HEALTH & CARE

Dog Hip Pain: How Joint Problems Affect Man’s Best Friend

Dog with brace
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Dog hip pain is almost as common as human hip pain. Unfortunately, man’s best friend can also experience unpleasant joint pain that may lead to a progressive loss of its ability to move. Joint abnormalities can negatively affect a pooch’s active life because of the intense pain they generate. A dog’s mobility is ensured by the movement between its bones, which function properly thanks to its joints. The latter contain cartilage and fluid that lubricates and nourishes the cartilage. As soon as something affects a pup’s joints, it cannot move as before.

The causes and the treatments for these affections are multiple. However, in some cases, a dog’s owner can prevent their occurrence. There are cases when the problems are genetically transmitted, cases in which the only solution is an adequate treatment. To discover more about the causes and treatments, why not take a look at why your dog might be limping?

On a not so bright side, this type of pain experienced by dogs can occur as early as 6 months after their birth and the puppies can become accustomed with it. Therefore, it might not be something that a pup’s owner can easily observe from the moment it starts happening.

Among other reasons, this is also a good reason for anyone who has a doggy to regularly take it to the vet for a full body check-up. Joint problems can lead to affections such as arthritis and arthrosis. These two might sound similar, but they have different causes, symptoms and the treatments are also different. In addition, these are divided in other types of sicknesses as well.

Why isn’t my puppy as active as before?

Are you wondering why your puppy isn’t as active as it used to be or why has it stopped being playful lately? Any change in a dog’s behavior can be a sign of sickness. In this particular case, the most probable cause is that the pup is suffering from a joint affection. Dog joint pain should not be neglected because it will not heal by itself. It will only progress and intervene in a pup’s ability to move, jump, sit and run.

Sometimes, these problems can only be kept under control and cannot be healed for good. This is one more motive not to delay your visit to the veterinarian. A specialist will come up with a diagnosis and with a solution as well.

What are arthritis and arthrosis?

Until not so long ago, arthritis and arthrosis had clear significances that were well delimited from each other. However, specialists have discovered an overlap of these two diseases. A professional explains that arthritis represents an inflammation located at joint level, while arthrosis is related to a degenerative process.

According to current knowledge, there is an affection called degenerative joint disease, which affects dogs older than 6 months to one year. This disease was called like that because the beginning of the destructive process is not inflammatory, but its evolution includes such a phase. Therefore, one can notice symptoms that are present in both arthritis and arthrosis.

Arthritis at dogs infographic

The most severe types of arthritis are the autoimmune ones, which are erosive or non-erosive. In these cases, the antibodies are directed to a pup’s conjunctive tissue. Rheumatoid arthritis is an erosive arthritis that occurs mostly to small breeds, around 4 years of age. The symptoms include stiffness in the joint that manifests in the morning, swelling, limping, fever, loss of appetite and swollen lymph nodes. Non-erosive arthritis occurs mostly to big breeds, around 6 years of age. The causes are not known, but the symptoms are fever, loss of appetite, swelling and limping.

Arthritis can also occur in cases when a dog is obese or old. Every obese dog has joint problems. Obesity is one of the factors that generate arthritis. The chondroitin intake from a pooch’s diet is very important too. There are foods containing chondroitin, which have a preventive role. Moreover, an old doggy is prone to having joint problems, especially the ones located on his spine. In both cases, dog owners should expect problems.

If you’d like to learn more about arthritis, please check out our article on arthritis in dogs.

What actually happens with the joints?

A simple injury or a minor trauma can cause the destruction of specific joint cells that are called chondrocytes. In turn, these cells eliminate some enzymes that are responsible for making further damage to other cells. A vet knows that the production of complex chemical substances that are essential for joints is affected due to the damage brought to the adjacent cells, fact which results in abnormal protein structures or partially destroyed ones.

Healty joint

These are, in fact, precursors for the chemical substances that generate inflammations. As soon as these abnormal structures are formed, the joints become inflamed. Over time, the articular cartilage becomes less flexible; it gets thinner and cracks before it disappears.

What is the treatment for my doggy?

As soon as the vet has established a diagnosis, he/she can prescribe joint medicine for dogs. This is given depending on the stage of the affection. The most common prescriptions are steroids and anti-inflammatory medications.

Glucosamine for Dogs with Chondroitin + MSM + Manganese + Vitamins by Petvitalix

In addition, dietary supplements for dogs that contain fatty acids, chondroitin and vitamin C can be administered too because they might help relieve the lesions. Under no circumstances one can replace vitamins and anti-inflammatory pills that were meant to be used by humans. Trying to cure your pooch by yourself is never a good idea. You might do more harm than good.

Surgery is also a solution for certain dogs that have arthritis, especially for the young ones. Arthroscopic surgery is used to remove the damaged portions of the bone. In extreme cases, when the joins become really painful and unstable, a vet can practice arthrodesis or artificial stiffening, which is the procedure of inserting a fragment of bone that will connect the two bones with the inflamed joint. Only a specialist is able to tell whether or not a surgery is appropriate for your pup.

There are factors such as age, overall health condition and the affection’s stage that must be taken in consideration. Surgery may or may not be a viable option.

Physical therapy for dogs

Another type of treatment can be found in the holistic approach of pain relief. For example, acupuncture is becoming increasingly popular in case of chronic pain. Herbal supplements, vitamins and antioxidants are also widely used. Therapeutic massage is known to relieve pain in joints as muscles too.

What happens in genetically transmitted cases?

Canine hip dysplasia is a polygenic inheritance, which means that more than one gene controls the genetic transmission for a dog. Environmental factors and diet also have a degree of involvement in the case of this affection. The hip is a joint located between the femoral head and the acetabulum cavity of the pelvis. If it is superficially developed, the femoral head is weakly fixed in the acetabulum cavity.

Thus, the joint instability occurs when the muscle’s growth is behind the growth rate of the skeleton. Over time, the body weight of a pup exceeds the limits that can be supported by such weak connections. This determines walk difficulty because the bone is not properly fixed and the muscles cannot do all the work.

The pups with hip dysplasia are born with hips that look normal, but they suffer progressive structural changes. This disease begins to manifest between 4 and 12 months of life. The affected pooches may show signs of hip pain, they may limp, have problems when they stand up or they run like rabbits. This means that both their back legs are lifted in the air at the same time when they run. If this issue appears when they are little, they might learn to accept the pain and live with it. That’s why a detailed control is required.

No owner would want their dog to suffer and not know about its pain. Also, as a pup owner, one can feed it with a high-protein diet, which can increase its susceptibility to hip dysplasia because of the rapid weight gain that exerts greater pressure on the joints. Moreover, young dogs should be discouraged to jump or run on paved streets. Because of all these reasons, it is recommended to find out if your dog has a medical problem as soon as possible.

A severe form of arthritis, as explained above, can involve a genetic defect such as hip or elbow dysplasia. In this case, arthritis occurs because the position of a dog’s legs on the ground is not the correct one. All the puppies with genetic defects are affected by arthritis, which cannot be cured, but it is manageable.

The signs are difficulty in walking. The most severe arthritis cases start with pain, which should be noticed by the owner. If a dog does not benefit of treatment, it will not die, but it will be unable to stand up or do anything on its own. That would definitely not be a happy puppy.

What should you do to detect it?

A radiograph of a dog’s hips and pelvis is the only sure way to determine whether it has dysplasia or not. In order to make a dog stay still during radiography, the vet must sedate it. This might seem a little harsh, but it is for its best. Such affection can be mild, moderate or severe. Any large or giant dog should be taken at the vet for a radiograph by the age of 6 months.

Dog with hip pain

It goes without saying that if this problem is detected in time, it can be managed much better than when it is detected late, when the dog also suffers from arthritis as a side effect of having dysplasia. The installation of arthritis makes this problem irreversible. The occurrence of limping cannot be avoided.

What should you do to treat it?

Hip dysplasia can be treated both medically and surgically. The medical treatment includes restrictions in activity, analgesics, anti-inflammatory medicine such as carprofen and medicine to relieve pain, inflammation and to repair the damaged cartilage. Weight loss and moderate exercise are also important. If your pup limps, you should walk it with its leash on and not allow it to run.

Swimming improves muscle and joint flexibility without overloading the hips, therefore it is also recommended. After a pup’s radiograph is taken and the vet establishes that it is a severe affection that must be dealt with, he/she can recommend surgery. Early surgery can prevent degenerative joint diseases. There are several types of operations and techniques used in this case depending on the severity of the problem.

How to help a dog with joint problems?

Knowing and understanding what your dog has to go through is really important and based on that information you can do even more to help your dog live its life as pleasant as possible. You can ensure a certain degree of comfort if your keep in mind the following ten advices meant to help a pup with joint problems.

  1. Keep it away from slippery floors. Hardwood floors and ceramic tiles are slippery and they can be really uncomfortable for dogs with arthritis to walk on. You can place carpets or rugs on the floor because these help secure a dog’s feet. In this way, they cannot slip and injure themselves even more.
  2. Make a soft bed for it. Soft bedding can help support the bones and the joints of a pup and ensure a more comfortable environment for napping and sleeping. This advice is more useful for slim dogs because hard surfaces are uncomfortable for them. There are especially conceived beds for dogs that have joint problems. There are beds filled with water or beds with lots of extra pillows. If you can’t make a good one yourself, you can purchase one for your best friend.
  3. Add ramps where there are stairs. The stairs and even some pieces of furniture can become obstacles for a sick pup. Try to add ramps where it is possible. These are also items that can be purchased and that are made especially for sick canine creatures.
  4. Do not skip its medication. You might have a lot on your mind or have to take a lot of pills yourself, but try not to forget that your dog also needs them. Most commonly, the vet prescribes them and makes sure they are a perfect fit for your pup’s problem.
  5. Protect it from noise and chaos. Often, kids can harm a dog with joint problems because it will not ignore them. It will try to play with them and entertain them. However, this does not mean that the dog is not in severe pain. Noise is also tiring and can affect its health, especially if it is older.
  6. Pay for massage sessions. Therapeutic massage is known to increase flexibility, circulation and the wellbeing of a dog. There are massage therapists who would happily make your dog better if you hire them.
  7. Control its body weight. You might be tempted to give your dog everything it wants to eat. However, a slim dog feels better than a fat dog. Weight loss can be beneficial because it reduces the volume of effort your pup has to make in order to walk. Diets that contain fatty acids and vitamins are recommended because they improve mobility.
  8. Exercise with your dog. A daily exercise schedule can help some dogs. Certain routine can help strengthen their muscles and ligaments, thus reducing the possibility and risk of injury. Also, this might be a fun activity to have with your canine friend.
  9. Be patient and don’t rush your pup. A pooch with joint problems cannot be rushed. It is in pain when it walks, so if you are in a hurry, do not force your dog to follow you. Be patient when it walks, climbs stairs or goes in or out of a car.
  10. Keep your dog clean. A sick dog that has mobility issues cannot clean itself like it used to, therefore you must ensure a proper hygiene for it. Brushing its fur is also something it enjoys and would be nice for you to do for it.

There are plenty of other steps you can take to ensure that your dog is comfortable, especially if he’s getting on in years. Here’s a great article on caring for senior dogs.

What conclusions should be taken?

A dog cannot speak and tell its owner that it has joint pain or that it cannot move anymore because of different reasons, therefore every owner should carefully observe her/his pup. In case you are a very busy dog owner who is not always home or can observe your pooch, at least make sure that you do not skip the regular visits at the vet.

Woman and dog with braclet

In order to be a good owner, you should at least make sure that your dog is taken care of by a specialist. The consequences of not doing so are life impairment if your pup suffers from any of the joint diseases listed and explained above. Going to the vet might not be your doggy’s favorite activity, but it will thank you for that in the long run while it is as healthy as it can be and it can run and play freely too.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • Emily Pearson

    For all dog owners who are helping their dogs through hip problems: look into someplace where your dog can swim. It may seem weird, but swimming is a good exercise that doesn’t put much stress into the pooch’s body. It’s the best exercise for dogs with hip problems since the hip flexors are exercised (this is what stabilizes the joints of the hip). If you can’t find someplace to swim, it’s alright so long as exercise isn’t entirely cut out of your dog’s lifestyle!

  • Missy Carter

    Our 6 year old Labrador had hip pain and was operated on. She had her hip replaced and for a time was doing ok. However, last week, she was in a lot of pain and couldn’t get up. It turned out that the metal hip was disintegrating and there were tumors on her hips. Has anyone else experienced this? What can I expect in the coming weeks or months?

    • Close monitoring might be required by the veterinarian. Further testing will be highly likely to be ordered and interventional operation is one of the things that will be discussed by the veterinarian (like removal and replacement).

  • Tory Carpenter

    These instructions need to be printed and hung on the wall of anyone who has a dog. A lot of people just ignore these simple rules and in the end, the animal always suffers!

    • Why thank you very much for your feedback, Tory! We sincerely appreciate it!

  • sangram

    Sir you no sand me I speak you mobile

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Hi, Sangram, you can leave your inquiry here and we will try to respond the soonest.

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