Why Dog Joint Health is Important?

Table of Contents

If a living thing has bones and joints, then it can experience joint pain, and this includes not only people, but all mammals, as well as other creatures.  Unfortunately, this means that our canine companions can and often do experience chronic joint pain as a result of many factors, and it’s up to dog owners to watch their dogs closely for changes in their behavior that may signal the development of joint pain.

Joint pain can be the result of many factors, as well as a symptom of other issues.  Some of these include (but are not limited to):

  • Arthritis
  • Injury
  • Illness
  • Old Age
  • Breed predisposition

Once you know what’s causing your pup’s pain, there are a variety of ways to provide relief for joint pain in dogs.

Table of Contents:

  • Knowing the Cause
  • Joint Pain Symptoms
  • Treatment Options
  • External Treatments

Knowing the Cause

Obviously, before you treat a condition, you have to know what’s causing it, so a trip to your veterinarian is crucial before you start any kind of treatment.  As with humans, joint pain in dogs can be the result of a variety of issues, and there isn’t always a single cause. In fact, most of the causes of joint pain are linked to each other.  Let’s take a quick look at the most common causes (those ones we mentioned above) and the ways their effects on the body differ. All of these causes are linked to either developmental or degenerative issues.

Arthritis

If you follow PetHonesty, you know we recently looked at ways to treat arthritis in dogs.  Arthritis can be both a result of the other common causes of joint pain listed below, and a cause of pain on its own.  It is a degenerative issue in that many specific forms of arthritis (like osteoarthritis) cause joints and parts of joints to deteriorate over time.  This deterioration causes the bones in the joints to grind against each other, leading to further joint damage, inflammation, pain, and swelling.  

Injury

Even minor injuries can cause problems for your dog further down the road if they are not healed or treated correctly.  Sometimes, even injuries that were perfectly cared for and healed can still contribute to joint pain and other issues in your dog’s body.  Dogs that have had serious joint injuries have a higher risk for developing forms of arthritis later in life, and as anyone who has had an injury to their own joints knows, aches and pain can persist long after healing is completed.  If a joint injury is not properly treated, the complications and resulting issues will obviously be much more serious, leading to more pain later. Injuries are usually degenerative issues in that they cause damage that can get worse, but an injury early in life can also cause developmental issues that can lead to joint pain later in life.

Illness

Different kinds of illnesses can affect and weaken dogs’ joints, and certain diseases (besides just arthritis) can cause joint damage.  This can include damage to the cartilage in joints, the bones themselves, or the tendons and surrounding tissue. One such disease is aseptic necrosis of the femoral head (aka Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease).  This very long and complex name basically describes what the disease does: it lessens blood flow to the top of the femur (thigh) bone, including the part at the joint.  The lessened blood flow causes degeneration in the bone which in turn causes pain and difficulty walking. It often affects young, miniature breeds, and unfortunately, it has no known cause.

Old Age

Unfortunately, there isn’t really much to be done about this cause, but you can take proactive measures to relieve pain and keep your dog’s joints healthy longer in life.

Breed Predisposition

In general, joint problems and pain are more common in larger dogs, as they have to carry more size and weight during their lives causing more wear and tear on their joints.  According to the Veterinary Teaching Academy, the top ten breeds that develop osteoarthritis are:

  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Dachshund
  • Newfoundland
  • Bernard
  • Rottweiler
  • Great Dane
  • Mastiff
  • Old English Sheepdog

And the top ten breeds to develop patellar luxation (a condition where the knee cap moves and dislocates, causing knee pain, issues, and damage) tend to be smaller breeds, including:

  • Toy Poodle
  • Maltese
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Pomeranian
  • Pekingese
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Boston Terrier
  • Plummer Terrier
  • Patterdale Terrier

Some other examples of breed-specific issues include: 

  • Rottweilers-knee and ankle issues
  • Bernese Mountain dogs-elbow dysplasia
  • Newfoundlands-have the highest prevalence of cruciate ligament disease, which can lead to arthritis

As shown by these lists above, joint problems are more common in larger dogs, but smaller dogs can be predisposed to these issues as well.  

Joint Pain Symptoms

Now that we’ve looked at what can cause joint pain, it’s important to know what to look out for in your dog’s behavior and visible physiology.  Dogs with joint pain will often seem reluctant to get up from sitting or laying down, jump and move less, avoid stairs, and are just generally less willing to participate in any sort of activity less active.  They may also walk or move with a limp or just exhibit general stiffness.

Beyond behavioral differences, physically you may notice that your dog’s joints seem swollen and sometimes hot.  Your dog may be reluctant to let you touch these swollen areas. Sometimes there are obvious differences in the appearance of joints such as obvious growths or dislocations.  As soon as you notice something is out of the ordinary, it’s time to take your pup to the vet.  

Treatment Options

Okay, so once your furry friend has been diagnosed by a vet, what are the best options for joint pain relief in dogs?  There are a few main forms of treatment, as well as some preventative measures that can be taken to ensure that your dog doesn’t develop joint pain or can slow the worsening of the pain following diagnosis.

NSAIDs

NSAIDs are Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.  They are the most-commonly prescribed method of joint pain relief, and are used to reduce swelling, inflammation, stiffness, and pain in dogs that have either been diagnosed with arthritis or have recently had surgery.  Aspirin is a NSAID that can be used for pain management in both humans and dogs, but a vet will be able to properly prescribe types and amounts that are safe for your pup.*  They are known to be pretty safe with few side-effects (although you should always monitor your dog closely when giving them a new medication, just in case).

 *NOTE: NEVER just give your dog medication from your own medicine cabinet, even if it is one that is technically safe for them to take, such as aspirin.  Not following proper dosage and instructions prescribed by a vet can harm your dog!

Steroids and other Medications

In the case that NSAIDs aren’t appropriate, vets may prescribe other medications.  

Corticosteroids are the most commonly-prescribed of steroidal medications.  These use steroids to lessen swelling, boost muscle and energy, and lessen pain.  However, they are not the best for long-tern use and are not prescribed for that. Two other common medications for long-term pain relief are Gabapentin and Tramadol.  

Gabapentin specifically treats pain from damaged nerves.  The most common side effect is sleepiness in the dogs that use it.

Tramadol is an opioid drug that you may recognize the name of.  It’s used in humans as well, and in dogs it is sometimes prescribed for older pups that have chronic, constant discomfort.

Supplements

Supplements are good both as a preventative measure and as an active treatment.  By giving your dog multivitamins or other supplements that contain joint-specific ingredients, you can lessen their chances of developing joint problems later in life.  In particular, supplements, such as PetHonesty’s 10-for-1 Multivitamin or Hip and Joint Supplements contain Glucosamine, which helps to lubricate and protect existing cartilage and can even help to repair damaged cartilage in joints. 

Chondroitin sulfate is another component of cartilage that can be taken in a supplement form. Similar to glucosamine for dogs, studies have shown that it is helpful in preventing joint damage and repairing existing damage, and it is often taken in conjunction with Glucosamine.  In some studies, it has also been shown to reduce swelling and pain, lessening the need for other kinds of pain relievers killers.

Fish oils have been shown to decrease inflammation in addition to their other health benefits (support for healthy fur, skin, nails, and immune system).  Again though, it’s important that you use fish oils that are specifically formulated for dogs, such as Omega Salmon Snacks, and not the same kinds you may have in your own medicine cabinet.  

You can also give your dog specific amounts of natural ingredients, such as turmeric, to help lessen pain, but dosages should be small and controlled. 

In general, dosages for supplements vary for different breeds and sizes of dogs, so it’s important to talk with a vet before you start giving your pup pills, even if they are all natural.  Too much of a good thing can still have negative effects on your furry friend.

External Treatments

In addition to oral medications and supplements, there are some external methods you can use to provide joint pain relief for dogs.  The most common is diet control. An overweight dog puts unnecessary strain on their joints, which can cause further damage and faster deterioration, so a healthy, balanced diet to keep your pup in top condition is very important.

Temperature control can be helpful; make sure your dog isn’t too cold or too hot, and if inflamed joints seem hot to the touch, you can use cool compresses and ice packs to try to cool them down.

In some cases, massage and gentle manual movement of the joints can be beneficial as well.  You can either take your dog to professionals or learn to do these at home as another added level to internal treatments.

While joint pain is serious, and often a chronic condition, it can be prevented and lessened to ensure that your pup leads their happiest, most active life.  Knowing what can cause joint pain and how to treat it is the first step in getting relief for your best friend, and with proper treatment, not even chronic pain will be able to slow your dog down!

 

Camille Arneberg and her dog
Camille is a co-founder of PetHonesty and VP of Pup Parent Education. After watching her own family dog suffer from joint issues for years she became passionate about improving dogs' quality of life. With the help of a team of veterinarians and dog nutritionists she now helps educate other dog owners about the small but powerful things they can do to positively impact their dogs' health and wellness! She lives in Austin, TX and loves cuddling puppies, being outside and reading.