Healthspan May 18, 2018

Understanding joint pain can sometimes feel far from straightforward so we asked veterinarian Joanna Woodnutt to help get to the bottom of it.

How can I tell if my dog or cat has joint pain?

Although the symptoms of joint pain can vary depending on the cause, there are plenty of common signs to look out for:

  • Stiffness when walking or getting up - especially after a long walk
  • Lameness 
  • Licking at the joint
  • Swelling or heat around a joint
  • Grumpiness, especially when being touched
  • Reluctance to move or sleeping more

What are the causes of joint pain?


The most common cause of joint pain in both dogs and cats is, by far, osteoarthritis, affecting 90% of cats over the age of 14 and 20% of dogs over the age of eight. Osteoarthritis is the degeneration of the cartilage of the joint - this results in loss of the sliding surface that allows joints to move freely. When this occurs, using the joint becomes painful and animals may become reluctant to move like they used to, or display signs of stiffness. It can be particularly hard to spot signs of joint pain in cats, who often just sleep more and make minute changes to their movements that are hard to spot.

Arthritis can affect any joint in the body - commonly the hip or elbow joints, but the spine, knee and toes can also be affected. Although it usually affects older dogs and cats, arthritis can occur in younger animals that have already had another joint condition.


Another joint condition that affects dogs and cats is hip or elbow dysplasia. This is a developmental disorder where the joint doesn’t form properly. It can be related to genetics and to growth, and is more common in male large-breed dogs or cats. Most animals with dysplastic joints will show signs of pain before the age of 18 months, although some will cope well until they begin to get arthritis at an older age.


Injuries to the bones, ligaments, and cartilage of the joint also increase the likelihood of arthritis developing. Pets with fractures are at a higher risk of problems in the future. Surgical intervention in any of these injuries will decrease the chance of arthritis developing, but the risk is still higher than that of a normal joint.

There are of course other joint diseases, and if you suspect joint pain in your pet the best thing to do is to seek your vet’s advice.

Can I prevent or treat joint disease?

Although some of the causes of joint pain are accidents – such as fractures and ligament tears - there are things that can be done to reduce the chances of these occurring. Providing an appropriate exercise regime ensures the muscles are strong, lessening the chance of a fall or a pull. The best exercise for dogs suffering with arthritis is low-impact activities, such as hydrotherapy and swimming. Short walks throughout the day allow the joint to keep moving rather than stiffen up. Acupuncture and laser therapy may also be of use for arthritic dogs.

Feeding your pet the correct diet in the correct proportions for their age, growth stage and breed reduces the chance of dysplasia being a problem. Ensuring that your pet doesn’t become overweight is also incredibly important, as this puts unnecessary strain on the joints. Any overweight pets should be placed on a carefully planned diet as soon as the weight gain is noticed.

Giving the cells of the joint all of the nutrients they need ensures that any repair work can be undertaken. Giving your pet supplements with glucosamine, chondroitin and green-lipped mussel extract will help improve joint health. To get the best from the nutrients, start giving your pet supplements before they start to show signs of joint pain to try to prevent damage occurring.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.



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