When it comes to the health of your pet, you want to know about any issues as soon as possible. Unfortunately, dogs don’t speak a human language and are unable to tell us when something is bothering them. Instead, we have to be experts in their body language and look for subtle signs that something may not be right. In the case of joint pain in dogs, this can mean observing behavioral changes or seeing physical indications that they’re in some kind of pain. There are many different reasons for joint pain in dogs. Some are more common than others, but regardless of the reason, many dogs will present with certain similar symptoms if they are experiencing joint pain. For this reason, let’s take a look at six of the most common indicators that your dog may be suffering from joint pain and discuss what you should do to help your dog feel better:
Limping or Shifting Weight When Walking or Standing
“My dog is limping, but he’s not in any pain.”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this from owners. Our pets are great at hiding pain and typically complain much less than we do when they are hurt. If your pet is limping they ARE experiencing pain. Evolutionarily there is no reason to not use all 4 legs to their highest ability unless there is pain or a physical reason that makes use of one of the legs a hindrance to movement.
When someone is experiencing joint pain, one of the first things that happens is the person may begin to shift their weight or limp. This is because the joints do not have normal range of motion and are experiencing pain. As a result, the dog will shift their weight as they walk and may appear as if they are walking with a limp or as if they are putting less weight on one foot or another compared to the other foot. You may also notice that your dog may shift his weight while standing or sitting. This is because the pain is causing discomfort and the dog is trying to balance that out with his weight. If you notice your dog shifting his weight, be sure to take note of which foot or feet he’s shifting more weight onto and which foot or feet he is putting less weight on. This will help you determine if the problem is with his front legs or back legs.
Stiffness After Resting Or Short Walks
We’re all familiar with what it feels like to be super tired after a long day at work or after a big project. Sometimes we just want to sit down and chill out for a few hours or even a few days. For some people, this may mean sitting in a chair or on the couch watching TV, reading a book, or playing video games. For others, this may mean taking a nap. For dogs, this may mean taking a rest after a walk. Even if your dog is young and healthy, after a long walk, he may want to immediately rest. This is normal. Unfortunately, it’s also something that’s common in dogs that experience joint pain. When your dog’s joints are experiencing pain, even a short walk may feel like a long walk. This can cause your dog’s joints to become stiff or sore and he may want to sit or lay down to rest so the pain goes away. If your dog sits or lays down after just a short walk and seems to be in pain, it’s likely that he’s experiencing joint pain.
Discoloration of the Skin or Fur Around the Joints
One of the signs of joint pain in dogs is discoloration of the skin around the joint. Joint pain causes inflammation in the joint and may also cause inflammation in the surrounding tissue. This inflammation can cause a noticeable change in the color of the skin around the joint. Red to pink coloring of the tissue is the most common change. In some cases, you may also notice that the skin is swollen or that there is a slight discharge around or coming out of the skin near the joint. This can be from increased fluid or lymphatic fluid collecting in the joint or surrounding tissue. Changes like this can indicate a joint infection or bone cancer and should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
You may also notice your pet licking the areas around the joints. This is because licking can help relieve some of the pain associated with the joint similar to a person rubbing a painful spot. Licking causes the fur to become red to brown in color. This is due to a molecule in the saliva called porphyrin which contains iron.
One of the signs of joint pain in dogs is that they can become withdrawn and less social. If your dog is normally outgoing and wants to be around other dogs or people and suddenly becomes reclusive, it’s possible that he’s experiencing joint pain. A dog experiencing joint pain may become less social because the pain is limiting his ability to interact with others. He may want to rest or may just want to be left alone because the pain is making him uncomfortable. New aggression toward people or other dogs can also be a symptom of joint pain.
Change in Bowel Movements and Urination
Another sign of joint pain in dogs is a change in bowel movements and urination. The hunched position needed for defecation can be difficult to get into if there is pain in the joints or spine which can lead to constipation. Urinary tract infections and joint pain can often occur together as well. Many pets that have trouble rising may not be able to get up fast enough to relieve themselves outside and may end up urinating on themselves which can lead to infection.
Hesitating to Jump
Finally, another sign of joint pain in dogs is that they may hesitate to jump up or down. Jumping up puts extra pressure on the hind legs and lower spine and jumping down puts pressure on the front legs and neck. Teaching your dog to use stairs to get on and off furniture is a great way to reduce pain and lower the risk of injury.
If you notice any of these signs it’s important to monitor your pet closely and get them to rest as much as possible. Avoid all high impact play like fetch or roughhousing with other dogs. Most minor injuries that cause limping like a muscle strain will self-resolve after a few days of rest. You should NOT give any over-the-counter pain relievers made for humans such as Tylenol, Aspirin or Ibuprofen, these medications can cause serious side effects even when dosed appropriately. If your pet is still exhibiting symptoms of pain after a few days, won’t put any weight on a limb, or is getting worse instead of better, it’s time to see your vet. A full physical exam, x-rays, lab work, and tick disease testing are some of the most commonly used diagnostics to help determine why your pet might be limping.
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