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Signs and Symptoms of Joint Problems in Dogs

Table of Contents

When it comes to keeping your dog happy and healthy, it’s best to catch ailments as soon as possible. Today you’ll learn how to spot the signs and symptoms of joint problems in dogs. You’ll get an idea of what to look for if you think your four-legged companion might be suffering from hip discomfort, then you’ll discover common next steps and treatments to help your dog feel healthier and happier.

It’s important to keep an eye out for these common signs for two reasons: you don’t want your dog to be suffering in silence longer than they need to, and the earlier you notice these symptoms, the better your chance to manage potential problems

Let’s dive in deeper!

Table of Contents:

  • Which Breeds Are More Likely to Suffer from Hip Problems?
  • The Signs and Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
  • Be Certain by Visiting Your Vet
  • Possible Surgeries for Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
  • Treating Hip Dysplasia without Surgery


Which Breeds Are More Likely to Suffer from Hip Problems?

While any breed or size of dog can be affected by hip discomfort, some are more susceptible than others. In no particular order, some of the most commonly affected breeds include Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Pugs, Otterhounds, Great Danes, French bulldogs, Saint Bernards, Golden Retrievers, Basset Hounds, Newfoundlands, Neopolitan Mastiffs, Bloodhounds, and Chows [2].

If your dog fits into one of these breeds, they’re not guaranteed to suffer from hip problems, but their chances are higher. So be on the lookout for the symptoms listed below.

The Signs and Symptoms of Hip Problems In Dogs

Since your loving fur-baby can’t tell you in plain English exactly how they’re feeling, it’s your job to play the part of the detective and look for clues to determine your dog’s comfort level. Keep an eye out for some of these common signs and symptoms [3]. The more you notice, the more likely your dog is experiencing problems with their hips:

  • Difficulty with using stairs, laying, or rising
  • Cracking or popping sounds coming from their joints
  • A strange or swaying gait or walk
  • Standing with their back legs closer than their front legs
  • “Bunny hopping” with both back legs 
  • Apathy toward exercise or play
  • Sensitive or swollen joints or hips

Be Certain by Visiting Your Vet

These signs and symptoms will point you in the right direction, but if you want to know for sure whether your dog is suffering from hip problems, you’ll need to visit your vet for the final answer. Remember, early diagnosis is important.

The vet will usually begin by a routine blood chemical profile, which includes an electrolyte panel, urinalysis, and blood count. A test like this is standard protocol during a typical checkup. Next, the vet might use a joint laxity (or joint looseness) test to get a better feel for the problem. 

Finally, your vet will most often take an x-ray to get a clear picture of the condition of your dog’s hips.


Supporting HIp Health without Surgery

There are few noninvasive ways to help support your dog’s joint health and mobility.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

This group of anti-inflammatory medications is commonly recommended for both dogs and humans [5]. Common NSAIDs for dogs include deracoxib, firocoxib, carprofen (or Rimadyl for dogs), and meloxicam.

These medications tend to work by bringing down chronic inflammation levels throughout a dog’s entire body, reducing the tension on their hips and joints. Although they are typically safe, some dogs might experience unwanted side effects. Make sure to let your vet know if your dog has trouble with other medications.

Mobility Brace

We all need a little help from time to time, and a mobility brace can make a world of difference for some dogs. There are a handful of brands of hip braces for dogs, but they all essentially do the same thing: help support the joints and muscles of your dog’s hindquarters, making it easier for them to move around.

Most mobility braces wrap around the front shoulders to help reduce the weight and load on the dog’s hips and hind legs. Ask your vet if they think a mobility brace could help reduce your dog’s discomfort. 

Low Impact Exercise

It’s important to follow your vet’s recommendations, but if they give the green light on exercise, this can be a good way to strengthen your dog’s muscles and joints to improve their mobility. Just be sure to focus on low impact exercises like walking or swimming, and avoid rough activity like jumping or running. 

Closely related to exercise, you might also consider formal physical therapy. A professional canine physical therapist will often be able to utilize specific stretches, underwater treadmills, and other techniques to improve your dog’s mobility and reduce their overall discomfort.

Laser Therapy

Some vets have started using laser therapy to reduce discomfort. It works by reducing inflammation, opening up blood vessels, and stimulating the lymphatic system (which is responsible for removing unwanted waste from the body) [7]. Surprisingly enough, laser therapy also works by blocking certain nerve receptors and reducing the amount of discomfort signals sent to the brain. 

Laser therapy doesn't cause discomfort and should be safe for most dogs. Your dog will likely find the process somewhat calming. Currently, there are no known side effects for canine laser therapy.

Weight Management

This might be the easiest and most cost-effective way to support  hip health.. Most dog owners don’t realize how important their dog’s weight is. Not only do the extra pounds place unnecessary pressure on their joints, but the fatty tissue produces inflammatory hormones that actually increase chronic discomfort. In fact, it’s been proven that overweight dogs have a greater chance of developing joint discomfort symptoms, which is directly related to hip dysplasia in dogs [8].

Portion control is the name of the game when it comes to weight management. Of course, it’s important to take a look at the quality of meals you’re feeding your pup. Many vets recommend aiming for more quality meats, fruits, and vegetables, and fewer processed grains or packaged human food.


If your dog isn’t too sensitive to touch, gentle massages can actually be very helpful in aiding your dog’s hips, especially in a warm room. Focus on massaging your dog’s muscles around their hips and thighs. As an added bonus, they’ll get a boost in oxytocin from the loving physical touch.


While there isn’t much clinical data on acupuncture, there is a large amount of anecdotal testimonies of owners noticing great relief in their dogs using this alternative form of treatment. Acupuncture works by increasing blood flow and relaxing the muscles surrounding a dog’s hips [9]. As far as the research goes, there aren’t any side effects of acupuncture, so it’s safe for most dogs. Again, it’s best to check with your vet before finding a canine acupuncturist in your area.


As we mentioned earlier, most dogs aren’t getting enough nutrition from food alone. Many loving owners are turning to joint-support supplements to help their dogs move more freely. 

One of the most important and effective supplements for pups with hip problems is glucosamine for dogs. This vital nutrient helps your dog repair their joints and cartilage from the inside out. That’s why we made sure to include this compound in our glucosamine dog chews(loved by dogs of all shapes and sizes).

Wrapping Up

The key takeaway here is to be aware of any signs or symptoms that your dog may be exhibiting to indicate that they’re experiencing hip problems. As mentioned previously, catching hip problems early is your best chance to ensure your pup will bounce back and return to their happy and healthy selves. 


Camille Arneberg and her dog
Camille is a co-founder of Pet Honesty 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.