We all want our dogs to be as pain free and comfortable as possible, but as dogs age, many will begin to display signs of joint pain. Depending on breed, size and ancestry, some dogs will even start showing signs of pain, and conditions like hip dysplasia, as young adults. Here are some common signs of joint pain in dogs, and why your dog might be in pain.
Why Does My Dog Have Joint Pain?
Joint pain in dogs can be classified as either inflammatory or non-inflammatory.
Inflammatory joint disease, generally known as arthritis, inflammatory joint disease can be caused by diet, weight, injury, parasites, bacteria, stress or your pet’s environment. A dog with inflammatory disease will display signs of slowing down, bunny hopping while running, limping or seeking cold surfaces to relieve pain.
Non-inflammatory, or degenerative joint disease, generally results from trauma (like a car accident) or developmental disorders. Hip dysplasia in dogs is a classic example of non-inflammatory, degenerative joint disease.
Let’s take a look at some signs of joint pain in dogs and how to treat them:
Change in Behavior
Sometimes your dog just won’t seem like his normal self, and that’s when you’ll have to take a closer look at what has changed. If your normally happy, active dog has turned into an irritable couch potato, something is definitely wrong. Loss of appetite due to pain, or weight gain due to lack of activity are also clear indicators that something isn’t right.
If you’ve noticed your dog is wincing or yelping when you touch his hips or elbows, defending certain body parts, or licking and chewing “hot spots,” he’s probably in a fair amount of pain. Keep in mind that the pain could be stemming from other sources, so you’ll have to talk to your veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis.
Stiffness or Lameness
Other signs of arthritis in dogs include limping, stiffness, lameness, longer resting periods and more struggle upon rising and trying to move.
Elbow dysplasia, spinal disc disease, and hip pain in dogs tends to cause posture and gait changes, along with decreased range of motion. These will be especially apparent while your dog is running. If you see “bunny hopping,” when both back legs come off the ground at the same time, that usually means your dog is trying to manage pain by reducing the amount of weight being put on the hind legs.
Swollen or Painful Joints
If your dog has a lot of fur, it can be difficult to tell if joints are swollen. If the joints feel puffy, thickened, spongy or hot to the touch, or if your dog pulls away, yelps or winces when you touch your dog’s joints, then something is off.
Humans are used to hearing their necks, knuckles and shoulders pop. It can be harder to hear crepitus in dogs, but if you do, it usually means that the bones or ligaments are starting to grind on each other. If your dog’s joints can be handled, it is sometimes easier to feel the vibrations of crepitus than to hear them.
Diminishing muscle tone results from increased inactivity, which is a natural consequence of pain making movement unpleasant or difficult for your dog. Muscle atrophy may not be immediately apparent, but you’ll be able to feel the slackening of muscles and difference in size between both sides of the body.
What Can I Give My Dog for Pain?
If you’ve noticed any of these symptoms in your dog, you’re probably asking yourself “what can I give my dog for pain?”
The quick answer is “nothing that you would give yourself for pain!” This includes aspirin, ibuprofen and opioids. Never give your dog anything that a human would consider a reasonable method of pain relief. Only your veterinarian can prescribe species-appropriate, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain and inflammation in dogs. They may also recommend injectable medications, such as cortisone, to reduce swelling.
In addition to prescription medication, talk to your veterinarian about complementary treatments such as hip and joint support supplements, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, ultrasound and laser or magnetic therapies.
In some cases, surgery may be recommended to repair torn ligaments or remove bone spurs and bits of cartilage from the joints. Any treatment plan for arthritis or degenerative joint disease in dogs will involve identifying any underlying diseases that may need to be addressed, along with the pain itself.
Jamie Damato Migdal, CPDT-KA and CEO/Founder of FetchFind, has been innovating within the pet industry for over 25 years. A sought-after consultant and public speaker, Jamie has built four national pet service companies and has wide-ranging industry expertise in education, technology, business development, sales, marketing and management. Her fourth and current company, FetchFind, provides staff training and engagement, as well as digital marketing and other business solutions, to pet care service and pet-friendly companies around the globe.