Dog Joint Health: Pain, Osteoarthritis, and Other Joint Problems
WebMD veterinary expert answers commonly asked questions about joint problems in dogs.
Dogs’ joints take a pounding,
from running after tennis balls to jumping off the back deck. And for some
dogs, that’s a problem. More use means more injuries and can lead to
joint-related problems such as ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears and
osteoarthritis. WebMD talked with James L. “Jimi” Cook, the director of the
Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory at the University of Missouri-Columbia,
about canine joint problems and what’s new in their treatment.
Q: What causes osteoarthritis or joint problems in dogs?
A: The two major categories of joint problems are developmental and
degenerative problems. With developmental problems, you have things like hip or
elbow dysplasia, where the
joint does not develop correctly in a number of different ways.
Degenerative problems cover a number of areas. But the most common, and the
most common cause of arthritis in dogs, is cruciate
ligament problems, where the ligament is degenerating over time and causing
instability and secondary osteoarthritis.
Q: What are the signs of joint problems?
A: Most of the time, people notice that their dogs are doing less or having
more difficulty with common activities. The dog now has problems getting up on
the couch, or going up the stairs, or getting in the back of the SUV. With more
athletic dogs, maybe they can’t run as long with their owner, or they don’t
want to play as long at the dog park.
From there it progresses to overt lameness -- holding the limb up, or
holding the limb funny. Those are the most common things we see. Rarely do we
see overt pain as the first complaint. Usually it’s a slower process.
Q: Are some breeds more prone to joint injuries?
A: In general, increased size and weight is always a predisposer of joint
problems. So the poster children for both developmental and degenerative
problems are going to be the bigger dogs.
But for certain things, there are very breed-specific problems.
Newfoundlands have the highest prevalence of cruciate ligament disease of all
breeds. Rottweilers have more knee and ankle problems. Bernese Mountain dogs
commonly get elbow dysplasia.
Q: It seems more dogs now are having treatments for joint problems. Are
there more problems, or are we simply treating them more often?
A: We have improved diagnostics and improved health care. People pay more
attention to their dogs and seek care earlier and more often. And a portion of
it is a breeding issue. Breeders are breeding for the traits they want. But
that can breed in other traits that aren’t so desirable, such as the orthopedic
Q: What are the common treatments for osteoarthritis or joint
A: It varies. We typically divide it into surgical and non-operative
treatments. Surgical treatments can range from arthroscopic cleaning of a joint
all the way up to total joint replacement.