What are the Signs of Joint Pain in Dogs?

DM Gutierrez
DM Gutierrez
Large dogs like mastiffs are at risk for joint pain.
Large dogs like mastiffs are at risk for joint pain.

The signs of joint pain in dogs are often difficult to recognize. Dogs instinctively hide pain to avoid appearing weak to the pack or predators. Some joint pain is easy to detect, especially when the dog begins to have trouble standing up, jumping, or walking up stairs. Whining when moving a joint, flinching away from being touched, and limping are also signs of joint pain in dogs.

Trouble standing up may be a sign of joint pain in dogs.
Trouble standing up may be a sign of joint pain in dogs.

Behaviors like shivering, panting, and restless pacing are often indicators of joint pain in a dog. A dog may also refuse to eat, play, or be touched and can sometimes become irritable and prone to snapping. Reluctance to go for a walk, jump into a car, or climb stairs can also be a symptom of possible joint pain.

Arthritis is a common cause of joint pain in dogs. Damage to the cartilage and bones of the joints may occur from injury or the aging process. There may be no signs in the early stages of arthritis, but as the condition worsens, the dog may appear stiff and sore at first, then livelier after limited exercise. In later stages, the back legs may be the most affected, causing the dog increasing discomfort when getting up and down from the floor.

Panting can indicate joint pain in a dog.
Panting can indicate joint pain in a dog.

Certain breeds are more susceptible to joint pain than others, especially the larger breeds. Golden retrievers tend to have a high incidence of hip dysplasia. This condition is a result of malformation of the hip socket and can lead to cartilage decay and the formation of bone spurs. The degeneration of supporting tissue and lubricating fluids typically causes pain, while the formation of bone spurs reduces the dog’s range of motion.

Dogs tend to enjoy walks, so if one is reluctant to go, it might be a joint issue.
Dogs tend to enjoy walks, so if one is reluctant to go, it might be a joint issue.

Some smaller breeds are also prone to joint problems. Chihuahuas sometimes develop a luxating patella, a condition where the kneecap slips out of place, making the dog lame. Dachshunds, and other dogs with disproportionately long spines, sometimes develop intervertebral disc disease, or IDD. In IDD, the discs of the spine gradually degenerate, causing increasing pressure on the spinal cord. Signs of IDD include weakness of the back legs, a stumbling gait, or a hunched spine. This condition usually leads to paralysis.

Shivering, panting and restless pacing can be signs of joint pain in dogs.
Shivering, panting and restless pacing can be signs of joint pain in dogs.

Treatment for joint pain in dogs depends on the cause of the pain. Since obesity and inactivity can lead to joint problems, weight loss and an exercise program may be the first step in a treatment protocol. If joint pain is due to arthritis or rheumatism, anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed. If pain or immobility is caused by genetic defects, such as hip dysplasia or intervertebral disc disease, surgery may sometimes help. More often, palliative treatment is provided to make the dog as comfortable as possible.

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Discussion Comments

Fa5t3r

@browncoat - Unfortunately, I think a lot of older dogs have joint pain and no treatment because there's no real way to alleviate it.

I'm sure a lot of people online have seen that gorgeous photo of the man who takes his arthritic dog out into the cold waters of a lake to provide relief from the pain and help it fall asleep every night.

Unfortunately, just like people, there's simply no real cure for arthritis.

browncoat

@Ana1234 - It was probably more difficult to detect because a problem in the spine might not have made him favor one side over the other. If a dog is having problems with the joints in their limbs, you will be able to tell because they will limp.

If you think it might just be a thorn or something, very gently feel up their leg. If they pull away at a particular point, or if any part of the limb is very warm, then you need to make sure they see a vet. It might just be a sprain, but it's impossible to tell until you do.

Ana1234

It can be so difficult to detect joint pain in dogs, because they do hide it so well. My poor dog had a problem with his spine that we never noticed, because he didn't seem to change his behavior at all. It was only when he became incontinent that we took him to the vet and they explained that the nerves around his bladder had been cut off by the problem in his spine and he was probably in quite a lot of pain, even if he never showed it.

The worst thing about it was that if we had known about the problem earlier, we could have helped him but by the time we got a diagnosis it was already too late and the damage was permanent.

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    • Large dogs like mastiffs are at risk for joint pain.
      By: biglama
      Large dogs like mastiffs are at risk for joint pain.
    • Trouble standing up may be a sign of joint pain in dogs.
      By: kudrashka
      Trouble standing up may be a sign of joint pain in dogs.
    • Panting can indicate joint pain in a dog.
      By: Mat Hayward
      Panting can indicate joint pain in a dog.
    • Dogs tend to enjoy walks, so if one is reluctant to go, it might be a joint issue.
      By: lightpoet
      Dogs tend to enjoy walks, so if one is reluctant to go, it might be a joint issue.
    • Shivering, panting and restless pacing can be signs of joint pain in dogs.
      By: Eric Isselée
      Shivering, panting and restless pacing can be signs of joint pain in dogs.
    • Golden Retrievers tend to suffer from hip dysplasia as they age.
      By: Mat Hayward
      Golden Retrievers tend to suffer from hip dysplasia as they age.
    • Surgery may be required to treat joint pain in dogs.
      By: Scott Griessel
      Surgery may be required to treat joint pain in dogs.