The cause of joint pain typically falls into one of two categories of disorder, which are termed developmental or degenerative. Other factors can cause problems with the joint, but these tend to be less frequent.
Developmental issues include conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia, which is where there is a failure of the joints to develop naturally (known as malformation). These issues can gradually deteriorate over time and in severe cases, can eventually cause crippling lameness and painful arthritis of the affected areas.
Degenerative problems commonly occur as a result of wear and tear on an otherwise healthy joint and usually become more prevalent with age. It can often begin with damage to the cartilage, which is often limited to a small area. This infliction can cause a thickening of the bone and deterioration of the joint surface, which leads to pain and inflammation. In severe cases, the cartilage can become entirely worn away, which means the bone rubs directly on the opposing bone of the synovial joint. This type of problem with the joints can often develop over many years.
Symptoms and signs associated with joint pain tend to be relatively easy to identify, but can differ on a case by case basis, and according to the severity and the location of the pain. Pets will often limp on one or more legs and may find it hard to get up after prolonged periods of inactivity. Joints may appear stiff, and there may be a reluctance to do prolonged exercise. With a dog, you may observe that they struggle to keep up when going on walks. The areas around the joints may become tender and feel warm when touched, and in some cases, there may be some signs of swelling. Your pet may become reluctant to do the things that were previously easy for them to accomplish. For example, with a dog, they may find it difficult getting in and out of the car, going up or downstairs, or jumping on the furniture. For a cat, they may be reluctant to climb up to high surfaces such as a fence or wall. You may see that your pet spends more time asleep during the day, and at night they have difficulty settling down and continuously switch positions. Dogs will often deal with pain by licking or biting the affected areas, so this is something you may observe. This action can also lead to staining of their fur in specific regions, caused by excess saliva. Generally, the signs of these kinds of joint conditions, develop slowly over time, so subtle changes which you observe may become more pronounced as time progresses.
As with all conditions, affecting your dog’s health, advice should initially be sought from your vet to determine the cause of the pain and obtain an accurate diagnosis. This examination will identify the nature of the problem, for instance, if it is developmental or a degenerative issue and will also rule out other potential factors such as an injury to the joint or septic arthritis, which can be caused by a bacterial, viral or fungal infection.