A Breakdown of Joint Pain in Dogs

The effects of chronic pain and how to manage it to improve well-being and quality of life

Animal Pain Awareness Month is September and dvm360® spoke with Brian C. Hurley, DVM, National Medical Director at AmeriVet Veterinary Partners, and Hannah Capon, MA Vet MB, MRCVS, Founder of Canine Arthritis Management (CAM) about chronic pain and the management of pain. Hurley and Capon discussed their experience working with chronic pain, particularly joint pain in dogs.

“Joint pain is common in dogs of all breeds, sizes and from the age of one year, but over 80% of dogs have problems over the age of 8. It is much more likely to develop in our large breeds of older dogs. Often dog owners interpret their dogs’ ‘slowing down’ as age, but it’s often the first sign of joint pain,” Hurley said.

Pain management in general is essential for [allow] animals to have a better quality of life. “Chronic pain, best described as maladaptive pain, offers little benefit to the wearer. It exhausts its victim over time, as constant/intermittent pain leaves the body hypervigilant,” Capon said.

“Pain management is crucial to the general well-being and quality of life of our dogs. Imagine waking up every day unable to stand easily, having difficulty walking, difficulty positioning yourself to eat or eliminate, and sometimes even just petting your dog can create discomfort,” Hurley added.

Potential causes of joint pain

“Degenerative joint conditions are problems caused by repeated use over time. It’s about wear and tear on ligaments and tendons, including the cruciate ligament, as a common problem presented to vets,” Hurly said. dvm360®.

“Disorders of joint development are one of the causes of joint problems, especially in our young dogs. Genetics play a role in these problems and lead to hip or elbow dysplasia. We also see problems due to to strains or ruptures of the cruciate ligament,” he added.

Common signs

capon said dvm360® that signs of joint pain can sometimes be noticeable long after the patient first feels the pain. “The sad reality is that the majority of dogs with joint pain have had it for some time before diagnosis. Dogs are amazing at coping with chronic pain and will adjust their weight bearing and movement to reduce their pain and continue to be our companions. Over time, this results in various physical and behavioral changes away from the joint, such as reduced tolerance of other dogs and handling, postural changes such as a rounded back and drooping tail, and changes in gait such as stiff, short, jerky strides,” she said.

According to Hurley, some common signs of joint pain in dogs include:

  • Box and stiffness
  • Licking, biting, or chewing the affected area (like a human rubbing their painful joint)
  • Slide while moving
  • Irritability
  • Decreased or loss of appetite
  • Decrease socialization
  • The Depression
  • Irritability

Long term consequences

“The long-term consequences impact day-to-day movement and locomotion. Everything hurts, so they are more likely to lie down. Dogs with arthritis lose the desire to be social because it hurts to move and be petted. It also impacts the muscles as they constantly overcompensate for painful joints, creating additional pain where pain may not have existed,” Hurley said.

Loss of the protective cushion between the joints can lead to pain, inflammation, decreased range of motion and the development of bone spurs.1 “With most cases diagnosed in the later stages, we have a reactive approach rather than a proactive approach, which is shocking considering it has now been reclassified as a wellness issue,” Capon said.


Arthrosis in dogs – signs and treatment. American Kennel Club. Published May 3, 2022. Accessed September 19, 2022. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/osteoarthritis-signs-treatment/

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