dog joint health




Osteoarthritis and joint disease are the most common reason that dogs are referred to Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care. We get great results using combinations of acupuncture, botanical medicines, conventional medicines, supplements, and physiotherapy but wouldn’t it be better to reduce the risk of joint disease and arthritis in our dogs?


Developmental joint problems such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and shoulder OCD are more common in some breeds than in others. This has lead us to believe that there are genetic factors which influence healthy joints. Unfortunately scientists haven’t found single gene mutations which correlate with good or bad joints and it is likely that a number of different genes are involved. For this reason breeders have to rely on having a dog’s joints assessed before breeding and only breeding from those with better than average joints. In the UK dogs of at risk breeds can be scored under the BVA/KC schemes for hips and elbows. Elbows are rated from 0-3 and ideally only dogs with 0 elbows are bred from. Hips are rated from 0 to 106 (0-53 each side). It is recommended to breed from dogs which are below the median value for the breed. In some breeder, breeders can also use ‘estimated breeding values’ to predict if a dog will have puppies with better or worse hips than its parent. Joint laxity is thought to be the major factor in hip dysplasia developing and some breeders use an additional test called PennHIP which assess joint laxity. It is not done as commenly as vets need special equipment and training to perform it. Screening is also available for patella luxation (slipping kneecaps) which is done by a vet handling the dog. This is most likely to be done on small and toy breeds such as chihuahuas, but some larger breeds are also assessed. At the moment there are no schemes for shoulder OCD, or incomplete ossification of the humeral condyle which affects spaniels but breeding from affected individuals is not recommended.


Pups are born with normal hips, which grown and change with the stresses and strains put on them. Puppies reared on slippery surfaces are more likely to develop hip problems so breeders should ensure surfaces offer good grip. Summer puppies have a lower rate of hip problems, which may reflect that they spend more time outside than on a slippery kitchen or kennel floor. Growth rate and body weight are important too. Obviously puppies need to eat to grow, but growing too fast and being too fat in early life has a negative impact on joint health.

Once you get your puppy home you need to keep up the good work! Exercise on soft, uneven surfaces such as grass or the beach is really good for joint development. Too much pavement pounding, or again, time spent on slippery surfaces, has a negative impact. Strong muscles contribute reduce the risk of lax joints developing, but care must be taken not to overdo things. I work on a rule of thumb of 10minutes of ‘going for a walk’ per months of life until dogs are fully grown. Training, obstacles, hunting games and other low impact activity are much safer for growing dogs than fast running after balls.

Keep your dog on the lean side too. Aim for a body condition of 4-5 out of 9 (ask your vet how to assess body condition).


Active dogs are at risk of wear and tear on their joints, just like human athletes. However, there are things you can do to reduce the risks. Weight control remains key throughout life.Dogs on a restricted diet could live more than 2 years longer than overweight dogs! Ensure your dog is warmed up before intensive exercise and cooled down afterwards, and make sure his is properly trained and conditioned for the tasks you expect him to do. You wouldn’t enter a triathlon with no training…would you?!

Joint supplements aim to support healthy cartilage, ligaments, joint fluid and muscles and may be helpful for very active dogs or high risk breeds. There are many available but we particularly like Joint Aid and Nutraquin.