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How to Relieve Joint Pain in Dogs

Posted by Dr. Elizabeth Racine on

How to Relieve Joint Pain in Dogs

It’s always hard to see a friend in pain, especially when it’s your dog.  They can’t tell us where it hurts or how to help, and that can leave pet owners feeling powerless.  Pain is a common concern in dogs, especially as they start getting older.  Your dog may experience joint pain due to arthritis, injuries, orthopedic abnormalities, or even infections like Lyme disease.  Identifying and addressing joint pain is essential to help your dog stay active and comfortable as long as possible.

Symptoms of Joint Pain in Dogs

The symptoms of joint pain in dogs can be subtle.  Many pet owners will think that their dogs are “just getting older” without realizing that there is a problem.  Joint pain often progresses over time, so it is important to identify it early.  Common symptoms of joint pain in dogs can include:

  • Difficulty getting up
  • Trouble walking on slippery surfaces
  • Limping or other changes in gait
  • Sleeping more
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Reluctance to run, play, or participate in usual activities
  • Slowing down or tiring out more quickly
  • Irritability or other changes in behavior
  • Changes in urination and defecation habits

If you notice any of these symptoms of joint pain in your dog, it is time to see your veterinarian for a check-up.  Your veterinarian will perform a full physical examination on your dog, including feeling your dog’s joints and assessing their range of motion.  Your veterinarian may also recommend taking x-rays of your dog’s joints or running some blood tests to help identify the underlying cause of your dog’s pain. 

Causes of Joint Pain in Dogs

There are many possible causes of joint pain in dogs.  Although older dogs are most commonly affected by joint pain, young dogs may also experience pain as a result of injury or illness.  Because joint pain can look similar regardless of the cause, it is very important to see your veterinarian to have the problem diagnosed so it can be treated appropriately.  Common causes of joint pain in dogs include:

  • Arthritis
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Cruciate ligament rupture
  • Conformational abnormalities
  • Fractures
  • Cancer
  • Tick-borne illnesses
  • Infectious diseases
  • Nutritional or metabolic disorders

Treatment for Joint Pain in Dogs

Never give your dog any medication intended for humans, including over-the-counter pain medications.  Many of these products are toxic to dogs and can cause serious illness!  Be sure to consult your veterinarian before starting any new medications or supplements for your dog.  For joint pain in dogs, your veterinarian may recommend treatments such as:

  • Anti-inflammatories.  Joint diseases like arthritis often cause painful inflammation that can limit mobility.  Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or supplements to alleviate the pain and improve your dog’s quality of life.  Depending on the severity of your dog’s condition, these medications may be given daily or simply on an as-needed basis.

  • Pain control medications.  In addition to anti-inflammatories, your veterinarian may prescribe other medications, such as gabapentin or opiates, to help alleviate your dog’s pain.  These medications do not address the underlying inflammation associated with joint pain, but they can help make your dog more comfortable.

  • Joint supplements.  Joint supplements can help decrease inflammation, reduce pain, lubricate joints, improve mobility, and slow the progression of joint disease.  There are many different joint supplements available for dogs and ingredients vary depending on the product.  Your veterinarian can help you choose a supplement that will best suit your dog’s needs.

  • Surgery.  Depending on the underlying cause of your dog’s joint pain, sometimes surgery can be an option.  The goal of surgery is to repair any injury, remove the damaged tissues, and restore the mechanical function of the joint.  Your veterinarian can help you decide whether surgery is an appropriate option for your dog based on the type of joint disease and the dog’s age, lifestyle, and overall health.

Other Remedies for Joint Pain in Dogs

In addition to medication and surgery, many dogs can benefit from alternative therapies to relieve joint pain.  Low-impact activities such as physical therapy and underwater treadmill can help your dog improve muscle mass and gain strength, especially when these exercises are performed under the guidance of a veterinary rehabilitation professional.  Many dogs can also get pain relief from treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic, or medical massage.  If you think your dog may benefit from alternative therapies for joint pain, ask your veterinarian for recommendations or consult a rehabilitation veterinarian in your area.

How to Relieve Joint Pain in Dogs at Home

While veterinary intervention is the mainstay of treating joint pain in dogs, there are some steps you can take at home to help relieve your dog’s joint pain.  These simple adjustments can make life easier and more comfortable for any dog experiencing joint pain:

  • Provide traction.  Dogs with joint pain often have trouble navigating smooth or slippery surfaces.  Try putting down rugs or mats for your dog, or use rubber-soled boots to help improve his footing.

  • Look for orthopedic beds.  Typical dog beds may not be supportive enough for a dog with joint pain.  Look for memory foam or orthopedic bedding, which will cushion your dog’s joints so he will be less sore when he gets up in the morning.

  • Give a helping hand.  Use a sling or towel to help support your dog’s body when he’s getting up, using stairs, or navigating tricky surfaces.  This can be especially helpful first thing in the morning, when your dog is likely experiencing the most stiffness and pain.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.  Carrying excess weight on damaged joints really hurts.  If your dog is overweight, losing those extra pounds can go a long way toward alleviating pain and improving mobility.

  • Get daily exercise.  Low-impact exercises like walking and swimming are great ways to loosen up, improve circulation, and build muscle.  If your dog was previously a couch potato, start off slow and build his endurance gradually.

  • Make life easy.  Move the essentials like food, water, and your dog’s favorite bed close to each other in an easily accessible area of the house.  Obstacles like stairs can be difficult for dogs with joint pain, so try to keep all your dog’s necessities on one floor of the house.

  • Monitor for changes.  Many conditions that cause joint pain in dogs will progress over time.  It is important for you to monitor your dog’s pain, mobility, and quality of life daily.  If your dog is having more bad days than good ones, it’s definitely time for a recheck with your veterinarian.

Most Importantly: Joint Pain in Dogs Can Be Managed

Joint pain can be tough, but it doesn’t have to affect your dog’s longevity or quality of life.  With good veterinary care and some simple lifestyle changes, you can ensure that your dog stays active and happy for as long as possible.

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