How to Avoid Painful Canine Joint Problems

(Photo credit: Clare Jackson/EyeEm/Getty)

There are multiple causes behind troublesome canine joint problems, which affect a dog’s bones and ligaments. Joint problems are painful for puppies and often expensive to treat, but there are steps humans can take to avoid costly canine orthopedic surgery. Not all joint problems in dogs can be avoided, but understanding how to keep your dog fit and active can delay or lessen the need for more serious interventions.

Typically, a dog with joint pain will fall into one of these four categories:


Figgy, a healthy young pooch, charges a squirrel at top speed in his backyard. A moment later he limps.

A leg injury that lasts longer than a day or two should be evaluated by a veterinarian. The vet may prescribe an anti-inflammatory that is safe for dogs (don’t give your dog aspirin!) and recommend rest. If R&R does not help, you may be referred to a canine orthopedic surgeon.

Orthopedic surgery can cost several thousand dollars, but it may be your dog’s only option for a full recovery. Pet hospitals typically offer credit or billing plans, but pet insurance can provide real peace of mind (and save your bank account) when faced with a surgical decision. Pet insurance must be purchased before an injury occurs, but it will pay for itself if your pet needs knee repair.


Bailey, an aging Golden Retriever, struggles to jump to her favorite spot on the couch and struggles up the stairs.

Older dogs are prone to arthritis from years of bone wear, just like humans. The age at which a dog is spayed or neutered can also affect their joints. According to the veterinarian Dr. Jeff Grognet, neutering early (before six months) delays growth plate closure, resulting in taller, leaner neutered dogs. This changes the angle of the knee and can possibly predispose a dog to future ligament damage. An older, arthritic dog may benefit from anti-inflammatories and pain relievers, as well as gentle exercise prescribed by your veterinarian.


Sofie, a German Shepherd, enjoys regular exercise and obedience training, but suddenly gets lame in her hind legs.

Some large or giant dog breeds are prone to hip dysplasia. This genetic condition is aggravated by multiple factors. The American Kennel Association recommends talking to a veterinarian for treatment options (which may include medication, physical therapy, or surgery) and lifestyle changes. Before buying a purebred dog, ask to see the dog Orthopedic foundation for animals (OFA) in addition to health records.


Oliver, a portly Basset Hound, lives for treats and weighs 20 pounds. Overweight. It moves slowly and can only travel short distances.

Obesity worsens canine joint problems. This is the only condition that humans can 100% prevent their puppies from suffering. It’s tempting to reward good behavior by giving dogs tasty treats, but an overweight dog is an unhealthy dog. If your pup is gaining weight, discuss proper nutrition with your veterinarian and make healthier dog treats using fruits and vegetables!