How to recognize canine joint pain?

Joint pain is common in dogs of any breed or age, but is more likely to occur as dogs enter old age. While dog owners may interpret this as “slowing down,” the process is caused more by pain in the dog’s joints than by aging. Whether it’s an injury, arthritis, hip dysplasia, or a simple strain, the sooner a dog’s pain is detected and treated, the better they feel physically and mentally. Treating dog pain early can prevent more serious illness,slow progression, reduce suffering and require fewer doctor visits and emotional upset. It can also bring an earlier diagnosis of a serious issue, when treatment is time-sensitive.

Early identification and limitation of pain and distress are two key goals for proper dog care. Unfortunately, signs of joint pain in dogs are sometimes difficult to notice until there is a major problem. The following signs of pain can help you avoid leaving most arthritic dogs languishing in silence.

General Pain Symptoms

General pain can manifest obviously or broadly. It can be hard to tell whether or not your dog is suffering from pain. Our canine companions will tend to be somewhat stoic and, when they are young, they will also often continue to enthusiastically play, worsening their condition.

Decoding pain problems while up against a language barrier and hidden symptoms is tough, but it is possible. There are common indicators of canine pain to tip us off. As our dogs’ primary caregivers, it’s on us to learn and recognize the signs. Here are some of the most common symptoms of general pain that your pup may express:

  1. Antisocial or aggressive behaviour
  2. Changes in eating, drinking, and sleeping habits
  3. Being more vocal
  4. Excessive grooming
  5. Heavy panting or altered breathing
  6. Mobility issues
  7. Signs of agitation
  8. Changes in their body and posture
  9. Shaking or trembling

Joint Pain Symptoms

To better understand the signs of dog joint pain, you need to know the types of joint diseases. These disorders that affect a dog’s joints are divided as either inflammatory or noninflammatory.

Non-inflammatory joint disease results from poor conformation, trauma, or developmental disorders is the correctly termed degenerative joint disease in dogs. The most common type of non-inflammatory joint disease in dogs is rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Inflammatory joint disease can be subdivided, based on its cause (infectious versus noninfectious) and its radiographic/histologic characteristics (erosive versus nonerosive) in arthritic dogs. The most common type of inflammatory joint disease in dogs is osteoarthritis (OA).

Joint abnormalities tend to cause stiffness along with pain and can show up as mobility issues in the form of:

  1. Lameness, Inactivity, Stiffness
  2. Reluctance to Exercise, Rise, Move
  3. Iincreased body tension or flinching in response to gentle palpation of injured area and palpation of regions likely to be painful (e.g. leg, neck, back, hips and elbows)Irritability and aggression when joints are touched
  4. Swollen and Painful Joints, or Joint Effusion
  5. Abnormal Stance While Moving
  6. Muscle Atrophy
  7. Altered General Behavior

All Dogs are at Risk of Developing Joint Issues

Arthritis can develop in any dog, especially as they age. Many people think it’s a big breed problem. Just like humans, our furry friends add a little more wear and tear to their bodies every year. Although it is most common in medium to large breeds, such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. However, progressive deterioration of articular cartilage or arthritis can attack any joint in dogs of any size. Hip dysplasia is another condition commonly associated with large breeds.  It’s the abnormal growth of the hip joint that results in malformation, instability, and arthritis. The most important risk factor is age. But there are some factors that can make your dog more prone to this condition.

  1. Obesity
  2. Age, particularly middle-age to senior dogs
  3. Repetitive stress from athletic activities such as agility, flyball, or diving
  4. Injuries such as fractures or ligament tears
  5. Prior diagnosis of hip or elbow dysplasia
  6. Infections that affect the joints, such as Lyme Disease
  7. Improper nutrition
  8. Poor conformation
  9. Genetics

Treatments For Joint Pain In Dogs

The appropriate treatment for joint pain and its underlying cause in your dog will vary based on its severity and the specific root cause. Conditions like hip or elbow dysplasia will require surgical intervention to rectify, while some degenerative joint conditions if caught early, can be treated by a combination of nutrition, exercise, heat therapy and the use of protective joint supplements are the best ways to keep your dog’s joints healthy. When joint pain occurs, the focus of treatment is usually on managing the pain, reducing inflammation, improving quality of life and slowing the progression of the disease. Treatment of joint pain is often multimodal, meaning that several different treatments are used simultaneously to achieve the best outcome.

While the specific treatment may vary from case to case, the goal of treatment is to get them back to their regular level of activity and mobility. This is especially important for your dog’s long-term health since well-developed muscles around their joints will actually help to reduce the load those joints have to bear themselves. An active dog is a healthy dog.

Joint Supplements

Joint supplements are one of the most common long-term, safe treatments recommended to help reduce inflammation and pain, improve function, and slow progression of joint damage and arthritis. Supplements for humans and dogs commonly include glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as green-lipped mussel (GLM).


The most commonly used pain control medications for more severe osteoarthritis are Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs are usually safe for dogs and have few side effects. But in some cases, they can cause or worsen kidney, liver, or digestive problems. Your veterinarian will discuss the risks and benefits of NSAID therapy for your dog, and may recommend regular blood work in order to monitor your dog’s health during NSAID therapy.

Additional Treatments

Your veterinarian may also recommend other treatment modalities such as Heat therapy, acupuncture, cold laser, and changes in diet. Heat therapy dilates blood vessels (vasodilation), which increases blood flow. This improves blood circulation in the painful or stiff area. Heat also transfers from the skin surface deep into the muscles, and improves blood circulation into the muscles.