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A breakdown of joint pain in dogs


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

rodimovpavel / stock.adobe.com

rodimovpavel / stock.adobe.com

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 pain management. Hurley and Capon discussed their experience working with chronic pain, specifically joint pain in dogs.

“Joint pain is common in dogs of any breed, any size, and as early as 1 year of age but over 80% of dogs exhibit issues over 8 years old. It is much more likely to develop in our larger breeds of senior dogs. Often, dog owners interpret the “slowing down” in their dogs as age but often it is the first sign of joint pain,” said Hurley.

Pain management in general is essential to [allow] animals to have a better quality of life. “Chronic pain, better termed maladaptive pain, offers the bearer little benefit. It wears down its victim over time as consistent/ intermittent pain leaves the body hypervigilant,” said Capon.

“Pain management in crucial to the overall well-being and quality of life for our dogs. Imagine waking up every day unable to easily stand, have difficulty walking, trouble positioning themselves to eat or eliminate, and sometimes even the simple act of petting your dog can create discomfort,” Hurley added.

Potential causes of joint pain

“Degenerative joint conditions are problems caused by repeated use over time. This is wear-and-tear of ligaments and tendons including the cruciate ligament as a common issue presented to veterinarians,” Hurly told dvm360®.

“Developmental joint condition are one cause of joint issues particularly in our younger dogs. Genetics play a role in these issues and lead to hip or elbow dysplasia. We also see issues due to cruciate ligament strains or ruptures,” he added.

Common signs

Capon told dvm360® that signs of joint pain can sometimes be noticeable long after the patient first experiences the pain. “The grim reality is that the majority of dogs presented with joint pain have actually been experiencing it for some time prior to diagnosis. Dogs are incredible at coping with chronic pain and will adjust their weight bearing and movement to reduce their pain and to carry on with being our companions. Over time this leads to varied physical and behavioral changes distant to the joint such as reduced tolerance of other dogs and handling, posture changes such as a roached back and dropped tail and gait changes such as stiff, short, choppy strides,” she said.

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

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

Long-term consequences

“Long-term consequences impact everyday movement and locomotion. Everything hurts so they are more likely to just lie around. Dogs with arthritis lose the desire to be social because it hurts to move and be petted. It also impacts the muscles because they are constantly overcompensating for the painful joint(s) therefore creating additional pain where pain may not have existed,” said Hurley.

The loss of the protective cushion between joints can result in pain, inflammation, decreased range of motion, and the development of bone spurs.1 “With most cases diagnosed during last stages we have a reactive approach rather than a proactive approach which is shocking when considering it has now been reclassified as a welfare concern,” said Capon.


Osteoarthritis 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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