Occasionally, you may notice your dog appears to be moving a bit more slowly than normal, or perhaps even limping. Often, this is due to some sort of hip or joint discomfort your dog is experiencing.
Dogs can develop hip and joint problems at any age, and it doesn’t matter whether they are young or old, or whether they are tiny or big. Granted, some breeds may be more prone to hip and joint problems than others, and older dogs are more often affected simply due to age and the natural deterioration of joint and bone health, but hip and joint pain by and large, doesn’t discriminate in choosing its victims.
Though joint pain in the hips seems to be the most common area, dogs can suffer joint pain in their shoulders, knees, and elbows too. Some dogs may even develop pain and deterioration in the joints between their spinal vertebrae.
It is important to properly diagnose the source of your dog’s pain and discomfort to effectively treat it. In some cases, the pain may never be fully eradicated, and treatment will encompass managing your dog’s discomfort over the long-term.
Symptoms and Signs of Joint Pain in Dogs
Some of the more common signs of joint pain and discomfort in dogs include:
- Limping or lameness
- Favoring one leg over another
- Holding one leg up off the ground
- Bunny hopping while running
- Moving stiffly and slowly
- Having trouble getting up on their feet
- Having trouble laying down
- Displaying difficulty when climbing stairs
- Displaying trouble engaging in common movements or activities
- Unwilling to walk or jump or climb in general
- Display a struggle with jumping into a vehicle
- Sometimes dogs may obsessively lick the joint area
- Noticeable swelling of the joints
- Hearing an audible popping or cracking sound in the joint
- Having accidents around the house
- Whining or whimpering
- Exhibiting excessive panting
- Displaying behavior changes such as irritation or depression
- Muscle wasting or atrophy can also occur and be an indicator of hip and joint pain
Dog Breeds Most Commonly Affected by Hip and Joint Pain
As stated before, any dog of any age can develop hip and joint pain. However, there are some breeds and types of dog that could be more susceptible than others.
These breeds include:
- Saint Bernard
- Old English Sheepdog
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Alaskan Malamute
- Labrador Retriever
- Great Dane
- Old English Sheep Dog
Also, dogs that are longer in the torso than they are tall can be pain prone, and dogs with a high BMI are at a high risk of developing joint issues. Sometimes small breed dogs that have been bred to have specific qualities are also more at risk for hip and joint pain too, among other health concerns.
Causes of Hip and Joint Pain in Dogs
There are many reasons a dog can develop hip and joint pain. Some of the more common culprits can be narrowed down to:
Hip dysplasia is a condition where a dog’s hip socket has not properly formed. This results in joint damage and arthritis in dogs due to the ill fit. Because the bone doesn’t fit into the socket properly, it can create pain, inflammation, and irritation from the rubbing. A few signs of arthritis in dogs include change of behavior, limping or whimpering.
Although any breed of dog can be affected with this condition, it is often seen in German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundland, and Labrador Retrievers. Hip dysplasia is considered a genetic condition that can be passed down the line and inherited by their offspring.
However, other factors such as obesity or insufficient levels of exercise can speed up the onset. Additionally, though this condition can occur at any time any dog’s life, it appears to be more common in older dogs and related to the aging process.
Osteoarthritis in older dogs is caused by natural degeneration due to wear and tear on the joints. Dogs can suffer from this wear and tear with any joint in their body, including their elbows, shoulders, knees, back, and hips.
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)
This condition most often affects shoulder joints, but also may affect hip joints. OCD is caused when there is a flaw in the smooth cartilage surface of a joint, and the cartilage develops abnormally on the end of the bone.
This creates a separation from the underlying bone that can cause problems and pain. Sometimes this condition resolves on its own, if your dog’s activity is very restricted.
Unfortunately, sometimes surgery might be required if a piece of cartilage breaks off and floats loosely in the joint. The floating cartilage will need to be removed, and until it is, it can trigger varying levels of mild to intense pain.
This condition doesn’t have a known cause. It is a disintegration of a dog’s hip coupled with bone and joint inflammation. This is due to the spontaneous degeneration of the head of the femur bone located behind your dog’s hind leg.
This condition typically affects younger dogs, and is most often seen in toy, miniature, and small dog breeds, with Manchester Terriers appearing to have a genetic predisposition to this disease.
Panosteitis is common, and is the result of inflammation on the surface of a dog’s long bones. Panosteitis is sometimes referred to as a “growing pains”, as the condition appears to be related to rapid growth, especially in younger, larger dogs. Lameness can affect more than one leg bone, and shift from one leg to another.
Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD)
Another condition that is caused by rapid growth is HOD. This is again, one that is self-limiting and typically resolves itself, although in some very rare cases permanent damage and deformation can occur. HOD is an inflammation of the growth plates in a dog’s long bones.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Hip and Joint Pain
If a dog is suffering from hip or joint pain, or has pain anywhere in their body, they will need x-rays for a proper evaluation. Your vet may order scans of both of your dog’s hips, or take scans of both sides of his body, even if your dog appears to be favoring one side over the other. Better to scan both sides at the same time, to get a full picture of what may be going on.
Dogs can naturally be very stoic and may rarely display signs of pain. That’s why it’s important for you to know your dog well, so you can recognize subtle signs and behavior changes that indicate your dog may be hurting.
Sometimes a dog might sleep more than normal, or display a change in attitude. They may express a loss of interest in playing or other normal activities. These signs can be subtle, but if you’re looking hard enough, your dog will always give you clues as to how he is feeling.
When treating your dog for hip or joint pain, there are a variety of approaches to take. Sometimes simple pain management can be a huge help in improving your dog’s quality of life. A vet may recommend something to relieve pain and inflammation, they may recommend corticosteroids, or perhaps some combination thereof.
You might also be prescribed supplements to keep your dog’s joints healthy and well lubricated. Supplements like glucosamine, vitamin C, and MSM are sometimes recommended for this purpose. Your vet can also administer injections to lubricate the joints if they feel it is necessary.
Another treatment that appears to be becoming more popular with many pet owners is Chinese acupuncture. It has been used successfully for pain management in both humans as well as dogs for years, and is an option that may be combined with other treatments approaches as well.
It’s important to make sure your dog doesn’t overdo his activity while he’s recovering, and to keep exercise is to a minimum. When it’s time for exercise, water therapy is a very good option for dogs with joint pain. Even treatments like a massage and warm compresses can be very soothing and provide pain relief for your dog.
Make sure that wherever your dog sleeps, it is warm and dry, as moist conditions can sometimes worsen his pain. In very severe cases where the joint appears malformed and other treatment options don’t seem to be providing much relief, surgery may be needed. However, surgery is not a first choice when treating hip or joint pain, and should only be considered when all other treatment options have failed.
It should also be noted that regular exercise and a quality diet may be helpful slowing down the onset of hip and joint pain, although it will not “prevent” it.
Living with Hip and Joint Pain in Dogs
Sometimes dogs are just forced to live with hip and joint pain. That doesn’t mean that you can’t improve your dog’s quality of life. You can help him overcome some of the physical challenges he faces by making alterations around your home that will help him move around better.
Some recommendations to consider are:
You can install ramps to help your dog navigate things like stairs or furniture. That way, he will no longer need to jump or climb and cause himself unnecessary pain.
Runners and Cushion
Things like non-skid runners on wood or tile floors are helpful, and padded surfaces such as old chair cushions provide a soft and warm place to lay that is gentle on your dog’s hips and joints.
Sometimes dogs will ignore their pain and hurt themselves while trying to climb stairs or jump on their favorite couch or chair. Doggie gates can be useful to keep dogs from climbing and prevent them from jumping on furniture when you’re not looking.
Accessible Food and Water
Keep things like food and water easily accessible, and at a comfortable height. If you live in a multi-story home, it’s important to keep food and water dishes on all floors for easier access. You should also place those items on nonslip surfaces, so they stay put during drinking and feeding times.
Hot Water Bottles and Heat Pads
You can offer your dog a little extra warmth at night by wrapping a hot water bottle or a microwavable heating pad in a towel, and placing it in his bed.
If you’d really like to pamper your dog and make him feel loved, try grooming him on a regular basis. Unfortunately, when dogs lose their agility and mobility, they have a hard time reaching all their favorite spots while self-grooming. With regular grooming sessions, you can reach those spots instead, and in doing, bring comfort and delight to your canine friend.
There are a variety of ways you can make your dog suffering from long-term hip and joint pain more comfortable and help him navigate his environment. Put on your creative thinking cap, and brainstorm ways you can alter some of your dog’s favorite activities to make them safer and less arduous.
Encouraging Mobility in a Dog with Hip and Joint Pain
Sometimes when dogs are sore and in pain, they just don’t want to move around too much. However, regular gentle exercise can help your dog manage his pain and keep his muscles strong, his ligaments flexible, and improve circulation.
Plus, regular exercise reduces your dog’s chances of obesity. And just like with people, after a few minutes of moving around and warming up, most dogs can get around much more easily.
However, on those days where your dog appears reluctant to move, you may need to coax him with a treat or a favorite toy to get him up and on his feet. Try to make the experience as fun as you can, and shower him with lots of love and affection.
Just be careful not to overdo his exercise, because too much can cause additional strain and damage. It’s also important to monitor your dog’s diet, and make sure he’s eating well and staying at a healthy weight. Obesity creates additional joint stress and pain, which makes an already unfortunate condition worse.
At the end of the day, hip and joint pain in dogs can be challenging but not insurmountable. You may have to change your dog’s environment a bit, change his diet up, and modify certain activities to make sure he isn’t overdoing it, but even with all those changes, with proper treatment and care your dog can still have a very good quality of life.
*This article is for informational purposes only. Please see a vet if your pet shows any symptoms.