How to Keep Your Dogs Joints Healthy

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/20/20242-4 minutes
man dancing with golden retriever dog

As your canine companion ages, they can put a lot of wear and tear on their joints. And if joint problems occur, they can be painful, reduce mobility, and affect their quality of life. That’s why joint health for dogs is so important. 

Fortunately, there are a range of options for protecting your pet’s joints.

Here’s what you should know about how to keep your dog’s joints healthy, including the causes and symptoms of joint pain, breeds that are prone to joint-related injuries, and treatment options such as hip and joint supplements for dogs.

Causes & Types of Dog Joint Pain

There are two different types of joint pain in dogs. 

Degenerative Joint Pain

Degenerative joint pain occurs when cartilage, a protective substance that cushions joints, deteriorates, causing bones to painfully rub together.

When it happens naturally, degenerative joint pain is more common in older dogs from years of wear and tear. Certain breeds are also more prone to it. Additionally, injuries can damage the cartilage, bone or other joint structures, leading to painful joints. 

Osteoarthritis is the most common example of degenerative joint pain.

Developmental Joint Pain

Developmental joint problems are often genetic. Elbow and hip dysplasia, conditions where the ball and socket of your dog’s joint fail to fit together properly, are inherited issues.

Symptoms of Hip & Joint Pain in Dogs

If you’re concerned about a decline in your dog’s joint health, look for these symptoms: 

  • Stiffness, especially when getting up 
  • Trouble standing, sitting or lying down 
  • Limping 
  • Avoidance of physical activity 
  • Favoring certain legs over others 
  • Difficulty climbing stairs

Dog Breeds That Are Prone to Joint Injuries

Some dog breeds tend to develop joint problems more than others. Certain large breeds are affected by joint and ligament pain due to their size, but some small breeds can have it as well.

Dog breeds who develop joint pain can include: 

Treatment for Joint Pain in Dogs

Your veterinarian can recommend the best kinds of dog joint pain relief, depending on your individual pet’s condition. Here are some common treatment options.

Diet & Weight Management

Excess weight may create stress for your dog’s joints. Maintaining a healthy weight can alleviate strain on their body and potentially reduce joint inflammation. 

If your veterinarian recommends weight loss as a treatment option for joint pain, follow suggested portion sizes for your pet’s complete-and-balanced dog food.

Also, if you’re wondering, “What food helps dogs’ joints?”, dog food for joint health may provide key nutrition to help reduce their pain. Joint treats for dogs are also available (just make sure treats comprise no more than 10 percent of their daily caloric intake). 

Ask your veterinarian for recommendations. 

Exercises for Dog Joint Pain Relief

Joint care for dogs can include exercise, but with a caveat.

In addition to helping with weight loss, exercise can build muscle and improve circulation, which aids in mobility. Take steps to prevent pain and consider low-impact activities, such as:

  • Swimming  
  • Gentle play sessions 
  • Walks that gradually increase in length as joint health improves

Before you start exercising your dog, though, ask your veterinarian to help you make a joint relief recovery plan. Otherwise, you may make your pet’s problem worse.

Joint Supplements for Dogs

Your veterinarian may recommend joint care supplements for dogs. The goal of these supplements is to support joint health by providing levels of certain nutrients beyond what’s included in your pet’s food, or by addressing gaps in their diet.

Joint supplements may reduce inflammation and provide pain relief.

In addition to being a treatment option, supplements (often available as joint chews for dogs) can be used as proactive, long-term care.

Joint Pain Medication

If your dog is suffering from joint pain, ask your veterinarian about medication to provide relief. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be a good option.

Physical Therapy for Dog Joint Pain

In some cases, physical therapy may be an option for treating your dog’s joint pain. In this type of therapy, a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner or therapist works with your pet to improve mobility and relieve discomfort.

Joint Surgery

For some dogs, surgery may be required to adequately address their joint problems. Options can include arthroscopic surgery, a minimally invasive procedure where the joint is inspected and cleaned, as well as joint replacement, if necessary.

What Can I Give My Dog for Joint Pain?

If your dog has joint pain, take them to your veterinarian before trying to treat them yourself. Whether it’s anti-inflammatory medication or collagen joint supplements for dogs, they can identify the best treatment option for your pet’s problem.

What Can I Give My Dog for Arthritis?

Dog arthritis supplements may be a good option for pain relief. Your veterinarian can let you know if they’re appropriate for your pet.

Depending on their ingredients, joint supplements for dog arthritis can potentially: 

  • Rebuild lost cartilage 
  • Increase flexibility 
  • Reduce inflammation

What Are Natural Joint Supplements for Dogs?

When it comes to supplements for dogs, there is no legal definition of the term “natural.” However, a supplement labeled as “natural” might be more likely to, say, contain hemp oil for dogs’ joint pain. Similarly, coconut oil for dogs’ joints may be included in a natural supplement as well. 

Does Glucosamine Actually Work for Dogs?

Glucosamine and chondroitin for dogs are substances used to reduce inflammation and stimulate the production of cartilage—you’ll likely find these ingredients in many joint supplements. (Using collagen for dogs’ joints may also be beneficial, which is why you might see this protein listed on the label of a supplement as well.)

In terms of effectiveness, research suggests that glucosamine provides a moderate amount of pain relief for dogs with osteoarthritis.

Is Fish Oil Good for Dogs?

If you’re interested in dog vitamins for joints, you might be wondering about fish oil. Sometimes used in joint supplements, fish oil can decrease inflammation. Ask your veterinarian if it’s appropriate for your pet.

Joint function is an important part of your dog’s overall health. If they develop conditions like osteoarthritis, it can impact their quality of life. The good news is, while surgery is sometimes necessary, there are other less invasive ways to reduce pain.

Whether it’s a vet-recommended joint supplement for dogs or weight management diet, often there are steps you can take to improve dog joint health.

For more expert tips on caring for your canine companion, explore our other dog health articles. 

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