Orthopedic Problems in Dogs

Orthopedic Problems in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What are Orthopedic Problems?

Orthopedic problems, meaning issues that affect the bones, joints, or muscles, can range from a minor inconvenience to debilitating and can strike any animal. Orthopedic conditions that are frequently seen in canines include cruciate ligament tears, dysplasia of the hips or elbow, and arthritis.

Although any gender, breed, or age of dog can be affected by orthopedic conditions, these components may be a factor in which disorder is more likely to affect your pet. Treatments for these types of disorders may include medication, changes to the diet and exercise regimen, or surgical intervention. 

Problems that include the bones, joints, or muscles are referred to as orthopedic problems and treatment can range from adjustments to the patient’s daily diet and exercise routine to surgical intervention. 

Symptoms of Orthopedic Problems in Dogs

The symptoms of orthopedic disorders in dogs will vary somewhat depending on which underlying condition is responsible. However, the conditions often have several symptoms in common. Frequently seen symptoms of orthopedic disorders may include: 

  • Abnormal stance or gait
  • Inability to rise
  • Irritability
  • Lameness, sometimes intermittent
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Misshapen limbs
  • Reluctance to move
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling of the joints
  • Weight gain


Any problem with the bones, joints, or muscles can be considered an orthopedic problem. Some of the more commonly seen orthopedic conditions that are seen in dogs include:

  • Arthritis - Arthritis can be split into two categories, inflammatory arthritis, caused by immune disorders or infections, and the more common osteoarthritis, a progressive and degenerative disorder of the joints 
  • Cruciate ligament tears - Tears to the cruciate (knee) ligament in dogs can be extremely painful and typically require surgical intervention to correct 
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia - Hip and elbow dysplasia are the abnormal development of either the hip or elbow joint and are most commonly seen in large and giant breed dogs 
  • Luxating patella - Also known as floating kneecaps, this is a condition in which the kneecap pops out of the groove that holds it in place; this condition more frequently affects smaller animals as this groove is shallower in smaller dogs 
  • Osteochondritis - A developmental disease of the bone that causes various imperfections and deformities in the skeletal system, typically affecting the growth plates at the ends of the patient’s bones

Causes of Orthopedic Problems in Dogs

There are many illnesses and injuries that can cause damage to orthopedic tissues. Certain characteristics or circumstances may increase the chances of these disorders developing, such as:

  • Genetic predisposition - Many of these disorders have a genetic component; disorders such as dysplasia and osteochondritis are more common in large and giant dog breeds, and luxating patella has a tendency to strike small and toy sized breeds more frequently than other dog breeds
  • Obesity - Obesity can trigger or exacerbate many disorders of the bones and joints due to the additional pressure placed on them; disorders such as arthritis and ligament tears are more common and more severe in overweight and obese animals 
  • Poor nutrition - This is of particular concern during the developmental stages of bone growth, and either deficient or excessive calcium levels can have a negative effect

Diagnosis of Orthopedic Problems in Dogs

Symptoms of any orthopedic issues more serious than an extremely mild injury should be examined by a veterinary professional as soon as possible, and even mild limping should be evaluated if it persists more than 48 hours. Minor fractures, muscular strains and damage, cancerous conditions and even bone degeneration frequently have nearly identical symptoms, and imaging technology is often required to differentiate between the disorders. The veterinary visit will generally start with a thorough physical examination to evaluate the overall health of your canine and diagnostic blood tests, such as a complete blood count, a urinalysis, and a biochemical profile will also be ordered to determine if there are any imbalances or infections that may be contributing to the immobility. 

X-ray imaging and ultrasound technology are frequently utilized to help visualize the joints and the bones, and in some cases, a surgical imaging technique known as arthroscopy will be employed to get a clearer visual image of the ligaments and tendons of any affected joints. This surgical procedure is performed by inserting an endoscope into the joint using a small incision in order to get images from inside the joints. These procedures are frequently helpful in determining if conditions such as trauma to the bones, arthritis, or osteochondritis are contributing to the disorder. If the examining veterinarian suspects arthritis they may also elect to evaluate a sample of the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint capsule.

Treatment of Orthopedic Problems in Dogs

The underlying condition that is triggering the orthopedic difficulty will guide the treatment methods. Conditions such as cruciate ligament tears, hip dysplasia, and osteochondritis frequently require surgery to correct; but surgery is not effective for all conditions, and other methods will be employed to ease pain and increase the animal’s range of movement. The therapeutic methods that may be employed may include not only anti-inflammatory medications, but also therapeutic massage, hydrotherapy, and acupressure and acupuncture techniques. These alternative therapy methods are frequently particularly helpful for pain relief from chronic disorders like arthritis and hip dysplasia as well as being beneficial for the patient’s digestion, circulation, and sense of balance. 

The amount of exercise that the patient will require will vary from situation to situation, and the veterinarian's recommendations should be followed for your particular pet. Too much exercise or exercise that is too intense can lead to further damage to the bones and joints, and a lack of exercise can lead to overall poor health and muscle wasting.

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Recovery of Orthopedic Problems in Dogs

In order to ensure that your home environment is more comfortable for your pet, there are some simple steps that may be utilized for animals that are afflicted by orthopedic disorders. Some of the frequently employed methods may include:

  • Area rugs to improve traction on slippery floors
  • Keep appropriate amounts of food and water within close reach
  • Maintain a moderate temperature indoors
  • Provide a warm, padded bed to cushion joints 
  • Regularly examine and trim nails to prevent slipping 
  • Supplement the patient’s diet with glucosamine and omega-3’s
  • Employ non-stick stair treads on stairs to prevent falls 
  • Use of specialized ramps or stairs to avoid injury due to jumping 
  • Skid-proof socks for your dog to wear on slippery surfaces

Orthopedic Problems Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals


German Shepherd




3 Years


1 found this helpful


1 found this helpful

My 3yr old dog jumped and landed wrong on July 22 she has intermintet lameness on left rear leg and when she charges forward yelps and holds her leg up and sometimes it spasms back and forth. Had X-rays shows nothing wrong with back or hips and they checked the knee also is normal. What do I do they just tell me to keep her quiet pain killers etc, she doesn't seem to get better

Sept. 28, 2017

1 Recommendations

Without any visual signs of injury on x-ray it is very difficult to determine treatment; rest is best usually but two months should be enough rest for most cases, but if she has been allowed to charge then movement restriction would be useful. Without examining her, it is very difficult to give an opinion; a second opinion from a Veterinarian in your area may be worthwhile if you are not seeing any improvement. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Sept. 28, 2017

Thank you for your response. I also have 3 cats which makes it extremely difficult to keep a 3 yr old active German shepherd from charging. I keep her relaxed for a week or two and then she charges after a cat and limps and cries. It's like I can't get ahead it's always something how do I keep her resting for months now?!

Sept. 29, 2017

Sasha's Owner

I really appreciate your comment. It has been so frustrating not knowing what is wrong with my dog. I have tried to keep her relaxed but for 2 months with 3 cats that she wants to chase and does after 2 weeks of keeping them seperated which means locking the cats in the basement which makes me feel horrible. I don't no what to do there is no improvement could it be her hip flexer I am so desperate for info and the vet said to just let her do whatever which isn't working I kept her quiet for 2 weeks at a time and that seems to be the best I can do.

Sept. 29, 2017

Sasha's Owner

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Mr. Krinkles


6 Years


0 found this helpful


0 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
My 6 year old boxer pit bull cross is overweight due to my overfeeding I admit. However, we used to walk about three hours a day until after a long car trip of several months with less walking we got back and he chased a deer a torn his ccl (cranial cruciate ligament). Knee injury diagnoses. I did not have the surgery and we kept walking, also staying with a family member that is not a Happy place or person to be around (added stress). And so he seemed fine except several times he over exerted playing and was limping again, but then would seem to get better. Then after a few months of this his back legs seem to lose muscle, he won’t hardly walk, he won’t get up, or move even and even helps in pain sometimes. I just ran out of the carprofen and Gabapentin. He seems to tip toe after getting up, arching his back like a cat as if he is trying not to put weight on his back legs. Did my failure of getting the surgery cause his whole back end to some how go awry? How did he go from super-active to maybe needing a wheelchair? If I get the surgery for the knee will this help? Or is it too late? Is his MM minus us cartilage damaged too now? And/or is his back /hips also now damaged? What can I do? How can I get him back to the way he was? He is like my only friend, I don’t know what to do? Please help me?

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