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Can Dogs Get Growing Pains?


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Did you have growing pains as a child?

Actually, doctors tell us there's no such thing as growing pains, and we should refer to 'nocturnal limb pain' instead. Sticklers for correctness explain this is because there's no proven link between growth in children and these painful cramps. Indeed, it seems more likely the discomfort is the result of tired and over-exerted muscles. 

So, what about dogs?

Can Dogs Get Growing Pains?

The interesting thing is, that in dogs, the condition is a very real bone disease. So real, in fact, that you can see the evidence on x-rays. Moreover, the signs are subtly different in dogs than in children.

When you think back, the cramps that were labeled as 'growing pains' tended to happen at night, and you were able to run, jump, and generally, have fun in a limp-free way during the day. Not so with dogs. Our fur-friends have definite bone discomfort, which often shifts from leg to leg and causes them to limp.

Does My Dog Have Growing Pains?

The age and breed of your pooch are important factors when considering if your dog could be affected. Growing pains occur in dogs that are actively growing. Once the dog is 'skeletally mature' (has stopped growing) the pain tends to disappear, just as mysteriously as it arrived.

Breed is also important. Top of the list when it comes to panosteitis (growing pains in dogs) are the German Shepherd, followed by other large breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Dobermans, Rottweilers, and Bassett Hounds. 

The first sign is a sudden lameness. If you touch or press on the leg to try and localize the discomfort, the dog is liable to wince or yelp. But just to confuse things this is a shifting, changing lameness, that can affect a different leg on different days. The pain waxes and wanes, so the dog has good and bad days.

To find out for sure what the problem is, your vet will x-ray your pup's legs. Panosteitis has a typical radiographic appearance described as 'thumbprints' on the normally smooth, featureless long bones of the thigh or upper arm. Find out more by checking out Panosteitis.

How Do I Treat my Dog's Growing Pains?

First, the vet needs to reach a diagnosis and eliminate other possible causes of pain such as:

Once panosteitis is confirmed, your dog will most likely be prescribed a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. This reduces inflammation in the membrane (periosteum) covering the bone, which is thought to be where the pain originates. Some dogs only require medication from time to time, to get them through flare-ups of discomfort. Others need long-term pain relief until they have finished growing at around 18 to 24 months of age. 

The good news is, that once the dog reaches adulthood, the signs usually disappear, never to bother them again.

How Are Growing Pains Similar in Dogs and Humans?

The biggest similarity between dogs and people, with regards to growing pains - is the name - and that the symptoms occur in actively growing youngsters. Again, in both two and four-leggers, the signs vanish once the individual reaches adulthood, without any long term detrimental after-effects.

How Are Growing Pains Different in Dogs and Humans?

Like light and shade, growing pains in dogs and kids are almost the exact opposite of each other.  Whereas in kids there is no evidence of bone pain (it's more likely to be muscular), in dogs we can see very real evidence of bone inflammation on x-ray.

Another contrast is that, in dogs, the bone discomfort is so intense they tend to become lame. In kids, they aren't affected during the day and are perfectly fine to run around, but succumb to the pain at night when they are resting. 

The very cause of the problem is different. It's now thought that growing pains in children are down to over-activity during the day, causing muscular cramps at night. But in dogs, the cause remains a bit of a mystery, although there does seem to be a genetic tendency to develop this problem.

Case Study

An active, six-month-old German Shepherd pup suddenly starts limping on his back right leg. The owner rests the dog and all seems well. However, the next day, the dog starts limping on his left front leg. Low and behold, the next day, the dog is lame on the back left, leaving the owner feeling confused.

The vet suggests x-rays, which show a classic thumbprint pattern on the long bones. Panosteitis is diagnosed and the dog is given an excellent prognosis for a full recovery. The pup is given a course of meloxicam (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory) and the next day is bouncing around as if nothing has happened.

The owner learns to dose the dog with meloxicam when he limps, and was pleased to find that he needed to give medication less and less as the dog grew up.

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