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Joint problems are all serious health issues in dogs that need to be dealt with as soon as their symptoms arise. Otherwise, the pain can become unbearable, and dogs will lose their inhibition to play, go on walks, or even greet you at the door—an act so sacred in our hearts we can’t imagine a day without it.

Joint problems in dogs may be congenital (present at birth) or may be the result of injury to the joint, degeneration (deterioration with loss of function), abnormal development, immune-related conditions, cancers, or infections.

A joint connects two or more bones together. Most joints in the body are mobile, allowing the bones to move in relationship to each other. The vast majority of moveable joints are held together by an outer layer of tough fibrous tissue called the joint capsule. he thin inner lining of the joint capsule, called the synovial membrane, produces joint fluid (synovial fluid) to lubricate the joint.

Joints are what allow dogs and humans alike to move freely about the world. Without the joints themselves, our skeletons would have no firm structure or oppositely, we’d be a stiff upright bag of bones. Joint problems are common complaints for elderly dogs because as they age, the synovium produces less lubrication. Once the cartilage is damaged, repairing the joint can be difficult. 

Kinds of Joint Problems in Dogs 

There are two main categories of dog joint issues:

Developmental Joint Issue: Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia are developmental conditions. Dog hip dysplasia is one of the most common causes of pain; elbow dysplasia can also occur but is less prevalent. Both involve ball-and-socket joints, and both occur when the two parts of the joint grow at different rates.

This results in painful grinding or rubbing of the dog’s bones, rather than the smooth motion of properly developed joints. Dysplasia is hereditary, although it can also be exacerbated by factors such as rapid growth, inadequate exercise, and poor nutrition that leads to excess weight.

Degenerative Joint Issues: Osteoarthritis and Cruciate Ligament Injury

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative problem that can befall dogs of any age, but it’s particularly prevalent in senior pets. It’s relatively common, affecting some 20% of dogs.

Also known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), OA occurs when cartilage in the dog’s joint deteriorates, leading to inflammation. It can present anywhere but is most frequently seen in the lower spine and hind legs. Causes of this often painful condition include age, injury, repetitive stress, and disease.

Dog osteoarthritis can also factor into the development of Cruciate Ligament Injury also known as ACL. Acute ACL issues can happen suddenly during strenuous activity; progressive cases, which are due to genetics or lifestyle, only become apparent over time

Other Types of Joint Problems include;

  • Osteochondrosis is the separation of immature cartilage from the underlying bone
  • Septic Arthritis is bacterial in nature and can result from trauma or insect bites
  • Cancerous Arthritis results from a type of tumor called synovial cell sarcoma
  • Dislocation occurs when two parts of a ball-and-socket joint are separated because of trauma
  • Patellar luxation affects smaller dogs and involves a misaligned kneecap 
  • Lyme Disease and similar infections aren’t joint disorders per se but can cause stiffness, pain, and mobility problems in the joints

Signs of Joint Problems in Dogs

How do you know if your dog is in pain? Any and all of the following can be signs of chronic discomfort due to joint pain:

  • Increased irritability
  • Lagging behind on walks
  • Slower to get up in the morning
  • Stiffness, limping or “slowing down”
  • Sleeping more
  • Not enjoying games and walks like he used to
  • Reluctance to jump into the car or go up or down stairs
  • Excessive licking of a sore joint
  • Swollen joints
  • Muscle loss
  • Yelping when touched
  • “Bunny-hopping” when running

Causes of Joint Problems in Dogs

The main causes of joint problems in dogs include;


Joint problems particularly affect the majority of old aged dogs. They can also affect young dogs over one year old, especially in large breed animals.

Breed and predisposition

Some breeds, due to hereditary predisposition, have more joint problems than others, such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers and Labradors.

Excess weight

Dogs that are overweight are most likely to suffer from these diseases and other conditions related to the joints.


Because of an injury or fracture (hip or elbow dysplasia, torn cruciate ligament, dislocation of the kneecap…) there is a greater likelihood of suffering from joint problems.

Treatment and Management

If you notice any of these signs in your dog, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Some further investigation, diagnosis may be required to come up with a comprehensive treatment plan which may include;

  • The surgical method includes arthroscopic cleaning of the joint or a joint replacement in extreme cases.
  • The non-surgical approach includes weight loss, strength training, and/or administering supplements for dogs with fish oils which help reduce inflammation in the joints.


Joint supplements are gaining traction and interest in the canine world as an alternative to prescription pain medication. Glucosamine hydrochloride, chondroitin and omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil are some of the more well-known and clinically tested supplements available for joint pain relief in dogs.

Not all joint supplements are created equally. Only buy supplements that your vet recommends to ensure safety and efficacy. 


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