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Joint Pain in Dogs – Signs, Causes & Prevention

Nuala McHugh

By Nuala McHugh

Updated: February 9, 2024

Joint pain in dogs is one of the most common concerns for pet parents.

Whether they’re entering their golden years, carrying a bit of extra weight, or dealing with the quirks of their breed, trouble with joints can be difficult for them and us.

No pet parent wants to see their dog out of sorts and in pain. Joint pain goes hand in hand with conditions such as arthritis, canine cruciate ligament problems, and hip/elbow dysplasia among others.

Such conditions may require surgery or other procedures so it’s best to minimize the severity of joint pain as best you can. This article is here to help guide you through the signs, remedies, and prevention methods to keep those tails wagging without pain.

Should I worry about my dog’s joints?

Joint pain can be seen in dogs of all breeds and ages but is much more common in senior large-breed dogs.

Often what many dog owners interpret as their dog “slowing down” due to old age, is a symptom of joint pain rather than just the aging process. 

If your dog is showing any signs of pain, it’s important to address these issues as early as possible. 

How can I tell if my dog has joint pain?

You will probably be able to tell from your dog’s behavior whether they suffer from joint pain. If your furry friend becomes less excited to see their leash appear, avoids jumping up on their favorite spot on the sofa, or sadly stares at the ball instead of fetching it, they could be experiencing joint pain.

Some other signs include:

  • Lethargy
  • Reluctance to walk on shiny surfaces
  • Slowing down
  • Not playing or running as often
  • Not getting out of bed like usual
  • Limping and stiffness
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Frequent slipping while moving about
  • Licking, chewing, or biting the affected area

It can be heartbreaking seeing your dog not enjoy their usual favorite things. If your dog is showing any of the above signs, take a trip to your vet to get them checked out and they will be able to help with a plan.1 

What causes joint pain in dogs?

Two conditions cause your dog to experience joint pain: developmental and degenerative.

Developmental Joint Issues

Development joint issues are present in your dog from birth and are generally caused by genetic issues. Although many dog breeds are predisposed to painful joint issues and can be found in puppies of any size, joint pain is more common in larger dogs. For example:

  • Rottweilers are prone to developing knee and ankle joint problems
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs commonly develop elbow dysplasia
  • Newfoundlands are one of the breeds that are most prone to developing issues in their cruciate ligament.2

It’s always a good idea to enquire about any genetic predispositions when getting your dog. This way, you can take any necessary prevention steps to minimize joint pain in your dog as they grow.

Degenerative Joint Issues

Degenerative joint issues are caused by repeated use over time of your dog’s joints. These types of conditions include the wearing down of cartilage or the injury of tendons. 

Pain is caused when tissues degenerate over time with repeated use until increasingly severe issues result. The actual root cause of degenerative joint issues can vary widely from stress fractures to injuries or osteoarthritis. Often, they will develop in larger dogs, whose weight places more stress on their joints over time.

Moreover, joints can also be damaged from landing awkwardly, jumping, skidding, twisting etc. at any age and any breed — just like humans.

Can I prevent my dog’s joint pain?

While genetics does play a role in your dog’s joint pain, good preventative care can massively minimize the risk of joint pain.

Weight management/ exercise

Keeping your dog or getting them down to a healthy weight is essential for endless reasons. But, if we are talking about joint pain, dogs who are overweight are more likely to have joint issues.3  A well-proportioned dog reduces strain on the joints and can also decrease joint inflammation caused by fat. 

It can be more difficult getting the weight off if they are already struggling with joint pain and finding it difficult to exercise. If your dog enjoys water, swimming can be a great form of exercise as it’s easy on the joints rather than running on hard ground. Generally, a little bit every day is advised rather than overloading your dog at the weekend with a sudden burst of exercise.

Food and nutrition 

Your dog should be eating a complete and balanced diet which will generally have the essential nutrients for keeping them healthy. Certain nutrients do contribute to your dog’s joints:

  • Water
  • Omega 3-Fatty Acids
  • Protein
  • Natural Anti-inflammatories
  • Methylsulfonylmethane(or MSM)
  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • cetyl myristoleate
  • Vitamin C

Your dog food may already include these nutrients but if you are thinking of changing to one that will specifically help their joints, here are some recommendations: https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/best-dog-foods/arthritis/.

Strengthening

Better muscle mass and muscle function can protect your dog’s joints. Strengthening can be accomplished through regular, safe exercise such as physical therapy.

Should I give my dog joint supplements?

Joint supplements can be a great prevention method. They help rebuild cartilage and increase flexibility in the joint. Some supplements also reduce inflammation in the joints. 

Supplements are more of a preventative than a cure so you may want to supplement your dog from an early age. 

It’s important to discuss with your vet before starting any supplements or medications to ensure they are appropriate for your dog and to avoid any interactions from nutrients with other treatments they may be on. 

How about CBD oil?

While research into CBD benefits in animals is somewhat limited, initial findings show that CBD products can reduce inflammation and pain in dogs with joint issues, resulting in increased mobility. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7023045/ 

If a condition such as arthritis causes the body’s endocannabinoid production to fall behind in producing what it needs, CBD supplements can help. CBD supplements can also stimulate the body to build more receptors, which makes the body’s natural cannabinoids work more effectively.

Many pet parents are wary about implementing CBD into their dog’s life, so if you are considering it but have some questions, this article may help: https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/canine-nutrition/cbd-for-dogs-expert-guide/ 

Overall, by being attentive to your dog’s well-being, feeding them a nutritious diet, implementing preventative measures, and seeking veterinary guidance when needed, you can contribute to a happier, healthier life for your dog.

Article reviewed by
Laura Ward

Pet Nutritionist

Laura studied BSc (Hons) Animal Science with an accreditation in Nutrition at the University of Nottingham, before working for eight years in the pet food and nutrition industry.

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