There’s that old saying about the cobbler’s children having no shoes. As a veterinarian, sometimes I feel ashamed after dropping the ball with my own babies. Like the time my Lab found a stash of raisins I didn’t even know I had. Then did it again two weeks later. I’m supposed to know better! I have had a few occasions to feel guilty when I realized I had been missing some important but subtle signs once they’re back to their usual selves.
What I’m trying to tell you is that you will get no judgement here. 20% of dogs suffer from arthritis pain and some of the signs, like limping, are hard to miss. Learn about these more subtle clues, and schedule an appointment with your vet if you are concerned. Your dog thanks you!
Stiffness upon rising. This can be easy to miss unless you’re specifically watching for it. Many dogs appear to experience more pain and stiffness after a long rest. Once the joints are “warmed up,” they move around much more easily.
Changes in social behaviors. Some dogs, when they don’t feel well, seek out extra attention and reassurance from their owners. Others withdraw and don’t interact with people or other pets as much. The key here is that it’s a change from how they were before.
“Slowing down.” I hear this a lot. We expect our pets to be less active as they age. That is absolutely true, but it can be hard to distinguish between normal “aging” and decreased activity due to chronic pain.
Trouble getting into the car. Big dogs who used to jump into the back seat without a problem may hesitate or wait for your help.
Aggression. Many things can cause aggression, but whenever aggression is increased, or happens in circumstances where it did not before, the first job is to rule out a medical condition. Many owners report their “grumpy old dog” became much more pleasant after extraction of diseased teeth! Arthritis pain can have a similar effect.
Avoiding previously enjoyed activities. Is your dog reluctant to go for a walk, doesn’t act as excited, or wants to quit sooner? Has he become too lazy to chase the ball or lost interest in toys? It could be pain.
Difficulty lying down. The act of getting down into a lying position, or rising from it, can put strain on the joints of larger dogs especially. If your dog seems to be taking a long time to find just the right spot and settle, it could be due to joint pain.
Sleeping more. Pets definitely spend more time sleeping as they age, but if you notice a dramatic increase in a short period of time, it may be pain or maybe even boredom from not being able to do some of the previously mentioned activities. And I do believe that our pets are capable of becoming depressed.
Sleeping in a new location. This is most often due to the fact that the old location was a couch or bed that the dog can no longer get himself up onto. It may be inconvenient to the food and water, the outdoors, or wherever he spends his time when awake. Or the bed itself may have become uncomfortable. My big Lab has never been allowed on the furniture and has always had at least one soft bed on the floor. When he was about ten, he suddenly started sneaking onto the couch to sleep. I purchased a raised cot, which helps reduce pressure on joints, and he stopped using the couch.
Difficulty using stairs. In Hawaii homes, this often isn’t an issue, but I always ask about it as it seems to be one of the earliest signs of arthritis pain.
I hope that knowing about these signs helps your pet live a longer and happier life. Did I miss something? Leave a comment!
Think your pet may have arthritis or another chronic condition affecting his or her quality of life? If you live on Oahu, Arms of Aloha can visit your home for an assessment and help you both feel better. Learn more about what we can do.