Is Your Senior Dog Struggling with Hip & Joint Pain?

MAY 2023 | reviewed BY DR. PATRICK MAHANEY

German Shepherd senior dog with arthritis playing with tennis ball in grassy summertime

Parents of senior dogs, this one’s for you! Since the weather outside is getting warmer and our senior dogs are gearing up to be more active outdoors, we’re here to talk to you about something that might not be on your radar: dog joint pain. 

As dogs age, their hips and joints become more susceptible to wear and tear, which can result in discomfort and pain. In this post, we'll cover everything you need to know about dog joint pain, from signs to look out for to home treatments and when to contact your veterinarian for guidance.

Signs of joint pain in senior dogs

As dogs get older, they tend to experience more stiffness in the hips and joints. This can lead to a variety of symptoms that indicate your pup is in pain. Here are some signs to look out for:


This is one of the most obvious signs that your dog is experiencing joint pain. If you notice your pup favoring one leg or limping, it's time to take action by starting a conversation with your vet.

Hesitance to jump or climb

If your dog seems hesitant to jump up–like leaping onto the couch or climbing up stairs–it could be a sign that their joints are feeling stiff or tender.

Slower movement

If your senior dog is moving slower than usual or seems to be struggling to keep up on walks, it could be due to dog joint pain. They may also run in shorter bursts or avoid running altogether.

Struggling to stand up

If your dog has trouble standing up after lying down or seems to be using their front legs to push themselves up, it could be a sign of joint pain in the low back, hips, knees, or elsewhere in the rear legs.

Whimpering or whining

Some dogs vocalize when they're in pain, so if you hear your pup whimpering or whining, consider it a red flag that they’re dealing with pretty serious pain and discomfort and need your help.

Licking or chewing affected joints

If your dog is constantly licking or chewing at a particular joint, it could be a sign of pain or discomfort. A senior dog licking paws, knees, and even their hip could be trying to alleviate the pain on their own. 

Irritability when touched

If your dog seems generally irritable or becomes agitated when you touch a certain area, it's possible that they're experiencing joint pain.

Posture changes

Dogs may hunch their backs or shift their weight to one side to alleviate pain.

Small circular icon with silhouette of a sitting dog


When is a dog considered senior? Generally speaking, small to medium dogs are considered seniors after 11-12 years of age, medium-to-large dogs after 10-11 years of age, and giant breeds after 7 years of age. The excessive stress on the musculoskeletal systems of large and giant breeds is what affects their life expectancy rates, leading to an earlier entry into their golden years.

What causes dog joint pain? 

There are a number of factors that can contribute to dog joint pain in the legs, shoulders, hips, and other body parts––especially in senior dogs. Here are some of the most common causes of dog joint pain:


Arthritis means joint inflammation and is more common in senior dogs––but it can also affect younger pups. Arthritis has a variety of common causes, including trauma like day-to-day wear and tear, Arthritis can also be tied to more-severe causes like falling, being hit by a car, kicked by a horse, or other traumatic accidents. 

Less commonly, arthritis can have infectious causes like tick-borne bacteria, or can happen when the immune system attacks the joints. When arthritis causes enough inflammation to significantly impact joint surfaces, the condition is known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Under these conditions, a dog’s joint range of motion and comfort can be permanently altered.

Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition in which the hip joint doesn't develop properly, causing the bones to rub against each other––which leads to dog hip pain and stiffness that can be severe enough to prevent dogs from walking altogether. 

Bone deformities

Some dogs can be born with or develop bone abnormalities, which can cause limbs to have a misshapen appearance––called angular limb deformities. One of these conditions is chondrodysplasia, a developmental abnormality of bone and cartilage that can lead to angular limb deformities that cause more stress on joints and arthritis to develop earlier in life. 

Breed type

Certain dog breeds may be genetically predisposed to hip and joint issues. For example, the German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, multiple types of hounds, and other breeds have a higher risk of hip dysplasia. 

Giant breeds–such as Great Danes, St. Bernards, Mastiffs, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Rottweilers, Newfoundlands, and others–can also be at higher risk for joint disorders like arthritis and osteochondrosis, a condition that affects bone formation in the early stages of a dog’s life. 


Excessive weight can put extra strain on a dog's joints, leading to pain and discomfort. Being overweight or obese affects more than just your dog's joints; the cardiovascular, digestive, nervous, and immune systems are all negatively impacted. 

Carrying too much weight can affect the immune system's ability to manage inflammation associated with dog arthritis. This can cause pain and clinical signs to persist for longer than you’d see in dogs of a normal weight. 

Mechanical overuse

Dogs that engage in repetitive activities or overexert themselves may experience joint pain. Many ‘working breeds’ of dogs like Labrador Retrievers, Akitas, and German Shepherd Dogs have been associated with a higher risk of dog joint pain and overuse. That’s because working dogs generally have a high drive to perform, so they may be more-prone to arthritis and related injuries compared to their less-driven, non-working canine counterparts. 

Dachshund senior dog having achy joints inspected by a veterinarian

How to support senior dogs with hip & joint pain

If you suspect that your senior dog is experiencing hip and joint pain, there are lots of things you can do at home to help them feel more comfortable. In addition to getting a game plan together with your vet, here are some strategies to try:

Senior dog supplements for joints

Finding a premium hip and joint supplement for dogs age 7 and up can be tough. Look for formulas with ingredients like Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM, and Omega Fatty Acids––all of which have been clinically tested to support joint health in dogs.

More supportive bedding

Make sure your dog has a comfortable, supportive bed to sleep on. Orthopedic beds or memory foam mattresses can help alleviate joint pain because they’re firm enough to support your dog’s body weight without sinking or becoming lumpy.

Adapted accessibility

Making your home more accessible for your senior dog with joint pain could make a big impact on how much discomfort they experience. Consider adding ramps to make it easier for your dog to climb stairs or get up onto furniture, or moving their food and water bowls to the same floor or area where they spend most of their time. 

Safeguard slippery surfaces

Dogs of all life stages generally struggle on slippery surfaces, which can make them more prone to new injuries or worsen existing conditions like arthritis––especially for senior dogs. 

Adding traction with carpeting, yoga mats, or other textured surfaces can enhance your pup’s comfort and mobility and improve their overall quality of life. You can also ask your veterinarian about foot or nail covers and paw appliques that can help to enhance traction on slippery surfaces like hardwood and linoleum.

Weight management

If your dog is overweight, talk to your veterinarian about a weight loss plan to help reduce the strain on their joints. Studies have shown that a 25% reduction in food intake* can increase a dog's lifespan by 2 years on average, and reduce the onset of both osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease.

Before drastically reducing your dog's diet, make sure you get the green-light from your vet to make sure they’re still getting the nutrients they need!

Exercise modification

Modify your dog's exercise routine to reduce direct impact on their joints. Gentle activities like swimming, dog yoga, or walks–instead of high-impact activities like toy chasing, rough play with other dogs, and running–are great low-impact options for exercising your dog.

Heat therapy

Applying heat to your dog's affected joints can help alleviate pain and stiffness. You can use a warm compress or a heating pad––but just make sure it's on a low setting and never left unattended with your pet! Using heat therapy for about 10 minutes every 8-12 hours is usually appropriate for most dogs’ needs.

Massage therapy

Massaging your dog's muscles can help relieve tension and improve circulation, with the bonus benefit of getting your dog to love you even more! Just be sure to avoid directly massaging the affected joint, which could feel tender to the touch. 

If you're not familiar with canine massage technique, ask your veterinarian for instruction on how to massage your dog more safely. You can also request a referral to a veterinary physical rehabilitation facility, where dog massage is included as part of their canine arthritis treatment protocol.

More supportive bedding

Make sure your dog has a comfortable, supportive bed to sleep on. Orthopedic beds or memory foam mattresses can help alleviate joint pain because they’re firm enough to support your dog’s body weight without sinking or becoming lumpy.

Diet changes

Certain foods and supplements for senior dogs can help support joint health, whereas certain ingredients can worsen the effects of inflammation on the joints. Talk to your veterinarian about incorporating these ingredient into your dog's diet: 

  • Turmeric for dog joint pain  and inflammation
  • Glucosamine for joint fluid viscosity and lubrication 
  • MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) for cartilage and connective tissue support
  • Eggshell Membrane for joint stiffness due to normal daily exercise
  • Chondroitin to support joint function and cartilage development
  • Omega Fatty Acids to support the health of nerves, joints, muscles, skin, and the immune system 

There are many clinically tested and natural supplements for senior dogs that can support daily joint function. Just beware of supplements made with sugar, fillers, and other ingredients that can cause weight gain or additional inflammation.

When to contact your vet about dog joint pain

If you suspect that your senior dog is experiencing hip and joint pain, there are lots of things you can do at home to help them feel more comfortable. In addition to getting a game plan together with your vet, here are some strategies to try:

  • Your dog can't stand up or seems to be in extreme pain.

  • Your dog stops eating or drinking.

  • Your dog is lethargic or unresponsive.

  • Your dog is suddenly limping or experiencing weakness in their legs.

  • Your dog's joint pain doesn't improve after a few days of home treatment.

Your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic imaging like radiographs (x-rays) or more advanced imaging like MRI or CT scans. Blood, urine, fecal, and other tests may be needed to assess whole body health. Your vet may also prescribe pain medication for your dog’s joint pain, or suggest other treatments to alleviate your dog's discomfort––especially if the cause of the pain suggests a chronic condition. 

Dog joint pain is a common issue, especially in senior dogs. It's important to pay attention to the signs of joint pain, take notes and record videos to share with your veterinarian, and be prepared for next-steps to alleviate your dog's discomfort in any way you can. Take that chance to ask about hip and joint supplements for dogs, or other treatment options that may be right for your pup. 

By incorporating home treatments and seeking professional help when necessary, you can help your furry friend feel more comfortable and enjoy their golden years to the fullest!


  1. Arthritis Management and Prevention – James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Colorado State University

This blog exists to provide general information and education about veterinary health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website, or in any linked materials is not intended as and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions, or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog or website.

If you suspect that your pet has a medical concern, you should consult with your veterinary health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website, or in any linked materials.

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Image of veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney holding a terrier dog and smiling


Dr. Patrick Mahaney works as a concierge-style veterinarian and has a number of celebrity clients through his house-call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness. He loves building personal, long-term relationships with his clients to best suit their pets’ needs within the comfortable confines of their homes.

To spread his message of holistic veterinary medicine on a large-scale basis, Dr. Mahaney attained a Certified Veterinary Journalist certificate and enjoys contributing to pet-related media projects. He is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist.

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