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Dog joint pain: why does it feel worse in winter?

Joanna Dyer
Article written by Joanna Dyer

Date published 25 November 2019

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There are a number of theories for why our dogs seem to experience worse joint pain in the winter – but fortunately there are also plenty of ways we can help.

1. Cold weather and pain

Like people, many pets seem to experience flare-ups of their joint pain in cold weather. Scientists are still unsure why this is – although there are two main theories:

  • Air pressure drops during the winter, causing gases and fluids inside joints to expand, thereby putting pressure on nerves and causing stiffness and discomfort.
  • Colder temperatures cause tissues to contract, again putting pressure on nerves. (As an example, in order to keep vital organs warm, the body restricts the flow of blood to the limbs, which might increase the pain felt in the joints.)
What to do

Ensure your dog has a cosy sleeping or resting area, which is in a warm corner of the house, away from draughts and windows. When it’s particularly cold outside, some dogs might also benefit from wearing a dog jacket on their walks.

2. Our dogs get less exercise

Whether it's the shorter days or the cold, wet weather, our dogs tend to get less exercise during the winter months, allowing their muscles, ligaments and tendons to weaken. Furthermore, the less our dogs move, the less oxygen and nutrients reach their joints – both of which are important for joint health.

What to do

Keep them active but opt for shorter and more frequent walks in order to avoid undue stiffness. Also, bear in mind that high-intensity activities like fetch require intense bursts of effort and have more impact on joints, so might not be the best choice for dogs with severe joint issues.

Pet joint supplements such as glucosamine and omega 3 can also be an effective way to help your dog's joints get the nutrients they need.

Dog under blanket

It may be cold outside, but it's important that our dogs stay active.

3. Seasonal Affective Disorder

It's thought that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in people is linked to levels of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is largely responsible for the sleep cycle; levels are lower during the day and higher in the evening, helping us feel sleepy.

During winter, when there are fewer daylight hours, our melatonin levels can decrease, throwing off the body's circadian rhythm and sometimes causing SAD.

Some research has suggested that dogs could suffer too – which is important for joint pain because low mood has been linked to higher levels of perceived pain.

A survey led by People's Dispensary of Sick Animals (PDSA) showed that owners think their pets get depressed during the winter. Half of the owners reported that their pets slept for longer, and a fifth said their dogs were less active during these months.

Even if our dogs don't suffer from SAD, a study showed that dogs can recognise and mirror human emotions.1

What to do

Take them out for walks at the brightest time of the day (which will also be good for you) and make sure you’re spending some quality time with them every day. For a sad dog, even fifteen minutes playing their favourite game can make a difference.

4. Winter weight gain

Extra weight places a lot of pressure on already stressed joints, and the longer you allow your dog to be overweight, the worse the joint pain.

What to do

As well as getting your dog moving, get on top of their diet to help them shed excess pounds.

For breeds prone to joint issues, older dogs or dogs who are already experiencing joint problems, you might also want to consider a joint health supplement to support their short- and long-term mobility.

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Joanna Dyer

About Joanna Dyer

Joanna Dyer is a content writer and editor at Healthspan.