Joint Pain In Dogs: What’s Really Causing It?

2 dogs, kibble and meds for joints

Joint pain in dogs is probably one of the most common ailments I see in my practice. And many people come in assuming that it’s arthritis.

But is it simple joint pain, immune-mediated polyarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis? And whatever the diagnosis, what’s the cause?

We often attribute joint issues to normal wear-and-tear. Of course activity, especially hard activity over many years, will wear down a body. But why do so many animals (and people) have joint pain when they’re young and relatively inactive? Or what about those who are middle-aged and really quite fit?

When it comes to joint pain in dogs, there’s often more to the story.

Rheumatoid Arthritis In Dogs

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that destroys the synovial fluid in joints. This viscous fluid lubricates and cushions the space between bones. This is what mak­es movement easy and smooth.

With rheumatoid arthritis, the body mistakes its own proteins in the synovial fluid for foreign invaders. The immune system’s job is to protect the body from unwelcome microbes so it goes to work to kill them off. This results in a loss of this vital fluid. It also creat­es a non-stop inflammatory reaction of heat, stiffness, pain and swelling.

The worst part of rheumatoid arthritis is the resulting erosion of cartilage. Once this happens, even if the patient goes into remission, there’s no way to restore the joint to complete health again. The bad news is, there’s no known cure for this type of joint pain in dogs. Thankfully, there are things that can help stave off cartilage ero­sion and allow patients to live with very few symptoms.

Autoimmune Arthritis In Dogs

Rheumatoid arthritis is rare in dogs. That said, the condition has been labeled in some smaller breeds and in Great Danes. Something similar to this state of constant joint inflammation does afflict lots of animals, however. It’s called immune-mediated polyarthritis.

Polyarthritis refers to multiple inflamed, swollen and painful joints. You’ll notice it when your pet is reluctant to walk or is limping on one or more legs. Lots of times the first sign is a joint that feels unusually warm.

Immune-mediated polyarthritis can be caused by an infection anywhere in the body.  You know how you get aching joints and muscles with some types of influenza? This happens to dogs too when they have a general infection somewhere else in the body. This condition is usually short-term and self-limiting. This means that when the infection clears up, the joint condition clears up too.

It may also be an auto-immune response by the body against its own joints (like with rheumatoid arthritis). This is a far more common – and worse – problem.

Well, well, well, if it isn’t our old friend chronic inflammation manifesting itself again.

The Connection Between Leaky Gut And Joint Pain In Dogs

I’ve said before that the root cause of abnormal function in the body is actually low-grade chronic inflam­mation. This is well known as a cause of cancer.

There are several provocations for this inflammatory state. Almost all involv­e a permeable gut lining made weak and full of holes. This happens when artificial, indigestible food and toxins literally tear holes in the lining. Once the gut is damaged, the toxins pour into the bloodstream. Naturally the immune system goes nuts defending the body against these intruders. It sends out the signal to the body to start inflam­mation everywhere, as this is the body’s way of killing intruders!

This is called leaky gut syndrome. It’s an epidemic now for both people and animals. And it’s thanks to our cheaper-food-is-better-food and take-a-pill-for-every-ailment culture. The high level of toxins in our air and water also play a role. Every system of the body may be affected, depending on genetics and lifestyle. The joints are especially vulnerable since they’re numerous, full of protein-filled fluid and in constant use. Other internal organs may suffer quietly, but until the damage gets bad enough, your dog may not feel it.

Chances are good that when you discover a consistently warm hock or stifle, or when that occasional limp becomes con­stant, it’s not just wear and tear.

What can you do? Anti-inflammatories and pain relievers for joint pain in dogs will reduce the symptoms for a short time. But (and this is important) in the end they’ll make the chronic inflammation worse. Popular supplements like chondroitin and glu­cosamine might help, but only in the case of true osteoarthritis due to wear. Even in this case, a portion of the arthritis is still likely autoimmune-mediated and therefore treatable by healing the gut.

RELATED: Anti-inflammatories are way more trouble than they’re worth …

A Better Solution To Joint Pain In Dogs

Instead of turning to drugs, take a look at the level of synthetic ingredients in your dog’s diet. Then think about eliminating them. Feed a fresh whole food diet containing natural antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids. This helps clear out the damaging free radicals that result from inflammation and reduce the inflammatory process as well. Assess and remove the toxins in your dog’s envi­ronment. Avoid using pharmaceutical drugs and pesticides on your dog. Are you cleaning your floors with chemical-laden products? Is the grass she likes to lie in heavily sprayed?

There are various protocols for healing a leaky gut, depending on your comfort level with different therapies. My area of exper­tise is nutrition and homeopathy, so I can recommend the following to get you started:

  1. Remove the toxins from your dog’s diet. This means everything synthetic. The body will judge these to be intruders and try to get rid of them.
  2. Once the inflammation has subsided a bit, introduce foods rich in glutamines. Try red meat and poultry, or add a tablespoon of L-glutamine powder to the diet. This will help heal the holes in the gut.
  3. Top up your dog’s diet with plenty of foods rich in antioxidants (such as phytoplankton or berries) and Ome­ga-3s (sardines) to reduce inflammation.
  4. Add homeopathic medicines along the way to guide the body toward its own healing and reduce the symptoms. Each animal needs something slightly different, but there are remedies known to help reduce the symptoms of gut dysbiosis. It’s best to consult your homeopath to get the most accurate remedy. You can find a veterinary homeopath at

RELATED: There are several common homeopathic remedies for pain … 

There are more and more knowledgeable online resources available on this subject. It’s not just us alternative health practitioners talking about this condition anymore!

When it comes to joint pain in dogs, don’t just accept the diagnosis of arthritis. It comes with a lifetime of limitations and pain meds. Explore all the possibil­ities. Painful joints might just be the early warning that spurs you into action to prevent a whole cascade of autoimmune-mediated illnesses from coming down the road.

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