The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Canine Joint Pain!

Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

The world of pet ownership can be challenging at times. As pet lovers, we want nothing more than to see our furry friends happy and healthy. However, as responsible pet owners, we must remain informed about the challenges they may face as well as take measures to prevent those challenges from occurring. One common concern among many cat and dog owners is joint pain. In this article, you will learn about the symptoms of joint pain and its causes, risk factors, and prevention methods. Keep reading to become an expert on canine joint pain!

Symptoms of canine joint pain

When we think of joint pain in dogs, we often imagine an older dog who is clearly in pain. However, younger dogs can also experience joint pain especially when due to an injury. The joints most commonly affected are the hips, knees, elbows, and shoulders. There are a few key signs to look for if you are concerned about your dog having joint pain. The most common signs of joint pain in dogs include decreased mobility, decreased activity, difficulty rising, abnormal movement, and abnormal gait. You may also notice swelling along the bone or joint. Behavior changes like becoming more withdrawn or aggression toward other pets in the household can be an early indication of pain. If your dog has a sudden onset of being unwilling to put weight on a limb, this indicates a more serious problem that should be evaluated by your veterinarian right away.

Causes of canine joint pain

There are several common causes of canine joint pain. These causes range from injury to genetics. Some of the most common causes are:

Soft tissue injury – Joint damage can occur as a result of mild trauma or overuse, such as falling, a long hike, or even roughhousing with other dogs. Soft tissue injuries are the most common cause of minor, sudden onset joint pain. Often your pet will not show any symptoms other than a mild limp, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t in pain.

Fracture or Dislocation – More significant trauma can result in a broken bone or dislocation of a joint. Some broken bones are very obvious and you’ll know to get your dog to the emergency vet right away, but other more mild fractures can still cause significant pain and need to be treated quickly for the best chance of healing. Most dogs will not put weight on a broken leg and the area around the fracture will be very painful. If your dog won’t use their leg make sure to talk to your vet right away.

Tendon/Ligament Tear – A full or partial tear of the Cranial Cruciate Ligament(ACL in humans) is generally very painful and may result in your pet being unwilling to bear weight on their hind limb. The knee joint becomes very unstable without ligament attachments and putting weight on the leg causes the bones to move abnormally. A ligament tear can occur along any joint.

Arthritis/Osteoarthritis – Arthritis is the most common cause of joint pain in senior pets. It is a degenerative disease that occurs as a result of aging and causes pain and stiffness in the joints. It can eventually lead to the complete immobility of the joint and the inability to stand or walk as a result of the pain. Arthritis usually affects the larger joints, such as the hips, knees, and elbows, but it can also affect the smaller joints and the spine. It is a condition that can affect both dogs and cats at any age, but it is most common in senior pets.

Dysplasia – Hip, elbow, and shoulder dysplasia are congenital joint defects that commonly occur in larger breeds, such as German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers. Evidence of dysplasia can often be seen in young puppies. Stiffness and pain after normal play and running with a “bunny hop” gait on the hind legs are common symptoms.

Medial Patella Luxation (MPL) – This is a common cause of hind leg pain in small breed dogs. The patella aka knee cap slides out of place to the inside of the knee joint as the leg bends. This can occur because there is a lack of muscle, a weakness of the tendons, or if the grove in the femur (Trochlear Grove) is not very deep. As the patella slides out of place it is painful, but once back in a normal anatomical position it feels better. Many owners describe their pet hopping and extending the leg into a straight line and then returning to normal. This movement helps to slide the patella back into the trochlear grove. Patella luxation is graded from 1-4. It’s important to intervene early so that you can avoid your dog developing chronic pain and needing surgery.

Lyme Disease – Tick-borne illness can cause fever, shifting leg lameness and kidney damage. Yearly tick-borne disease testing is an important part of a yearly wellness exam if you live in an area with ticks even if you’ve never seen a tick on your dog. If your pet is feeling unwell and develops limping at the same time a vet visit for testing is highly recommended.

Broken nails/Wounds/Foxtails – Though not directly related to the joints, broken nails can cause significant pain and limping. The Quick is the central section of the nail, it is blood-filled and contains a nerve, which is why it hurt if you trim the nail too short or if your dog breaks a nail.

Small wounds on the pad can occur due to stepping on a sharp object or even due to an intense play session.

If you’re unlucky enough to live in an area of the country with foxtails, then you probably already know these are something to monitor for. A small fluid-filled swelling between the toes is the #1 sign that your dog may have an embedded foxtail.

Constant licking of the foot is often a sign of one of these issues. Make sure that you inspect the paw well to help you find the underlying issue.

Risk factors for canine joint pain

While canine joint pain is most often the result of injury, it can also be a result of genetics. Large breed dogs are more prone to dysplasia, but small breed dogs are more prone to MPL. It’s always important to consider genetic risk factors when researching which breeds and breeders. Purchasing a puppy for a responsible breeder who is investing in genetic testing and orthopedic testing before breeding is the best way to avoid early joint issues. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals has recommended testing for each breed based on the most common genetic issues observed within that breed.

Prevention of canine joint pain

As with many other health issues, the best way to prevent canine joint pain is to practice preventative care. This means being proactive about your dog’s health. Some ways to prevent joint pain include:

– Regular exercise – Joint pain can result in decreased mobility. Therefore, it is important to keep your dog active. Regular walks and low-impact activities like swimming are great exercises for dogs of any age.

– Maintaining a healthy weight – Extra weight puts added stress on your dog’s joints. In my opinion, this is the single most important thing you can do to help your pet live a long and healthy life.

– Healthy diet – A balanced diet can help prevent and treat joint pain.

– High-Quality Supplements – Supplements like Omega fats, glucosamine, and collagen make great additions to a healthy diet and can keep joints functioning at their best!

– Regular veterinary visits- Going to the vet regularly can help catch joint pain in its early stages.

Treatment for canine joint pain

Treatment for canine joint pain depends on the underlying cause of the pain. If your dog is experiencing joint pain as a result of a minor injury or overuse, the best thing for your pet is to rest. Using a crate to keep your pet confined for 72 hours is ideal. At a minimum, your dog should not do any high-impact activities like jumping on and off the couch, running, or playing with other dogs. You can use herbal remedies to provide pain relief for minor injuries. If you feel that your pet is hurt enough to need medication, you should always see your vet. Human medications like Aspirin, Tylenol, and Ibuprofen are NOT safe for pets and can have major side effects even if dosed properly. If your dog is still experiencing pain after a few days of rest, you should see your veterinarian.

If the joint pain is caused by arthritis, many lifestyle changes may help your pet. Weight loss and low-impact activity are both very important. Taking supplements such as glucosamine, omega-3 fatty acids, and chondroitin can ease pain and prevent the worsening of arthritis. Massaging their joints with products like relief salve or homemade golden paste can ease stiffness and pain. You can also try heat or cold therapy, physical therapy, or acupuncture. Using stairs or a ramp to get on and off furniture will help decrease pain from the pain of high-impact jumping.

For a cruciate ligament injury, surgery is sometimes the best route to take for treatment, but many dogs do well with conservative treatment. Acupuncture, laser therapy, and herbal medications can all be very helpful. Rest and the use of a brace are important to help the joint regain stability and not become reinjured during healing.

Medial Patella Luxation may also require surgery depending on the grade of the luxation and the reason for luxation. Grade 1 and 2 luxation can often be greatly improved by strengthening the hind legs. Physical therapy to target hind leg muscles and water treadmill therapy are great additions to any dog’s care plan.

Regular grooming to keep the nails and hair around the paws short will drastically decrease broken nails and foxtails. It’s important after walks to inspect your dog’s paws for signs of injury so that you can keep them clean and prevent infection. Soaking small wounds and swellings due to foxtails in a warm Epsom salt soak is both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial.

When it comes to the health of our beloved pets, we often don’t take their joint pain as seriously as we should. This is unfortunate, as joint pain can be extremely debilitating for dogs. This article has given you the low-down on canine joint pain. You now know what canine joint pain looks like, what causes it, and how you can prevent it. Most importantly, you have been equipped with the knowledge necessary to recognize the signs of joint pain in your own dog. There is no better time than the present to ensure your dog’s health and wellness!

September 25, 2022


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