DOGSDog HealthcareGuide to joint stiffness in your dog

Guide to joint stiffness in your dog

Joint stiffness is estimated to affect one in five dogs over the age of one. In this guide, Dr Joanna Woodnutt explains what joint stiffness is, what causes it, and how you can help a dog with stiff joints feel more comfortable…

The healthy canine joint

Where any two bones in your dog’s body meet, they form a joint. This joint is composed of several important parts:

  • The articular cartilage – a thin cartilage layer that covers the end of each bone, acting as a cushion and smooth gliding surface to reduce friction.
  • The joint capsule, which surrounds the joint making a seal and provides joint stability
  • The joint or synovial fluid – a lubricant with the consistency of egg whites that reduces friction when the joint moves.

A normal joint has very little friction and is resistant to wear and tear.

Changes in canine joints leading to joint stiffness

A dog with joint stiffness will likely be experiencing the following:

  • The articular cartilage becomes thinner and worn.
  • The joint capsule becomes inflamed. Initially, this may be felt as heat or swelling, but over time it can become toughened and stiff.
  • The synovial fluid becomes thinner and less lubricating.

With these changes, the smooth sliding motion of the joint is lost. When your dog moves his or her joints there is friction which starts a cycle leading to joint stiffness.

What are the signs of joint stiffness in dogs?

Dog in bed

Joint stiffness can be subtle. Many pet parents think their dog is simply ‘getting old’, or ‘slowing down in his or her old age’. The signs of stiffness in dogs include:  

  • Difficulty rising, especially after rest 
  • Starting to lag behind on walks
  • Reluctance to use the stairs, or jump onto the sofa
  • Change in posture or how they walk
  • Licking or biting at their joints
  • Reluctance to join in games and play 
  • Sleeping more than usual 
  • Aggression and other changes in behaviour 
  • Weight changes, or muscle loss (especially noticeable on the thighs)

It’s important to remember that joint stiffness can affect dogs of all ages, especially if they have a confirmed condition or previous injury. If you’re seeing these signs in your dog, no matter their age, you should book an appointment with your veterinary team. 

How to help a dog with stiff joints

Dog eating

There is no ‘cure’ for joint stiffness, however the progression may be able to be slowed, and signs can be eased using a variety of methods…

Joint supplements
Joint supplements provide nutrients that the joints can use to repair themselves. They may include the building blocks of cartilage (like Chondroitin), natural anti-inflammatories such as Omega-3, and Hyaluronic Acid to improve synovial fluid quality.

Joint supplements are a great tool for managing joint stiffness, but may not provide sufficient pain relief on their own. They can also take several weeks to take effect, so your dog may need other medications in the meantime.  

Your vet can prescribe pain relief to your dog. This might come in the form of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS), or other pain-relieving drugs, such as Gabapentin.

Diet and exercise
Dogs that are overweight should be encouraged to lose weight. While this is difficult in a dog that’s reluctant to exercise, your vet can advise on reducing their daily calorie intake.

Dogs should still exercise in order to keep joints limber and to prevent muscle wastage. Walks tend to be slower, and you may need to change where you walk to make it easier for your dog. Shorter, more frequent walks are better for your dog, and help to prevent the joints from stiffening up. You can read more about exercising your stiff dog here.

Hydrotherapy is a great way to exercise your dog without putting extra strain on their joints. Even if your dog isn’t keen on water, it’s worth a try – underwater treadmills mean your dog is never out of their depth, and many dogs enjoy it! Ask your vet to recommend a canine hydrotherapist nearby.

Complementary therapies
Acupuncture appears to work well for dogs with stiff joints, and has some evidence backing it up. It can only be undertaken by a registered vet in the UK. Laser therapy is also growing in popularity, and there’s evidence it can help with chronic difficulties.
There are lots of other complementary therapies advertised for treatment of Arthritis, and some have evidence for them while others don’t. It’s best to talk to your vet before trying any of these methods. Be aware that many of these practitioners don’t have a ‘protected title’, which means anybody can claim to practice these types of medicine, even with little or no training.  

Home modifications
There are some important modifications you can make to your home to make it joint friendly. You should consider:

  • Ramps for the stairs and car
  • Stairgates to restrict unsupervised access to the stairs
  • Dog beds that are extra-cushioned and allow your dog to stretch fully
  • Rubber-backed, non-slip mats on hard floors 

New technologies
Right at the cutting edge of Arthritis treatment are methods like stem cell therapy and platelet rich plasma (PRP) Therapy. These are still in their infancy, and not available to most vets, but there may be an orthopaedic specialist you can discuss these with.  

Joint stiffness affects many of our dogs for a significant proportion of their lifetime. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to spot, so be alert for the signs in your dog. While there is no cure, there are many methods of making life easier for your dog. Your veterinary team is the best port of call if you’re worried about joint stiffness in your dog – they’ll be happy to help! 

Want to find out more about keeping your pooch happy and healthy for longer? Contact YuMOVE’s friendly Customer Services team by emailing, or calling 01462 416866.

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