Bulldog chasing a tennis ball @rzierik via Twenty20

Dogs and joint health

Most dogs enjoy an active lifestyle, filled with chasing, jumping, fetching, tussling, swimming, and other activities. Consequently, many also experience some of the joint problems that humans do—including arthritis, tendon and ligament tears, and joint degeneration. These disorders can range in severity from the mildly inconvenient to the debilitating. Many can be treated symptomatically, while others require more invasive interventions. 

Here we’ll discuss common joint diseases in dogs, as well as prevention, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Common Joint Diseases in Dogs

Dogs commonly experience two major types of joint problems: developmental and degenerative. Developmental joint problems—like elbow or hip dysplasia—are those that are caused by malformation or incomplete development of a joint, most often a ball-in-socket joint. This can lead to stress on adjacent structures (like ligaments and muscles), uneven or excessive bone wear, physical discomfort, and limited mobility.

Degenerative joint problems—such as cruciate ligament degeneration or arthritis in dogs—tend to worsen with age and joint use. Symptoms such as pain stiffness can be acute or chronic, and may wax and wane depending on your pet’s age, activity level, and overall health. Severe problems, such as a cruciate ligament tear, may require surgical management and substantial recovery time.

Signs of Joint Problems in Dogs

Typically, observation of your dog’s behavior is key to recognizing joint issues early. Here are some basic questions to ask when assessing your dog’s joint health:

  • Does she have trouble jumping onto a chair or into the car?
  • Does she have trouble climbing stairs?
  • Is she reluctant to run or play for extended periods?
  • Does she seem to favor a limb or show signs of sensitivity?

Any or all of these can be signs of pain or stiffness related to joint disease. If symptoms persist, a trip to the veterinarian can help determine whether what you’re seeing is the effect of a simple sprain or something more serious. 

Tips for Dogs with Joint Disease

If your dog has been diagnosed with a joint disorder, there are things you can do to make their day-to-day lives more comfortable. Try the following suggestions to improve accessibility for your dog:

  • Limit strenuous exercise, especially during flare-ups.
  • Install doggy stairs and ramps to help your pet access her favorite spots.
  • Use a heated bed or warming pad to decrease arthritic pain.
  • Use a memory foam bed to gently support pressure points.
  • Administer medications or supplements prescribed by your vet to lessen the frequency of flare-ups and ease pain.

Caution: Don’t give human pain meds to your pet. Canine and human physiologies are different, and meds that are helpful to us have the potential to harm your pet.

Other Treatments For Maintaining Joint Health

Obesity can place added stress on already sore or damaged joints, so try to keep your dog’s weight within healthy parameters. Avoid cold or damp places, as these can aggravate symptoms of arthritis. Massage and acupuncture therapies are also available for dogs with joint or other musculoskeletal problems. Dietary supplements containing glucosamine or chondroitin may also support bone health in dogs of any age, regardless of joint health.

As with any potential treatments, consult your vet to see what therapies are most appropriate and affordable.

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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