Joint Pain in Dogs: Signs, Causes & Treatment

Joint pain can have a significant negative impact on your dog's quality of life and develop into a more serious condition. However, it can be challenging to detect early signs of joint pain in dogs, unless you know what to look for. Our Flat Rock vets share the types of joint pain seen in dogs, along with causes, symptoms and treatments.


While joint pain is a common issue in dogs of all ages and breeds, it's much more common in geriatric dogs. What many pet owners often interpret as their dog "slowing down" as they grow older can often be caused by joint pain rather than just advanced age.

If this condition isn't addressed, it can often lead to more serious injuries or conditions in the future. In this post, our vets explain the types, causes, symptoms and treatments for joint pain in dogs.

Types of Joint Pain in Dogs & Causes

There are two types of issues that can cause a dog to experience joint pain: developmental and degenerative. 

Developmental Joint Issues

Developmental joint issues are present from the time your dog is a pup and are caused by improper development of the joints during his or her first years. This is often rooted in genetics and can lead to more serious injuries such as elbow or hip dysplasia. 

Several breeds of dog, particularly large and giant breeds, are susceptible to a range of painful joint issues. 

For example, Newfoundlands commonly develop joint issues in their cruciate ligament, while Rottweilers are prone to developing nkle and knee joint problems. Bernese Moutain Dogs often develop elbow dysplasia. 

If you choose to purchase a dog from a breeder, consider asking them about any predispositions their lineage or breed may have when it comes to joint issues. A good breeder will be able to provide you with this information unprompted, but it never hurts to ask if you don't receive it. 

Degenerative Joint Issues

Degenerative joint issues are caused by repeated use over time of your dog's joints, including the wearing down of cartilage or the injury of tendons. Cruciate ligament problems are the most common of these kinds of joint issues.  Pain is caused when tissues degenerate over time with repeated use until increasingly severe issues result.

When it comes to degenerative joint issues, the actual root cause can widely vary from stress fractures to injuries or osteoarthritis. But often, they will develop in larger dogs, whose weight places more stress on their joints over time.

Signs of Joint Pain to Watch For

It may be difficult to tell if your dog is experiencing joint pain. They tend to be somewhat stoic and, especially if they are young, they will continue to enthusiastically participate in activities that may be causing them pain (or leading to worsening of their condition).

To help your dog avoid increasingly severe pain due to joint issues watch for the earliest signs of discomfort, including:

  • Limping and stiffness
  • Irritability
  • Frequent slipping while moving
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Depression
  • Licking, chewing or biting the affected area
  • Lethargy

If you notice any of these behaviors in your dog without an obvious cause, it might be time to bring them in to your Flat Rock vet in order to have them examined for joint pain and its underlying conditions.

Treatments For Joint Pain In Dogs 

The appropriate treatment for joint pain and its underlying cause in your dog will vary based on the severity of your dog's condition and the specific root cause. Conditions such as hip or elbow dysplasia will require surgical intervention to rectify, while other degenerative joint conditions may be treated with a combination of nutrition, rehabilitation and exercise if caught early.

While the specific treatment may vary, the primary goal of treating joint pain in your dog is to get them back to their regular mobility and level of activity. This is especially important because well-developed muscles around your pup's joints actually help to reduce the stress and strain they place on their joints. An active dog is a healthy one.

Most treatments will also involve an assessment of your dog's weight compared to their size. If they are overweight, they are placing extra strain on their joints and a diet may be prescribed to help ease the weight their pained joints have to bear. We can assess whether your dog has any weight, nutritional or health issues during a routine exam. It's important that we see them twice yearly for a regular veterinary checkup so any problems can be detected and addressed early on.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs of joint pain? Contact Western Carolina Animal Hospital right away to book an appointment for your four-legged friend today.

Bernese Mountain Dogs walking on path

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