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Healthy Dogs

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Dog Joint Health: Pain, Osteoarthritis, and Other Joint Problems

WebMD veterinary expert answers commonly asked questions about joint problems in dogs.
By Sandy Eckstein
WebMD Pet Health Feature

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.

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