Signs of Joint Pain in Dogs
By Siun Griffin, Animal Physiotherapist and Community Manager at London College of Animal Osteopathy (LCAO).
Joint pain is a common issue that affects dogs. Signs of joint pain in dogs can come from injury, such as overdoing it when running, falling, and playing, or from conditions, such as arthritis.
While this type of pain is more common in older dogs, it can affect those of any age. Spotting the signs early means you can help you solve or slow any issues that are occurring, possibly preventing more serious problems that can impact a dog’s quality of life.
Causes and Types of Joint Pain in Dogs
While there are many different causes of joint pain, here I will cover some of the most common ones.
These fall into two categories, developmental and degenerative
Developmental Joint Issues in Dogs
Developmental joint issues are those that a dog is born with, though they can be degenerative over time. Conformation and breed make certain dog breeds more prone to developmental joint problems.
These issues mean that the dog’s body does not form joints normally, which can cause pain. Common issues that arise due to this are hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and osteochondritis dissecans (OCD).
Large breeds are known to be at higher risk of these issues. For example, German Shepherds are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, as well as osteoarthritis. Bernese Mountain dogs are also at a higher risk of these conditions.
Degenerative Joint Issues in Dogs
Degenerative joint issues happen over time from repetitive use and injuries. This joint pain often comes from wear of the joint’s surrounding tendons and ligaments. The cruciate ligament is one of the most common tissues to cause problems when it wears or is injured.
Osteoarthritis and fractures, even small ones, can result in degenerative joint issues that cause pain. Again, larger dogs are more likely to suffer pain due to degenerative joint issues. This is because they are heavier, which puts more strain on the joints.
This is also why diet and preventing a dog from becoming obese are important.
So, what are the main signs of joint pain in dogs to look out for?
Signs of Joint Pain in Dogs
While these signs don’t mean a dog is suffering from joint pain for certain, they are often associated with it and what vets often see during an examination.
Joint pain can cause a dog to move with more stiffness. You may notice they take longer to stand up after a nap and walk with less fluid steps. The dog may not be able to run as quickly and as agile as it used to.
Limping is a big sign of joint pain. This can range from slight lameness to the very obvious. Arthritis is commonly found as the condition that is causing limping. Arthritis causes wear to the joint and is degenerative. The joint no longer moves slowly, which results in inflammation and pain.
Tendon and ligament injuries can also cause limping. The damage to these tissues can lead to joint pain over time as they wear and do not heal perfectly.
Lethargy and Depression
Spending more time resting and a loss of enthusiasm for playing and other active activities could be a sign that a dog is suffering from joint pain. This can also appear in the form of appetite loss.
Joint pain can cause a dog to compensate and not use its body correctly. This can result in muscle wastage.
A dog that starts to show signs of irritability, especially when it didn’t previously, could mean it is in pain. This is often joint pain. Being touched or moving is painful, and the dog prefers to be left to rest.
Slipping or Falling
A dog may become less stable when moving due to pain in the joints. This may cause the dog to slip or fall more frequently or when doing activities that normally shouldn’t cause this.
A dog with joint pain is less likely to run and play as often. They generally move slower and may struggle on walks that were once easy for them.
Difficulty With Stairs
If a dog starts to have trouble going up and down stairs, it could be a sign they are suffering joint pain. This also applies to difficulty getting into the car or on the bed or sofa.
Change in Leg Stance
To compensate for joint pain, a dog will often change how it stands. Pain in the hind end often causes the dog to stand with its hind legs close together, shifting more weight to the front. Pain in the front can result in the dog standing with its front legs in a wider stance, often with the elbows sticking out.
This is often an early sign of joint pain, so it is good to know a dog’s normal stance to spot these subtle changes.
Bunny hopping is pretty much as the title suggests. The dog starts to move like a bunny using both hind legs at the same time to move. This is often a sign of pain in the hip.
Excessive Licking and Chewing
Dogs may start to lick or chew excessively on certain areas of their body. This is one way for them to soothe the joint pain they are feeling.
To find the exact cause of joint pain, the dog will need a diagnosis from a vet. Once the problem area is confirmed, a treatment plan can be put in place. Osteopathy can work well in conjunction with veterinary treatment to help the musculoskeletal system, remove restrictions, and improve mobility.
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