Joint problems in large breed dogs

3 Worst Joint Problems: What to Do When Your Big Dog Hurts!

Joint problems in large breed dogs are an unfortunate part of owning a big dog. It’s important to be aware of these joint issues so you can recognize them early and begin treatment to ensure a better quality of life for your furry friend.

In this article, we’ll look at three of the more common joint problems found in large dogs and discuss how you can lessen the pain and discomfort for your best friend.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding and being able to recognize symptoms of the common joint issues in big dogs can improve their quality of life.
  • Being proactive with preventive measures and treatments can help with some of these joint problems.
  • Routine care, proper diet, along with exercise can reduce the risk of joint problems and their symptoms when they do occur.

Canine Hip Dysplasia – The Big One

This is one of the most common ailments found in larger breed dogs.

It’s caused by the hip joints failing to develop normally, which leads to gradual deterioration and loss of function. The large and giant breeds are the ones most commonly affected, such as German Shepherds, Saint Bernards, Great Danes, and Labradors.

It’s much less common in small dogs and less likely to show symptoms due to their small size.

Hip Dysplasia most commonly begins early in life, usually after about four or five months of age.  In older dogs, it can develop due to osteoarthritis, which is a type of joint deterioration that causes a breakdown in the bone cartilage.


Hip dysplasia in dogs is often due to a combination of factors. These can include rapid weight gain leading to obesity, a genetic predisposition for loose hips, an excess of bulk in the pelvic muscles, and nutritional factors.


If your large breed dog shows decreased activity, difficulty rising, reluctance to jump or climb stairs, or a reduced range of motion in their hip joints, it’s time to consider the possibility of canine hip dysplasia.

Other indications include standing with their back legs close together, enlarged shoulder muscles as they avoid putting weight on their rear legs, and any hind leg lameness or grating noises with joint movement.

If your big dog shows two or more of these symptoms, you should see your veterinarian as soon as possible for an evaluation.


Treatment for hip dysplasia usually involves outpatient care unless surgery is needed.

Things that will help include physical therapy and swimming, which promote joint and muscle activity without worsening the condition.

Weight control is also essential to reduce as much pressure as possible on your dog’s joints during movement. Your veterinarian can recommend a specialized weight control diet.

A supportive and well-built dog bed designed for large dogs can help a lot with relieving pressure on sore joints. The best ones have some height to them, which helps your dog to rise from a lying position.

Finally, anti-inflammatory medications can help lessen inflammation and swelling, while pain medications provide comfort for your dog. Here again, your veterinarian is the one to help with prescribing the right medications for your particular dog.

Arthritis – A Universal Joint Problem


Arthritis is a very general term used to describe any abnormal changes in a joint. The causes are several.

Common causes include congenital bone structure defects, trauma to joints and ligaments, and joint tissue destruction due to infection.

Less common are immune system disorders that can cause tissue degeneration or inflammation.

With arthritis, the bone cartilage wears away faster than the body can replace it. This causes the bony layer beneath to become exposed and inflamed, causing pain and joint stiffening.

What then can happen is that reduced activity causes weight gain, putting additional stress on already sore joints, and continued lack of usage leads to even more lessening of joint mobility. This downward spiral can continue until you take some preventative actions.

As you may suspect, large dogs are especially prone to arthritis due to their heavier weight and the greater likelihood of other joint problems that are common in the larger breeds (for example, hip dysplasia as explained above).


The thing about dogs is they often won’t show signs of discomfort or pain until it becomes severe. This means you’ll need to watch for more subtle symptoms such as:

  • Sleeping more
  • Change in alertness
  • Change in mood – e.g. less excited to run up and greet you when you come home
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Decreased interest in playing
  • Slower or overly cautious when climbing stairs
  • Hesitation to jump on the couch or your bed

See your veterinarian if you detect any of these symptoms, as they may also be indicative of ailments other than joint problems.


Treating a dog for arthritis is like treating a human. Common treatments are anti-inflammatory medications and Liquid NSAIDs.

It’s important to monitor your dog for any adverse reactions and report them to your vet immediately, as some of these medications are quite powerful.

There are non-drug approaches that can help your dog cope with arthritis. They include:

  • Keeping weight under strict control.  This is the most important action you can take.
  • Moderate exercise to improve joint flexibility and mobility.
  • A proper, supportive bed to relieve pressure points and assist in standing.
  • Joint supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids. These all have anti-inflammatory and joint-protective properties.

Please see your veterinarian first before you take any actions to treat your dog’s arthritis, regardless of whether they are medicine or non-medicine treatments.

At all costs, avoid using human medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. These are dangerous for dogs and can cause liver damage and gastrointestinal bleeding.

Elbow Dysplasia – Hits Both Large and Giant Breeds Hard

The abnormal growth of bone, cell, or tissue in dogs is a condition known as elbow dysplasia.

This is the single most common cause of elbow lameness and pain, and one of the most common causes of forelimb lameness in large and giant breed dogs.

The ones most commonly affected are Newfoundlands, Bernese mountain dogs, Labradors, Rottweilers, Golden retrievers, and German shepherds.

Males and females are both affected, with the condition being slightly more common in males due to their larger size.


Sadly, elbow dysplasia typically appears early, around four to ten months of age.

Some of the symptoms include pain when flexing or extending the elbow, decreased range of motion, sudden lameness in older dogs, or intermittent forelimb lameness after exercise.

Other signs might include your dog holding a limb away from its body or any grating detected in the elbow bones or joints.


The underlying causes of elbow dysplasia are developmental, genetic, and nutritional.

However, your veterinarian will need to rule out other possible causes, such as:

  • An infection
  • Trauma to the affected joint
  • A tumor


Fortunately, there are several treatment options available for dogs diagnosed with elbow dysplasia.

Although surgery should always be considered a last resort for any ailment, it can be necessary in some cases. Non-surgical treatments include weight control and prescription medications.

You and your veterinarian must monitor your dog’s progress to determine which treatment is best for your circumstance.

The easiest and most common preventative action is to restrict the rate of weight gain and growth while your dog is young. This may reduce the risk for young large breed dogs, which are the ones most commonly affected.

Other preventative measures can lower the risk of your big dog developing elbow dysplasia.

Consistent with yearly exams to assess any joint cartilage deterioration. You can then take early intervention actions.

Lastly, a high-quality, supportive dog bed can reduce pain and improve the quality of your dog’s life.

A Quality Dog Bed: One of the Most Important Things You Can Do for Your Big Dog’s Joints

Our guide on large-breed dog beds can be a valuable resource in your search. By following the recommendations, you will be able to make an informed decision and provide the best possible bed for your beloved canine companion.

Remember, investing in a proper dog bed isn’t just about convenience and luxury; it’s about promoting your dog’s overall health and happiness. Make sure your choice aligns with your dog’s specific needs, considering factors such as size, weight, and orthopedic support.

Dedicating time and effort to find the best dog bed for your large breed is crucial for their well-being. By doing so, you’ll offer your big dog the comfort it deserves, reducing the risk of joint issues and enhancing daily life. Your dog will surely thank you for it!

Differences in Joint Problems: Large vs. Small Dog Breeds

We’ve already described the three most common joint conditions for large dogs, so let’s take a look at how these compare to the common joint problems found in small dog breeds.

Large dogs are more prone to issues like hip and elbow dysplasia, which can be directly related to their weight and higher activity level.

Joint problems for small dogs can be more frequently caused by birth defects, injury, and age.

Of course, proper diet and regular check-ups can help all dogs when it comes to preventing, detecting, and treating joint problems.

Here are the three most common joint problems for small dogs:

Developmental Patellar luxation

This is a fancy term for a condition where the patella (the kneecap) dislocates from its normal position, which can cause pain and limping/lameness.

It’s caused most frequently by genetics, but injuries can also trigger it. When it’s genetic, it’s present in both knees about 50% of the time.

Legg-Calve-Perthes disease

This typically occurs in small dogs when they are very young, usually just a few months old.

What happens is that the ball at the top of the femur loses its blood supply, causing it to break down inside the hip joint.

Fortunately, it can be successfully treated with an operation to remove the damaged area of the hip bone. Tissue then fills in the space and forms what’s called a “false joint”. This removes the pain for the dog.

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)

 This is when the cushions that are between each vertebra come into contact with the spinal cord. This can cause spinal cord compression which can result in pain, weakness, or even paralysis.

 Mild cases can be treated with medication and rest. Severe cases typically require surgery.

But Any Dog Can Have a Joint Problem

We should note that any joint problem can affect large or small dogs. Arthritis is the best example.

The difference in joint problems between large and small dogs is mostly due to the heavier weight and generally higher levels of activity for larger dogs. Genetics, injury, and age are the main culprits for many joint issues in small dogs.

The good news is that proper care and management can help prevent or control joint problems regardless of the size of your dog.

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