Joint pain is generally caused by arthritis. Arthritis occurs following damage to the joint and causes extra bony growths to form which wear away the cartilage which usually protects the joint. The surfaces of the bones which form the joint then rub against each other during movement and that causes pain. The damage to the joint can either be accidental following a fall or collision or can be due to the influence of conditions such as hip or elbow dysplasia or bones which grow incorrectly during puppy hood. Check out my joint care blogs to find out how to minimise the risks in your puppy.
When our dogs start to limp or their movements seem stiff we know they are probably in pain but how do we know if it’s joint pain or something else?
Here are 5 clues to help you decide.
1. Joint pain is felt in the joint – so if they are sensitive to touch on their hip, elbow, knee, toe, back etc then it might be joint pain. You may also notice them licking at a joint to soothe it. Sometimes they will lick so much they cause the area to bleed. In the dog’s eyes they are trying to remove the thing that hurts but in doing so actually make it worse. Make sure your dog has a good supportive bed to lie on which will cushion painful joints.
2. An affected joint may feel hot or swollen and may be red – although this is tricky to see under the fur. Arthritis causes inflammation and this is what produces heat. To check for heat, gently place your cupped hand over the area. Compare with the same joints on the other side of the dog to see if it feels different. If it’s your dog’s back that is affected compare the area that feels sore with another area along their back.
3. The pain seems to get better with movement. Sometimes our dogs seem stiff first thing in the morning or after resting but then loosen up after they’ve moved about for a bit. This is because movement pumps lubricants in the form of synovial fluid around the joints and helps everything move more easily. This is why it is important to keep exercising but to maybe reduce the intensity and duration of exercise. Three short walks a day are better than one long one.
4. The pain seems worse after rest. During rest no synovial fluid will be pumped into the joint so it becomes dry and the joint moves less easily. This can mean that dogs with joint pain find sleeping more uncomfortable and become restless during the night. The use of pain relief before bedtime can be useful in these cases. You can find more ideas on making sure your dog has a comfortable night here.
5. The pain may be affected by temperature changes – worse when the weather is cold, better when it’s warmer. It may not actually be the temperature that makes the difference but the air pressure. Different weather patterns are associated with different air pressures and as this causes the air and fluid in joints to expand or contract. During cold weather the air pressure is usually low and this will cause the fluid and air in the joints to expand putting more pressure on nerves which is experienced as pain. Warm weather makes us feel more relaxed and warm muscles are more flexible which allows the joints to move more freely.
If you recognise any of these signs in your dog and suspect your dog may have joint pain then please discuss it with your vet. They will be able to advise you on the best forms of pain relief. Also explore physical therapies to help your dog remain active. Massage helps keep the muscles healthy, stretched and flexible. Painful joints can mean the muscles don’t get to fully stretch as they should and then this in turn can cause them to pull on the joints causing further pain and so you end up in a cycle of joint pain leading to reduced muscle use leading to an inability to move the joint properly which leads to more pain. Hydrotherapy can be very useful too as being in water means the joints and muscles can work without bearing weight. Just standing in water can be beneficial as it reduces the pressure within in the joint.
For more information call me on 07761 826736 and I’ll be happy to chat.