When most people think of joint issues, the first thought that comes to mind is arthritis and the second is pain. This is true whether they are thinking of themselves or their dogs. In neither case is this universally true. First, it may not be arthritis causing the pain, but some other joint disorder. Secondly, it may not be pain but discomfort. Pain usually doesn’t occur until a joint condition has gone undetected for some time. In many cases, pain can often be avoided, or at least ameliorated, if the joint issue is detected early. In order to do this, dog owners should be aware of warnings that precede pain.
The Difference Between Joint Discomfort and Joint Pain
Although there may be a fine line between discomfort and pain, recognizing the former can enable you to take your dog to the veterinarian before it escalates to the latter. Pain is intense, and the more the joint is used, the worse it becomes. Discomfort is noticeable, but it’s more of a background nuisance compared to pain. Those suffering pain describe it as sharp, burning, shooting, or stabbing whereas words like aching, lingering, annoying, pressure, and irritating are used when talking about discomfort.
Canine Behavior Signaling Joint Discomfort
Although no one can say with certainty how dogs experience either, canines who display any of the following behaviors may be telling you they are experiencing joint discomfort that may escalate into pain if not diagnosed and treated.
- Excessively licks affected joint
- No longer has any interest in games he once rigorously played
- Reluctant to climb stairs or into the car
- Slower walking pace
- Slow to rise in the morning
- Sleeps more
- Loss of muscle mass
- Limps when walking. Bunny-hops when running.
- Flinches when touched
- Difficulty in crouching to urinate or defecate
Becoming aware of joint issues is step one for the considerate pet owner. Step two is seeking veterinary help in determining what is causing it.
Causes of Joint Issues on Dogs
Joint issues fall into two categories: degenerative and developmental.
Developmental problems arise from ligaments or joints that failed to develop in the maturation process, resulting in limited functioning or usage. Most are congenital. Some developmental joint issues arise from breeding. For example, large breed dogs such as German shepherds, black labs, and golden retrievers are prone to hip dysplasia.
Degenerative disorders either develop over time as a result of age or wear and tear, or arise as a result of a fracture or other injury from weak bones due to lack of calcium. However, others can be brought on by an auto-immune condition, hormonal imbalance, metabolic disorder, cancer, or infections
The Merck Veterinary Manual further differentiates between developmental joint disorders like arthritis that affect the membranes encircling and cushioning the joint, and those that affect the cartilage, tendons, bursae, or fluid within the joint. But no matter whether it’s developmental or degenerative, breed or weight related, no one likes to see their pet in pain or discomfort. Most veterinarians advise bringing the dog in for an examination if the symptoms don’t go away in a minimum of two weeks.
Common Ways of Treating Canine Joint Issues
In order to help prevent joint pain and discomfort, you have a few options. You can give your dog a daily hip and joint supplement (or senior hip and joint supplement if your dog is aging). Turmeric supplements and glucosamine supplements can also be good ways to help protect your best friend’s joints.
If your dog already has joint pain, your vet will have to physically examine them, which usually involves an x-ray. Depending on the findings, the progression of the condition, and the severity of the pain, the veterinarian will prescribe either surgery or non-surgical management. If he takes a non-surgical route, he may prescribe physical therapy, a weight management protocol, the use of dog knee braces, supplements, or medications such as NSAIDs or corticosteroids. Surgical recommendations may include joint replacement, arthroscopic cleaning of the joint, steroidal injections, or tissue replacement.