Pain Experts Share the 5 "Uncommon Truths" About Your Dog's Joint Health

Have you ever wanted the chance to hear what the leading experts in canine pain management have to say about joint health in dogs? 

Big Barker sat down with Kimberly Agnello, BA, DVM, MS and Dorothy Brown, MSCE, DVM, BS, professor of surgery from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine to learn about the top 5 things they want dog owners to know about their canine’s joints. Here’s what they had to say:


1. Older dogs have arthritis.

Arthritis is extraordinarily common. If your dog is over the age of 6, there is a high likelihood that your dog is suffering in some way from the discomfort of arthritis. The most common type of canine arthritis is degenerative joint disease, affecting one in five adult dogs in the US. According to Dr. Agnello, there are currently an estimated 72 million dogs in the United States with arthritis. However, Agnello believes that this number is low due to under-reporting and that far more dogs are actually suffering.

Senior Great Dane on Big Barker Bed  

Why would canine arthritis be under-reported? Well, many owners don’t realize that their dog is uncomfortable (dogs tend not to complain) and many dogs are not seen by a veterinarian regularly, the one person who could diagnose arthritis for those animals.


2. Slowing down isn’t normal.

In focus groups with pet owners, it was noted that when talking about pain and their pets, owners usually mean acute pain, such as the pain associated with trauma or acute illness. Acute pain is more obvious, since a dog that experiences acute trauma will cry out to keep you from touching the area. 

But, chronic pain in dogs looks different. It’s more subtle and oftentimes chronic pain might look like ‘slowing down’. Dr. Brown advises that “slowing down” is a behavior exhibited by dogs who are uncomfortable and sick with pain. Because dogs can’t talk, they communicate with their bodies. If your dog starts lagging behind on walks or doesn’t have the same stamina to play favorite games such as fetch, it’s a safe bet that your dog is in pain. Increased aggression (grumpiness) and increased sleep are also signs that your dog could be uncomfortable.


Senior dog on a Big Barker bed


When veterinarians use the word “pain” in association with the chronic pain of arthritis, and pet owners realize their pet has been suffering for a long time, it can stir up negative emotions. But, it’s important to know that none of this is your fault. Pet owners aren’t often educated about chronic pain in their pets.

The best way to know whether your dog is slowing down from pain is to try a week’s worth of anti-inflammatories and see if any of the behaviors improve, Dr. Brown says. If after a week you’re answering, “Yes!” to the following questions, chances are good that your dog is feeling better. 

  • Does your dog play longer? 
  • Does your dog go on longer walks? 
  • Is your dog pulling on the leash? 
  • Is your dog getting up and looking out the window more often? 
  • Does your dog have more spring in their step?

3. Weight control is the easiest, cheapest and most effective way to manage joint pain.

In a study of overweight labrador retrievers, pain from arthritis decreased by up to 25% with weight loss alone. Weight control is far and away the most important, most effective and most cost-conscious at-home treatment. If your dog is overweight (or you suspect that he is), work with your veterinarian to achieve a healthy weight for your dog. Your veterinarian can give you calorie counts and other tips and tricks to facilitate weight loss.

Dog on a Big Barker bed


4. If your dog has arthritis, introduce some low-impact exercise. 

Management of arthritis includes maintaining strength, mobility and reducing pain. And, to stay active your dog needs strong muscles! Dr. Agnello suggests engaging your dog in non-concussive force activities to keep muscle activity and mass up. Swimming, one-legged stands, standing on a BOSU ball or walking on an underwater treadmill are all excellent exercises for arthritic dogs to engage in, provided their pain is managed sufficiently beforehand. 


5. Joint supplements do help.

Dr. Agnello recommends giving your dog a high-quality joint supplement. Dogs have variable responses, but most supplements are safe and some dogs can really benefit. There are many products available on the market, but the products sold by veterinarians are considered to have the highest quality control standards. If you’re going to invest in a joint supplement, make sure it’s one that actually benefits your dog. One of the best supplements available is high-quality fish oil or omega-3 supplements. Make sure the supplement is high in EPA and DHA, not ALA, as your dog will get the most anti-inflammatory benefit from EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. 

If you think your dog is suffering from joint pain, be sure to consult with your local veterinarian.


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