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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 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

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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 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
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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 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.

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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.

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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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Athena

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Rottweiler

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6 Months

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

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Back Leg Weakness
Biting On Leg

My 6 month old girl acts like her back legs hurt to much to walk normally on. bunny hops and scoots around. I took her to the vet, but the x-rays show no signs of HD and they said her bone density was fine. They swear it is a neurological problem... However she will whip around biting on her back legs as if something was getting her, and whines when that happens.

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Dukesy

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Dogue de Bordeaux

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9 Months

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Stiffness, Hunchedover Lowered Head

My 9 month old dogue de bordeux keeps crying out in pain she hunches over lowers her head and the muscles in her back legs go rock hard. Sometimes she even stands leaning against something to take pressure off. She’s been xrayed last month but nothing showed, she’s having her first season and the outbursts of crying and stiffness are happening more often and staying longer... my vet is lovely but I’d just like a bit of reassurance x

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