How do you know if your dog is suffering from joint pain?
Arthritis in dogs is a painful condition that seriously compromises your pet’s quality of life and can shorten his lifespan.
Arthritis occurs when one or more of the body’s joints are inflamed. When untreated, arthritis can progress to osteoarthritis (OA) where the cartilage lining joint surfaces is damaged and normal range of motion (ROM) is compromised. Arthritis can also result from other health conditions, like infection with tick or flea-borne bacteria, immune-mediated (i.e. “autoimmune”) disease, cancer, and others.
For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on osteoarthritis (OA) which commonly affects adult and geriatric dogs, especially those having a medium, large, or giant body size. Small dogs and puppies are also prone to OA but their clinical signs are commonly less-pronounced and owners may not be aware a problem exists until the condition has significantly advanced.
For dogs of all ages and body sizes, it’s crucial to recognize the clinical signs of OA so that an examination by a veterinarian can be performed, a diagnosis can be achieved, and the most appropriate course of treatment can be prescribed.
Top signs your dog has arthritis
Lameness is one of the more obvious signs of OA and can include:
- Reduced weight bearing on an affected limb while walking or running (limping) or standing (off-loading)
- Head bobbing while walking or running
- Touching the foot to the ground then immediately lifting it back up
- Inability to use a limb (non-weight bearing lameness)
Struggling while attaining a standing, sitting, or lying down position
The process of standing, sitting, or lying down is often challenging for dogs suffering from OA. Struggling to stand from a sitting or lying down position is a very common observation and can be exacerbated when a floor is slippery. Less subtle signs include repeatedly circling before sitting or lying down, remaining standing or walking for extended time periods, or appearing restless once a lying down position has been attained.
Difficulty going up onto or down from elevated surfaces or stairs
Difficulty while moving up onto or down from elevated surfaces, traversing stairs, or getting in or out of the car are common clinical signs seen in dogs having OA. Such mobility challenges make it crucial that dog owners appropriately modify their home, yard, cars, and other environments to promote safer movements.
Sitting or lying down with the OA-affected side facing up
If OA pain is one sided, then an arthritic dog is more likely to lay with the comfortable side down and the affected side up. This way, less pressure is put on to the affected side in an attempt to reduce the sensation of pain.
Licking or chewing at affected body parts
Body parts affected by OA are prone to discomfort, so dogs may lick or chew at and sore areas in attempt to to self-soothe their pain. You could see moistened skin or hair, light hair that has turned pink (from porphyrins found in saliva), redness or crusting on the skin surface, or hair loss as a result of chronic licking or chewing.
A dog suffering from OA pain may vocalize when a painful body part supports weight or is touched by a person for other pet. Vocalizations include, barking, groaning whimpering, whining, and others.
Exhibiting pain when touched
Besides vocalizing, dogs suffering from OA can exhibit discomfort when a human or another animal touches a tender place by withdrawing an affected limb or moving away from the painful stimulus.
A dog’s ability to exercise requires a comfortable body, so OA-affected dogs commonly show reduced ability to perform during exercise sessions. Your pooch could sit down while out on a walk, seem slow while traversing a hiking trail, not be able to keep up with other dogs while running, or even sink during otherwise-routine swims.
Health conditions like OA are one of the most common reasons dogs will exhibit behavior changes. Aggression, withdrawal from interaction with people or other pets, and attempting to bite when moved, picked up, or touched all can occur.
If you observe your dog exhibiting any of the above clinical signs, immediately schedule a consultation and examination with your veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital. Besides a thorough physical exam, diagnostic tests like x-rays may be needed to get the best sense of the underlying problem causing pain. Additional diagnostics like blood, urine, and fecal testing are often required to determine a dogs overall health status and ensure that pain-relieving medications can be safely prescribed.
Other related articles