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What are Growing Pains?

Some dogs, particularly giant breeds and breeds that are large boned, are prone to disorders of the bones and joints during the growing stage. These disorders, most notably panosteitis, osteochondritis dissecans, and hypertrophic osteodystrophy, generally strike between the third and twelfth month of the animal’s life and can be quite painful, leading to sensitivity to touch and to a reluctance to move. Most dogs afflicted with this condition grow out of it as they mature, however anti-inflammatory medication is often prescribed to manage the symptoms until that time.

Disorders that trigger growing pains frequently strike giant and large-boned breeds when they are between three and twelve months of age, although any young dog may be afflicted.

Symptoms of Growing Pains in Dogs

The disorders that result in growing pains are typically restricted to dogs who are between the ages of three and twelve months, although in rare instances it can occur in puppies as young as two months and dogs as old as one or two. Females are less often afflicted than males, and their symptoms frequently occur around the time of their first heat.

  • Acute lameness
  • Fever
  • Lameness that shifts
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain reaction to touch
  • Reluctance to walk
  • Unexplained whimpering
  • Weakness


Types

Three of the most common disorders to cause growing pains in puppies and young dogs include:

  • Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy - The pain and swelling of this particular disorder are usually felt most intensely at the growth plates rather than in the middle of the bone and can cause permanent structural damage to the bone in severe cases; this disorder is frequently accompanied by a fever that waxes and wanes, occasionally reaching as high as 106 degrees
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans - Instead of affecting the bones of the patient, osteochondritis dissecans affects the joints, causing pain and stiffness; dogs that are affected by osteochondritis may require surgery to remove lesions that develop on the ends of the bones 
  • Panosteitis - This disorder affects the middle section of the bone, causing shifting lameness that lasts between two and three weeks at a time; the animal is most likely to show signs of pain when the pressure is placed on the bone or when the bone is squeezed. When the affected bones are palpated, they are most sensitive to the touch at the middle of the bone rather than at the growing region or at the joints.
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Causes of Growing Pains in Dogs

These diseases are growth diseases, and the causes are still relatively poorly understood, although there are multiple circumstances that may have a factor in the development of the disorder. Some of the situations that may influence the development of these conditions include: 

  • High calcium
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Infections
  • Metabolic disturbances
  • Stress
  • Excessive exercise
  • Improper nutrition
  • Trauma
  • Genetics

Any dog can be afflicted with the growing pains of panosteitis, osteochondritis dissecans, or hypertrophic osteodystrophy, but large-breed and large-boned dogs are most often affected. It has a tendency to strike German Shepherd breed dogs more often than any other dog, and at more diverse ages. There are, however, several other breeds that are somewhat overrepresented when it comes to developing this painful condition. These can include breeds such as:

  • Airedale
  • Basset Hound
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • Golden Retriever
  • Great Dane
  • Irish Setter
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Rottweiler
  • Saint Bernard
  • Samoyed
  • Scottish Terrier
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Diagnosis of Growing Pains in Dogs

If your young dog is presenting with symptoms of pain, particularly in the long bones of the body such as the leg bones or at the joints, then your veterinarian may suspect that some form of growing pains are at the root of the symptoms. A thorough physical examination will help rule out many injuries and the standard diagnostic tests such as a urinalysis, a complete blood count, and a biochemical profile will help to rule out infections and imbalances that may cause similar symptoms, and frequently uncovers a high white blood cell count as well. 

A definitive diagnosis will usually be obtained by x-ray. Several views of the joints and bones will most likely be required, and different characteristics will be seen, depending on which disorder is at the root of the pain. Dogs with panosteitis may have patchy white areas of density within the cavity that houses the bone marrow, and dogs that are experiencing hypertrophic osteopathy will typically have a thin, dark line at the growth plates at the ends of the long bones.

For some, further diagnostic tests such as a CT scan and arthroscopy will be required.

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Treatment of Growing Pains in Dogs

Some causes of joint pain are self-limiting and tend to disappear on their own once the dog has finished growing. The treatment method in the interim will typically depend on the disorder that is causing the growing pains. If the patient has developed lesions from osteochondritis dissecans, these lesions will generally require surgical removal in order to allow for full movement of the joints. All of these conditions can be extremely painful for the animal, so medications designed to mitigate this pain may be prescribed for your pet.

The most commonly prescribed medications for pain and inflammation for dogs are NSAIDs such as carprofen, deracoxib, meloxicam, and in some cases, buffered aspirin. It's essential that you do not give your pet any pain medications without consulting a veterinary professional, as some medications may be inappropriate for some patients due to breed, size, or medical conditions. Steroids may also be suggested in some situations, however, steroids also reduce the effectiveness of the immune system so if any infections are suspected they may not be recommended.

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Recovery of Growing Pains in Dogs

If your pet's condition requires surgery then ensuring that the recovering patient has a calm and quiet environment to return home to will help speed healing, as will having appropriate food and water within reach of them. Dogs that are experiencing severe growing pains should not be forced into exercise, and a comfortable, warm bed to rest in will go a long way in easing sore bones and joints. All medications should be administered according to the veterinarian’s instructions. Canines of different breeds, genders, or overall physical condition may have differing needs.

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Growing Pains Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Benny

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Newfoundland

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16 Months

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Fair severity

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9 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

My Newfoundland started whining when he was 12 months one night. Then when he was 15 months it happened again. Was crying getting up an down steps in/ out car. Crying it you touched the middle of hip. Went to ER Vet was a weekend. Gave pain meds an anti inflammatory meds. Was fine in less than 48 hours. It’s happened again 3 more times an when given the meds was gone in 12 hours. Back bad now again. Whiny an wont let you touch. Will go out to pee but acts very agitated like he was bit an nervous.

July 21, 2018

Benny's Owner


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9 Recommendations

Conditions like panosteitis normally occur at a younger age but may also occur up to around 18 months of age and large breed dogs are generally affected; I cannot say for certain if this is the cause of Benny’s pain but x-rays are the diagnostic method of choice and will show characteristic signs of the condition. If it is panosteitis, the condition is self limiting and will self resolve. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 22, 2018

Ok thanks! He has not been fixed yet. Waiting till he’s two. Would that add to the problem maybe? We would like to get him X-ray when neutered. Worry about putting him under twice. Just don’t want to injury him either if it’s something else.

July 22, 2018

Benny's Owner

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Mia

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German Shepherd

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10 Weeks

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Mild severity

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2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Weakness
Fatiqu

Hi I have a German Shepard puppy 10 weeks old. On Friday she had her 2nd vaccinations and was sick all day Saturday so we took her to the vets and she had a sickness injection and was great until today where she hasn’t been herself since 9am this morning. She has slept all day not eating or drinking a lot and was sick around 5pm but hasn’t been sick yet. She’s weak and slept all day , also has a temperature. Not sure what to do is this growing pains? Is there anything I can do to help her? Heart rate at 161 bpm

July 16, 2018

Mia's Owner

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2 Recommendations

Mia’s heart rate is perfectly fine and nothing to worry about; lethargy, weakness, fever are all possible side effects of vaccination so it is important to keep this in mind. Keep an eye on Mia for the time being and follow up with your Veterinarian if there is no improvement over the next day or two as side effects of vaccination usually self resolve after a few days. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 17, 2018

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