Hip & Joint Health in Dogs

Two Dogs on a leash walking through forest

Mobility is key to a healthy quality of life for pets. Understanding the causes of joint disease and the benefits of early detection can help keep pets feeling younger longer—and give owners more quality years with their pets living comfortably by their sides.

Why is Mobility so important?

Everybody loves a feel-good sports story like the Olympics. Kind of like how everybody loves dogs (everybody DOES love dogs, right?). If dogs were Olympic athletes, they’d win gold. Your dog’s athleticism is due in large part to his genetic blueprint, which comes from an age-old necessity to be physically superior to survive. But this athleticism does come at a price due to the constant strain on your fur baby's joints.

“Stiff joints” is a general term for changes in the joint caused by normal or abnormal wear and tear and it is common in many dog breeds. For dogs who have stiff joints, the cartilage (the tissues that “cushions” the joint between the bones) is worn away faster than it is replaced. For example, when the cartilage in a dog’s hip joint wears away, mobility decreases, while pain and disability progressively develop. Because your dog’s joint pain directly impacts his mobility and how well he’s able to get around, it can have a serious effect on your dog’s quality of life.

Although most joint diseases are not curable, there are several options available for management. These include surgery, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and supplements. Treatment will depend on what is causing your dog’s joint pain.

What Hip & Joint Problems should I look out for?

Dogs experience joint pain, stiffness, and aches just like people do. This discomfort can limit their mobility and prevent them from enjoying their favorite activities. Even simple actions like jumping on the couch or walking up the stairs can become difficult for dogs with joint disease. According to the American Kennel Club, most dogs deal with joint issues that stem from hip problems. Especially, large- and giant-breed dogs are particularly prone to developing orthopedic diseases, such as arthritis (also sometimes called “degenerative joint disease”), hip & elbow dysplasia and osteochondritis dissecans.

Dogs can’t tell us if they are feeling pain, and in fact, they are hard-wired to hide signs of injury or illness. This served as a survival mechanism when dogs lived in the wild and any sign of weakness could make them a target for predators. For these reasons, we must look for the sometimes-subtle signs of joint problems. Symptoms might include:

  • Limping
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty standing up
  • Difficulty lying down
  • Reluctance to go up flights of stairs
  • Reluctance to jump up on the couch or bed
  • Reduced interest in playing
  • Not wanting to be touched
  • Grouchy or irritable mood
  • Has potty accidents inside
  • Seems tired or lethargic (sleeping more)

Because your dog is mostly on four feet, the shoulders are likely to cause trouble and will become aggravated if he is compensating for the pain in his back. Back and neck issues are another common form of joint problems found in most dogs and can be attributed to leaning down to eat and drink. If your dog’s health is deteriorating due to joint pain and issues, it is highly advised to talk to your veterinarian about joint supplements and other recommendations to make your dog more comfortable. A daily supplement for dogs can actually help with arthritis pain and keep your dog’s stiff joints moving more freely.

Dog with stick in mouth on path

What can I do to promote Healthy Joints?

  • Exercise is a great way to keep your dog’s joints healthy. And remember: everything in moderation!
  • Massages. Yes, your dog likes massages! Needing and rubbing his muscles and joints, especially after a big day of running and playing helps to keep him loose and limber.
  • Have soft places for him to lay down. Even if your house has carpet, something comfortable and supportive like a dog bed or another type of cushioned surface helps keep his body in proper alignment.
  • Dietary supplements and vitamins are an excellent addition that help keep bones healthy and muscles lubricated.

According to WebMD, using a multimodal approach of different types of medications and joint supplements to treat arthritis in dogs is the best way to ensure quality of life and successful treatment. Veterinarians have a number of treatment options available, including joint supplements for dogs. These products come in a wide variety of formulas and often include ingredients like chondroitin, glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and omega-3 fatty acids, which will help fight inflammation.

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