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Dog Joint Pain: 4 Ways to Provide Relief

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When you’re used to your dog running up the steps or jumping up on the couch with ease, you may start to worry if you notice them slowing down or struggling.

If your dog seems stiff or isn’t taking part in their normal activities, this could be due to dog joint pain. Dog arthritis (joint inflammation) or other health issues can cause joint pain.

While limping is an obvious sign of pain, there are several other early warning signs to watch for.

We spoke to vet experts to learn more about these signs and ways to provide dog joint pain relief.

Causes of Joint Pain in Dogs

There are many causes of joint pain in dogs. However, they generally fall into two categories: developmental joint issues or degenerative joint issues, says Dr. Rosalie M. LoScrudato, of NorthStar VETS Veterinary Emergency, Trauma, and Specialty Center in New Jersey.

Developmental joint issues involve joints that don’t develop properly. This includes problems due to genetic or heritable conditions. Examples of developmental joint issues include hip dysplasia (abnormal development of the hip joint) and elbow dysplasia (abnormal development of the elbow joint).

Certain breeds, especially large breeds, are more likely to have joint pain in dogs. For example, Bernese Mountain Dogs are prone to elbow dysplasia and Rottweilers are prone to hip dysplasia.

Degenerative dog joint issues get worse over time. Causes of degenerative dog joint pain include repetitive injury, infections, immune-mediated diseases, torn ligaments, poor nutrition, and obesity. Cruciate ligament tears (in a dog’s knee) are often seen with impact on a dog’s joints, such as from jumping on and off a couch or while running. Obesity puts extra strain and stress on joints and can worsen joint disease, including arthritis, says New York City-based veterinarian Dr. Rachel Barrack.

“The deterioration of the joint structure and inflammation within the joint lead to progressively painful arthritis,” Dr. LoScrudato adds.

The two main types of arthritis in dogs are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis (OA). Canine osteoarthritis affects an estimated 1 in 4 dogs. It is common in senior dogs and large breed dogs.

Signs of Joint Pain in Dogs

Chocolate Labrador limping

Early on, dogs with joint pain may only show subtle changes in behavior that are harder for pet parents to notice. “Limping is most obvious, but unfortunately is not often the first sign of pain,” says Dr. LoScrudato.

Dog joint pain symptoms to watch for include:

  • Difficulty rising
  • Lethargy
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling at the joints
  • Decreased walking distance
  • Reluctance to play or engage with owners
  • Sleeping more
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reluctance to go up/down stairs or on/off furniture
  • Difficulty getting into the car
  • Changes in the way your dog walks (gait)
  • Slipping while walking
  • Chewing, biting or licking painful areas
  • Increased licking all over their body

Some behavioral signs that your dog might be experiencing dog arthritis or dog joint pain include irritability, a worried look, or depression.

These can be misinterpreted as signs of behavioral issues or dismissed as signs of ‘normal aging’ but may be signs that your dog is in pain, Dr. LoScrudato says.

Joint Pain Relief for Dogs: 4 Ways to Help

Corgi on ramp to couch

You want your dog to get joint pain relief as soon as possible but know that it’s going to be a long-term process to help alleviate their pain and discomfort.

Here’s how you can help with dog arthritis symptoms and dog joint pain:

Address the Inflammation

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs for dogs) and analgesics are commonly used to help dogs experiencing inflammation and pain, including in their joints. “Humans should never use their own medications on their pets!” Dr. LoScrudato warns. NSAIDs intended for people can cause gastrointestinal ulceration and kidney failure when given to dogs.

Galliprant is an NSAID for dogs that targets the source of canine osteoarthritis pain and inflammation. These flavored, chewable tablets are safe to use daily, though monitoring is recommended for long-term use.

Disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs for dogs (DMOADs) such as Adequan can alter the progression of dog arthritis by improving the health of the joint fluid and cartilage.

Acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbal therapy can alleviate the inflammation and discomfort associated with osteoarthritis, says Dr. Barrack, who is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and certified veterinary Chinese herbalist.

Supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, microlactin, turmeric, and green-lipped mussels have been shown to reduce inflammation and joint pain. Joint supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin can also be helpful. Only use supplements under the direction of your veterinarian.

Practice Weight Management

Weight management is crucial for helping dogs with mobility issues. Losing weight reduces the load on a dog’s joints and muscles. Recent studies also show that fat tissue contains factors that promote inflammation, which causes pain and the progression of arthritis.

Veterinarians can help owners determine if their dog is overweight and create a weight loss plan to achieve a target weight.

Consider Alternative Therapies 

Meeting with a rehabilitation therapist who can offer advice on exercises, stretching, and massage techniques appropriate for your dog is an excellent way to actively participate in a pet’s therapy program. Acupressure and massage are great things owners can do at home when snuggling on the couch to help alleviate some of their dog’s joint-related aches and pains,” Dr. Barrack says.

Swimming is also a great low-impact exercise that can help dog arthritis symptoms by increasing muscle mass, which in turn helps strengthen and support joints. It can also be a good way to increase your dog’s activity level if you’re encouraging them to lose weight without increasing stress on their joints.

Make Modifications to Your Home

Keep your dog more comfortable by making some slight adjustments to your home. 

Providing ramps to get in and out of the house or vehicle and on/off furniture can be beneficial for dogs with joint pain. Anti-slip mats or carpets can be added to areas that are frequently used by your dog to help prevent falls. 

Consider a heated dog bed or an orthopedic dog bed to provide maximum comfort and take pressure off your dog’s joints. 

Create places where your dog can relax away from overly enthusiastic housemates — such as other pets and toddlers — so they can rest.

“The benefits of adapting the home environment, weight management, and lifestyle modifications cannot be over emphasized,” Dr. LoScrudato says.

When to See a Veterinarian about Dog Joint Pain

To provide effective dog joint pain relief, you will need to work with your veterinarian. “Any time you suspect your dog may be experiencing any kind of pain, this warrants contacting your primary care veterinarian for further diagnostics and intervention to alleviate discomfort,” Dr. Barrack says. 

A progressive change in your dog’s behavior or reduced interest in physical activity is another reason to contact your vet, Dr. LoScrudato recommends. “In addition to a full physical examination, veterinarians will gather a full history and discuss changes they and the owners have noted.”

Diagnostic procedures like radiographs (X-rays) may be recommended, Dr. LoScrudato says. “Trial of pain medications may also be used to see if pet parents notice any improvements in their pets after use.”

Collectively, this information can help determine if pets are experiencing joint pain and what further course of therapies may be warranted. If dog joint pain is caught early enough and is treatable, your vet may recommend joint pain medicine for dogs, dietary changes, supplements, and physical rehabilitation.

“Some conditions require surgical intervention while others can be treated with more moderate management including Western medications and supplements, acupuncture, and/or traditional Chinese herbal therapy,” Dr. Barrack says.

Most cases of dog arthritis causing joint pain will require long-term management. Once dog arthritis is present in a joint, it is likely to progress over time.

“[Your vet’s goal] is to maintain comfort and slow down the progression,” Dr. LoScrudato says. “This is most effectively done using a multi-modal approach based on each dog’s clinical signs. Multi-modal means using a varying combination of techniques, medications, supplements, and therapies to reduce discomfort.”