Spotting, Treating & Preventing Dog Joint Pain

by Amy DeYoung

senior dog with joint pain

Like us, dogs can experience joint pain due to many issues, impacting their mobility, behavior, and overall quality of life. 

Seeing your dog in pain, limping, or uncomfortable in any way is enough to make any dog parent’s heart drop. These are common signs of dog joint pain. Fortunately, there are many ways that dog joint pain can be treated to help your dog feel more comfortable and, often, improve mobility. Let’s start by looking at the most common dog joint pain symptoms and what steps pet parents can take to help their pup feel relief.  

Dog Joint Pain Symptoms & Causes

Many things, including arthritis, ligament injuries, hip dysplasia, and other underlying health issues, cause dog joint pain. 

As a result, joint pain in dogs is very common. The Canine Arthritis Resources and Education Foundation shares that approximately one in three dogs suffer from canine arthritis, making it the largest cause of chronic pain in dogs. 

Common joint pain symptoms include: 

  • Decreased activity
  • Changes in a dog’s walk
  • Limping
  • Favoring one limb to avoid putting weight on the affected leg or joint
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty getting up or lying down
  • Reluctance to be touched, especially in affected areas
  • Swelling or warmth in the impacted area
  • Difficulty climbing stairs or jumping
  • Behavioral changes - Your dog may be suddenly irritable or depressed due to discomfort
  • Muscle atrophy - If the joint pain isn’t treated, the muscles around it may weaken

If you note any of these symptoms in your pet, we recommend immediately scheduling a check-up with their veterinarian. 

Dog Joint Pain Relief

Your vet can recommend a personalized plan and steps to address your dog’s discomfort and provide pain relief. Treatment recommendations will vary based on your dog’s specific situation, but these are some of the most common ways a veterinary professional can address joint pain. 

Depending on the situation, your veterinarian may complete a blood test on your dog to determine eligibility for medication to manage joint pain. In most cases, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) is the preferred choice for reducing joint inflammation and pain. 

Your veterinarian may also recommend physical therapy or holistic treatments. Some dogs may improve their joint pain with targeted physical therapy or hydrotherapy. Others benefit from acupuncture or acupressure, which stimulates nerves, muscles, and tissues for pain relief. 

In the case of a serious injury or hip dysplasia, surgery may be an option to address the root issue and relieve pain.  

What Can I Give My Dog for Joint Pain?

Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements are popular for canine joint pain because these sulfates are the foundation of healthy cartilage and may stimulate the body to create more cartilage. In the case of arthritis, more healthy cartilage may reduce joint pain. 

However, research on glucosamine and chondroitin is conflicting, with some studies showing beneficial effects on arthritis-caused pain and others showing no results. Still, it may be worth asking your veterinarian about supplements to see if your pup is a good candidate for this treatment. 

CBD for dog joint pain is also commonly used to decrease pain and inflammation.

At this time, CBD research on dogs is limited. However, a study from Cornell University has found that two milligrams of CBD per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of your dog’s weight twice daily may increase comfort and mobility in dogs struggling with osteoarthritis. In this study, over 80% of the dogs with osteoarthritis experienced reduced pain, which is terrific. 

Of course, this research is still in its early stages, so we recommend speaking with your veterinarian before giving your dog any supplements to see if they are a good candidate for them first. 

Joint Pain Prevention

Prevention is always better than treatment, so how can you prevent joint pain?

The number one suggestion by many veterinarians for joint pain prevention is to help your dog maintain a healthy weight. 

Remember, the heavier your dog is, the more stress it puts on their joints, which can speed up cartilage breakdown, eventually leading to arthritis. Feeding your dog a healthy diet in appropriate proportions will help them to decrease stress on their joints - whether they currently struggle with joint pain, as it will remove extra pressure off damaged joints, or as a general preventative measure, 

The Animal Humane Society stresses the importance of regular exercise to improve joint mobility. Low-impact exercise can help your dog maintain their mobility and a healthy weight. Focus on gentle exercise like walking to keep your dog mobile without putting intense pressure on the joints. 

Smart home modifications and lifestyle choices also reduce stress on your dog’s joints, helping to prevent joint pain. Consider the following alterations: 

  • Add nonslip rugs, yoga mats, or carpets to tile or hardwood floors to minimize the risk of slipping and constant walking on hard surfaces.
  • Discourage your dog from jumping on tall furniture or surfaces like your bed. If you love having your dog in bed with you, consider picking them up and putting them on the bed or purchasing a ramp and placing it next to your bed. 
  • Invest in an orthopedic bed to support your dog’s joints and provide extra comfort. 
  • Clear your sidewalks of ice and snow immediately to reduce the risk of falls and injuries. 

Taking preventative measures now can make a huge difference in your pet’s joint health in the future. While not all joint pain can be avoided, you can minimize your dog’s risk of joint pain or its severity with healthy lifestyle choices and regular exercise.

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