients in many supplements. It helps with skin problems, allergy problems, and cartilage and joint problems.
Best Supplements Mixtures for Joint Pain in Dogs
It is easy to understand that a mixture of glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM is the most helpful supplement mixture for your dog. As we already mentioned, the easiest way to get the supplement in your dogs’ body are chewable supplements. Chew supplements which are very popular in the USA contain a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and manganese amino acid, whose ingredients act on joint pain and are proven to be good and easy to use.
If you think about using joint supplements, follow our vets’ recommendations or please read our article on supplements for joint pain in dogs carefully.
Orthopedic Dog Bed
These are beds and mattresses specially designed for dogs that have problems with arthritis, joints, bones and spine. Dogs that have orthopedic problems find it difficult to climb on high beds and have difficulty in getting a peaceful sleep. The beds can be found in different shapes and sizes and are made of special materials to allow your dog to be placed as comfortably as possible.
When choosing an orthopedic bed for a dog, you should pay attention to:
- Size and shape of the bed
- Materials from which it is made
- It should also be non-slip and easy to clean and maintain.
When choosing a bed, size plays a big role because you want your dog to be as comfortable as possible, so always choose a slightly larger bed. Today, you can find a variety of sizes, and you can also find a bed for large breeds.
Recommended Bed Size
X-Small - 18"L x 13"W
Small - 24 "L x 18"W
Medium - 30"L x 20"W
Large - 36"L x 23"W
X-Large - 42"L x 28"W
XX-Large - 48"L x 30"W
When choosing the material, it is important to pay attention to the fact that the inside is made of memory foam and that the mattress is lined with a material that is easy to wash. The outside part should have a zipper so it can be removed and washed in a machine.
If your dog is recovering from an operation, it will have a harder time moving and there is a greater chance that the place where it rests will get dirty. It is also very important that the bottom is non-slip because the bed needs to be stable so a dog with joint pain will not slip and get hurt further.
How to Prevent Joint Pain in Dogs
If you have a dog breed that is predisposed to joint problems, you need to be careful. You will prevent joint pain by paying attention to the dog’s activity. Dogs need to be active, run, and play with other dogs, but you need to watch out for sudden movements and jumping on high surfaces.
You also need to pay attention to the dog’s nutrition. Dogs should eat regular meals and a number of calories proportional to daily activity so that dogs do not become obese.
If you are considering how to prevent joint pain and notice any of the following symptoms, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible:
- Swelling of the joints
- Bunny hopping
- Keeping the leg upright
It is possible that your dog has some joint pain, and in these cases, you will prevent the problem by acting on time.
This problem is increasingly bothersome to dog owners and can occur in dogs of any age – from puppies to older dogs. The causes are various, accidental injuries, diseases, and injuries of the joints, and the result is a dog that is in great pain. Dogs can’t tell us if they are hurt, but we can notice if they are in a bad mood, that they don’t want to go for a walk, and that they are hiding.
According to the Glasgow pain scale, some of the signs of pain include nervousness, anxiety, and depression. The dog may be quiet and withdrawn, often licking or nibbling the place that hurts him. If you notice that your dog has joint pain, you should take him to the vet to get a diagnosis and adequate treatment. If it is a more serious problem, treatment can be a surgical procedure, but many diseases and injuries can be treated with medication.
Don’t immediately think of the worst-case scenarios. Very often, dogs have minor, easily solvable problems that veterinarians treat with medications and supplements. It is important for every dog to have an active life. Don’t force dogs too much with training and running, and make sure that his nutrition is balanced and proportional to physical activity. If you think about using joint supplements, follow our vets recommendations or please read our article on supplements for joint pain in dogs carefully.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Dog Joint Pain
What Can I Give My Dog for Joint Pain at Home?
At home, you can give your dog supplements according to the manufacturer's instructions, as well as food for dogs with mobility problems. You can also help your dog by placing him to rest in a comfortable place and reduce his activity. It is definitely recommended that if your dog has joint pain that you take him to the vet to get the proper diagnosis and treatment.
Can You Give Dogs Tylenol for Joint Pain?
Tylenol or acetaminophen is a medicine intended for humans and is not approved for use in dogs. This drug is toxic to dogs and causes major damage to the liver and other organs in the body because the metabolism of man and dog is not the same. You can first try using joint supplements for dogs, but first check out if your dog has one of the symptoms of joint pain.
Can Dogs Take Advil for Joint Pain?
Advil or ibuprofen is a steroidal anti-inflammatory drug intended for humans; dogs have their own anti-inflammatory drugs that they can use, and Advil does not belong to them at all. It is toxic to dogs and causes systemic problems, damaging the intestines and kidneys. Never give this medicine to your dog on your own. If you need a painkiller for your dog, consult your veterinarian. You can first try using supplements for dog joint, but first check out if your dog has one of the symptoms of dog joint pain.
Can Dogs Take Aspirin for Joint Pain?
Aspirin is not an FDA approved drug for dogs and it is not recommended for dogs. If your veterinarian prescribes this medicine, use it only according to the veterinarian's instructions. Never give this medicine to your dog on your own as it causes bleeding and stomach ulcers in dogs. You can first try using supplements for dog joint pain, but first check out if your dog has one of the symptoms of dog joint pain.
|Harari J. (November 2020). Hip Dysplasia in Dogs. MSD Veterinary Manual.
|Canine arthritis management. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
|Anderson K.L., O’Neill D.G., Brodbelt D.C., Church D.B., Meeson R.L., Sargan D., Summers J.F., Zulch H., Collins L.M. Prevalence, duration and risk factors for appendicular osteoarthritis in a UK dog population under primary veterinary care. Sci Rep. 2018 Apr 4;8(1):5641. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-23940-z. PMID: 29618832; PMCID: PMC5884849.