Guide to Common Bone and Joint Problems in Dogs

Why is my dog limping? It could be nothing — dogs get stiff joints just like we do. But there are also some commong join ailments in dogs that owners need to know about so you know when it’s time for a veterinarian visit.  

Dogs, like humans, can be prone to various bone and joint diseases. Some breeds tend to be more susceptible than others. Although symptoms are similar for these ailments, it’s essential to your dog’s well being to recognize the signs early on and get the appropriate treatment. Here we list some common and a few not-so-common bone and joint problems in dogs. 

Arthritis in dogs

Arthritis in dogs, like humans, causes cartilage in a joint, typically the hips, knees, elbows, lower back, and wrists, to change or become damaged. This breakdown results in bone rubbing against bone creating inflammation, stiffness, and pain. While arthritis can affect any dog, larger and overweight breeds are at a higher risk. Other factors that can play a role in arthritis include heredity, joint trauma, abnormal joint development and immune system issues. Your vet may suggest treatments such as weight management, dietary changes (including supplements), exercise, physical rehabilitation, supplements, and anti-inflammatory drugs. 

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), is the most common form of arthritis in canines, affecting about 20% of all dogs, according to the data gathered by NIH researchers. It is a chronic disease usually in the limbs and lower spine and causes the loss of joint cartilage due to age, repetitive stress, injury, or disease. Signs of osteoarthritis include pain, inflammation, decreased mobility, and the development of bone spurs. There is no known cure. Prevention through diet, exercise and joint supplements is key to helping your dog’s joints stay healthy. However, once diagnosed, treatment focuses on the quality of life by controlling pain and decreasing inflammation with weight management, supplements and NSAIDs. 

Metabolic bone disorders 

The three most common metabolic bone disorders include hypertrophic osteodystrophy, osteochondrosis, and panosteitis, according to PetMD. These conditions tend to affect larger breeds and it is believed that nutrition plays a large role.

Hypertrophic osteodystrophy

This condition affects the growth areas of the long leg bones in young dogs; typically large or giant breeds. Lameness, swelling, pain, loss of appetite and depression have all been noted symptoms. Its cause is unknown and treatment may include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and dietary changes (Source: Merck Vet Manual).

Osteochondrosis

Although less common, this condition affects young dogs and is characterized by bony growths (osteochondromas) that grow from the surface of long bones, ribs, and vertebrae. Your dog may not show any signs; however, if lameness or pain develops surgery might be recommended.

Panosteitis

This inflammatory condition affects the shaft (outer surface) of the long leg bones. Often referred to as “growing pains,” panosteitis can occur in more than one bone at a time. Lameness can occur out of the blue and shift from one leg to the other. Any dog can experience panosteitis; however, it is more common in  larger breeds such as German shepherds, golden retrievers, rottweilers, Labrador retrievers, Great Danes, Doberman pinschers, and even basset hounds. Dogs usually show symptoms between 5-14 months of age until they are 2 years old. Although this condition tends to resolve itself, treatment during episodes of pain and lameness might include anti-inflammatories and analgesics.

Dysplasia 

Elbow and hip dysplasia is an inherited disorder that can affect any dog breed; however, it is most prevalent in medium to large breeds. There are three developmental issues that may be referred to as dysplasia: fragmented coronoid process (FCP), osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), and ununited anconeal process (UAP). 

Fragmented coronoid process (FCP) 

Fragmented coronoid process, is a developmental defect that causes one of two bony protrusions (coronoid processes) of the ulna in the elbow joint to fissure or crack and break away from the bone. Symptoms include instability, lameness, and pain. Genetics are believed to be a factor and male dogs are most commonly affected. FCP is often observed in large breeds including Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, rottweilers, golden retrievers, and Bernese mountain dogs. Other factors that may play a role include hormones, growth disorders, nutritional imbalances, and trauma. Surgery is often the recommended treatment.

Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD or OD)

This inflammatory disorder occurs when diseased cartilage separates from the bone typically in the shoulder, but can also affect the hip, elbow and knee. This condition is commonly seen in large breeds and male dogs between 6-9 months of age. Too much calcium and energy in the diet, genetics, lack of blood flow, hormones, and rapid growth may play a role. Lameness, swelling, and pain are typical symptoms. The severity of OCD determines treatment, which can range from rest and restricted activity to surgery.

Ununited anconeal process (UAP)

Ununited anconeal process occurs when the growth plate between the anconeal process and the ulna fails to correctly fuse to the rest of the ulna, which usually happens around five months of age. Although this condition can occur in any dog, German shepherds and male dogs are more predisposed than other dogs. Other factors that appear to be associated with UAP are excess weight, nutrition (excess calcium), hormones, and trauma. Symptoms include lameness, pain, inflammation and instability. It can lead to arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Treatment for the ununited anconeal process is often surgerical.

Rickets

Rickets is a disease that causes soft and deformed bones in young, growing animals. It is typically caused by insufficient vitamin D or phosphorus in the diet. Although rare, lack of calcium can also result in rickets. Signs include swelling, limp or stiff gait, pain, and folding fractures (bones slowly fold over and become deformed). Diet correction is the primary treatment. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (sunlight) can also help.

Luxating joints, patellas

Luxating means a joint or bone like the patella (knee cap) is out of place or dislocated. You may notice your dog walking on three legs or skip a step and then return to a normal gait. Small breeds including Bichon Frise, Chihuahuas, French poodles, and Maltese tend to suffer with luxating patellas. Most of the time, this resolves itself. It’s not painful but it can be uncomfortable for your pet. If your pet suffers from recurrent or persistent lameness, surgery may be recommended.

Joint trauma

Joint trauma from car accidents, fights and falls can result in fractures. Symptoms include lameness, swelling, and pain. Depending on the type of the fracture, the dog’s health and age, owner’s finances, and surgeon’s expertise, treatment may be an external splint or cast, or surgically repaired with screws, pins, orthopedic wires, and bone plates. Antibiotics and pain-relieving medications may be prescribed.

A torn or ruptured cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), located at the center of the knee, can result from an injury, obesity, breed, and age. Similar to a torn ACL in humans, symptoms for dogs may include pain, lameness, swelling, and inability to bear weight on the injured leg. Although the lameness often goes away in most dogs in 3-6 weeks, untreated it can cause bones to rub against each other producing bone spurs, pain, decreased range of motion, and arthritis. For smaller dogs (under 30 pounds) rest and anti-inflammatory meds and rest may be recommended for several weeks to a couple of months, followed by non-impact exercise. Your vet may also suggest surgery.

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