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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.

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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 five years old. 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

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.

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

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 this temporary disease include: 

  • High calcium
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Infections
  • Metabolic disturbances
  • Parasites
  • Stress

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 as 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

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 technology. 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.

Treatment of Growing Pains in Dogs

These disorders are typically 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.

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.

Growing Pains Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Mia
German Shepherd
10 Weeks
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Fatiqu
Weakness

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

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 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

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Benny
Newfoundland
16 Months
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Medication Used

Gabapentin
gabapentin, rimadyl

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.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 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

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.

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Marnie
Rottweiler x Alaskan Malamute
12 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Lame

My 12 month old Rottie x malamute about a month ago was lame on her back leg, I thought it was from running around too much, it lasted about a week and a half. She is now lame on her front leg, doesn't want to get up and isn't playful, would this be growing pains

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1604 Recommendations
There are some 'growing pain' diseases of large breed dogs that do require treatment so that they are comfortable. It would be best to have Marnie seen by a veterinarian, and possibly ;have some x-rays taken, to determine what is going on and if she needs any treatment. I hope that all goes well for her.

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Kona
Border collie and great dane
8 Months
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Stiffness, limping on getting up
Stiffness

Medication Used

none

My puppy is 8 months old. In the last couple of weeks she has started limping when she gets up and begins to move around. It seems to be her back legs. After moving around some it seems to be better. What is wrong? She is border collie and we think great dane and she was fixed at 6 months.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations
If Kona has some Great Dane in her and has long legs, I would be suspecting something like panosteitis given the possible mix breed and her age; this would need to be discussed and checked with your Veterinarian. Panosteitis is generally self limiting in dogs and resolves itself by two years of age; again, check in with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://wagwalking.com/condition/bone-inflammation-panosteitis

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Titan
American bully
9 Months
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Growing pains

I have a bully and his only 9 month old but his growing pains are so bad he can barely walk and cries almost all night and I hate it . Is there anything I can do ? Or anything I can buy that isn’t super expensive?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1604 Recommendations
Some dogs are affected by painful conditions associated with growing bones, and Titan sounds like he is suffering. He needs to be seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine him and prescribe a safe pain medication for him. Many OTC medications are toxic to dogs, so having your veterinarian recommend something would be best.

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