Joint Pain in Dogs: 5 High Risk Factors

Most dogs will suffer from joint disease, but usually the symptoms do not become noticeable until the latter half of their life.

Unfortunately some dogs are much more vulnerable to arthritis and joint disease. It is likely that these dogs will suffer the symptoms at a much younger age.

Have you noticed any of these symptoms in your dog?

1. Stiffness, particularly when getting up from rest?

2. Appears reluctant to walk, jump or play?

3. Sleeping and resting more?

4. Lagging behind on walks?

5. Taking longer to settle?

6. Licking or chewing a particular joint?

7. Limping or protecting certain joints?

IF YOU ANSWER YES to any of these questions, then it’s likely that your dog is suffering with joint pain.

There are 5 high-risk factors that almost always cause joint problems for dogs.

All caring pet parents need to be aware of these risks, because it’s so important to catch the symptoms of joint pain early. Early diagnosis can prevent joint damage from becoming a big problem and help to avoid the risk and expense of surgery or long-term pain medication.

1. High Risk Breeds

Some breeds have a much higher risk of inheriting joint problems. Generally these are larger purebred dogs. If your dog belongs to one of these breeds then you should be extra vigilant in checking for the early signs of joint problems. Most modern breeds of dogs originate from the late 19th Century. For example German Shepherds are a relatively new breed of dog with an origin dating back to 1882.

The pioneering breeders of modern dogs achieved their distinctive appearance by selecting dogs with the traits they desired. This meant dogs were bred from a small gene pool, limiting the breed’s genetic diversity. Inbreeding increased the chances of puppies being born with the desired traits. However it also increased the chance of them suffering from genetic disorders.

The American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation publishes information about the breeds that may have a higher risk of inherited joint problems. You’ll find this list at the bottom of this post.

2. What’s Your Dog’s “Human Age”?

Forget the 1 human year = 7 doggy years rule of thumb because sadly larger dogs have shorter lifespans than smaller ones.

If your dog is aged 7 or over then assume its joints are arthritic. If 7 years old sounds too young to you, then have a look at the chart that converts “dog years” into “human years”.

If your dog were human how old would they be?

The giant breeds of dogs begin their senior years at 6 years of age, just 2-3 years after they’ve stopped growing.

Older dogs have weaker joints. Their ligaments are looser and their muscles weaker, providing less protective support. Years of activity have taken a toll on their cartilage and bones. Many older dogs are overweight, which adds to the pressure on their joints.

Joint conditions like Hip Dysplasia often become visible during a dog’s middle years and worsen with age.

Even if a dog in their senior years is showing no symptoms of joint pain, many veterinarians recommend they be given a daily, preventative dose of a joint supplement.

3. Is Your Dog Overweight?

52.6% of US dogs are overweight or obese according to a study carried out by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).

Answer these questions to help to identify if your dog is overweight.

  • Do you have difficulty feeling your dog’s ribs?
  • Is there little or no ‘waist’?
  • Do you give your dog table scraps or leftovers?
  • Are they reluctant to exercise?
  • Do they seem to tire easily with activity?
  • Does your dog waddle when it walks?
  • Do they keep eating so long as there is food in the bowl?
  • Have you been told your dog is overweight?

It is likely that your dog is overweight if you answer, “yes” to one or more of these questions.

Overweight dogs suffer from joint problems at an earlier age. Their extra weight increases the stress on their joints, accelerating their decline and causing more intense pain.

The main reason dogs become overweight is because pet food manufacturers recommended portions are too big!

If your dog’s overweight, ignore the manufacturer’s instructions and reduce their portion size.

4. Has Your Dog Suffered A Joint Injury or Infection?

Injuries near a joint are dangerous to joint health. Even if your dog suffered an injury years ago and fully recovered there’s still a risk.

Ligaments, tendons and muscles are all crucial to joint health. Any injury can reduce the protection they give to joints as your pet runs and plays. Over time the joint suffers increased wear and damage leading to reduced mobility and painful discomfort.

Infection, dislocation, trauma or any fracture involving a joint increases the probability of joint problems

5. Is Your Dog Getting Enough Exercise?

Dogs are born to be active. Their ancestor’s roamed large areas hunting for food, they defended their territory and – being social animals – they played with each other.

Most of today’s dogs are human companions. Instead of hunting to eat, their food appears in a bowl every day. They’ve lost their freedom to roam and explore, with many spending much of their day in a small, restricted space. Few have other dogs to socialize and play with at home, and a lot of their time is spent alone.

Happy, healthy dogs benefit from daily exercise that gets them panting, satisfies their playful nature and stimulates their brain. Ideally their exercise allows them to use their natural instincts and breed strengths.

Daily exercise maintains muscle tone and joint flexibility, which are essential for joint health.

What Should You Do If Your Dog Is At Risk?

Be vigilant for the 7 symptoms of joint pain. If you notice any in your dog then always involve your veterinarian as soon as possible.

As James Cook DVM PhD, the director of the Comparative Orthopedic Laboratory at the University of Missouri-Columbia states:

“Have your veterinarian evaluate your dog’s joints at least every year to see what’s going on. A lot of these things we can prevent from becoming a big problem if we catch it early enough. We can work on strengthening the body and avoid surgery altogether”.

Early treatment slows the progression, protects dogs from unnecessary pain and discomfort, and prolongs their quality of life.

Breeds with a Hereditary Risk of Joint Problems

Most modern breeds of dogs originate from the late 19th century. For example German Shepherds are a relatively new breed of dog with an origin dating back to 1882. Their first breed show took place in 1899, but the German Shepherd we recognize today appeared after World War II.

The pioneering breeders of modern dogs achieved their distinctive appearance by selecting dogs with the traits they desired. This meant dogs were bred from a small gene pool, limiting the breed’s genetic diversity. Inbreeding increased the chances of puppies being born with the desired traits. However it also increased the chance of them suffering from genetic disorders.

The American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation publishes information about the diseases that may affect each breed of dog.

The breeds with a higher risk of inherited joint problems are listed below.

Cruciate Ligament Rupture

The ligament is more likely to tear either suddenly or as a result of progressive damage to the fibers that form the ligament in these dogs:

Breeds with a higher risk of suffering Cruciate Ligament Ruptures:

Akita, Alaskan Malamute, American Eskimo Dog, American Staffordshire Terrier, Australian Shepherd, Australian Terrier, Bearded Collie, Bedlington Terrier, Bernese Mountain Dog, Border Collie, Border Terrier, Bulldog, Bullmastiff, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Chinese Shar-Pei, Chow Chow, Dogue de Bordeaux, English Setter, English Springer Spaniel, German Wirehaired Pointer, Great Dane, Great Pyrenees, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Kuvasz, Labrador Retriever, Leonberger, Newfoundland, Norwich Terrier, Papillon, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Portuguese Water Dog, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard, Samoyed, Silky Terrier, Small Munsterlander Pointer, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Standard Schnauzer Swedish Vallhund, Vizsla, West Highland White Terrier, Whippet.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is a condition caused by the abnormal growth of cells, tissue, or bone. The condition is characterized by the malformation and degeneration of the elbow joint. It is the most common cause of elbow pain and lameness, and one of the most common causes of forelimb lameness in large and giant-breed dogs.

The age for onset of clinical signs is typically 4 to 10 months, with diagnosis generally being made around 4 to 18 months.

Breeds with a higher risk of developing Elbow Dysplasia:

American Staffordshire Terrier, Anatolian Shepherd Dog, Australian Shepherd, Bernese Mountain Dog, Black Russian Terrier, Bloodhound, Border Collie, Bouvier des Flandres, Boykin Spaniel, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Chinese Shar-Pei, Chow Chow, Dogue de Bordeaux, English Setter, German Shorthaired Pointer, Giant Schnauzer, Golden Retriever, Gordon Setter, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Irish Water Spaniel, Irish Wolfhound, Keeshond, Kuvasz, Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retriever, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard, Samoyed, Shetland Sheepdog, Spinone, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Tibetan Mastiff, Welsh Springer Spaniel, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a condition where the hip joint fails to develop properly. Instead of forming a snug fit, it is a loose fit, or a partial fit. The bones may be misshaped, causing abnormal wear to their protective cartilage, as they move in the joint. This leads to inflammation and pain.

Hip dysplasia can begin to develop in puppies of five months old, becoming worse as they age. Usually it becomes noticeable in middle-aged dogs. It is particularly common in large, fast growing breeds.

Dogs with hip dysplasia stand up using the front legs first; dogs without the condition stand rear legs first. In another classic symptom, dogs position their front legs further back under their chest to take some of the weight off the hind legs.

Breeds with a higher risk of developing Hip Dysplasia:

Afghan Hound, Alaskan Malamute, American Eskimo Dog, American Staffordshire Terrier, Anatolian Shepherd Dog, Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, Beagle, Bearded Collie, Beauceron, Belgian Tervuren, Bernese Mountain Dog, Black and Tan Coonhound, Black Russian Terrier, Bloodhound, Border Collie, Bouvier des Flandres, Boykin Spaniel, Briard, Brussels Griffon, Bullmastiff, Cane Corso, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Chow Chow, Clumber Spaniel, Doberman Pinscher, Dogue de Bordeaux, English Foxhound, English Setter, English Springer Spaniel, Field Spaniel, Finnish Spitz, French Bulldog, German Pinscher, German Wirehaired Pointer, Giant Schnauzer, Glen of Imaal Terrier, Golden Retriever, Gordon Setter, Great Pyrenees, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Harrier, Icelandic Sheepdog, Irish Red and White Setter, Kerry Blue Terrier, Komondor, Kuvasz, Labrador Retriever, Leonberger, Neapolitan Mastiff, Newfoundland, Norfolk Terrier, Norwegian Buhund, Old English Sheepdog, Otterhound, Pharaoh Hound, Pointer, Poodle, Portuguese Water Dog, Puli, Pyrenean Shepherd, Redbone Coonhound, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard, Samoyed, Small Munsterlander Pointer, Spanish Water Dog, Spinone, Chinook, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Sussex Spaniel Swedish Vallhund, Tibetan Mastiff, Tibetan Spaniel, Vizsla, Weimaraner, Welsh Springer Spaniel, West Highland White Terrier, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.

Osteoarthritis

Breeds with a higher risk of suffering Osteoarthritis:

Alaskan Malamute, American Foxhound, Bearded Collie, Bernese Mountain Dog, Bloodhound, Bullmastiff, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Chinook, Chow Chow, Dalmatian, English Setter, German Wirehaired Pointer, Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Leonberger, Mastiff, Norwegian Elkhound, Standard Schnauzer, Whippet, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.