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What are the Early Signs of Mobility Problems in Dogs?

Recognizing early signs of disease is critical for early interventions and favorable outcomes. When your dog is exhibiting the early signs of mobility problems, you should sit up and take notice.

Mobility issues are more common among some breeds than in others, although osteoarthritis might eventually develop in all breeds after a certain age. That said, some breeds are more likely to develop mobility challenges because of Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) or hip dysplasia.

The problem with dogs is they don’t really complain until the problem is well advanced or when the symptoms are more pronounced. By that time, aggressive therapy and rehabilitation might be required, which you want to avoid. Here are some early signs your dog might have mobility issues and some things you can do to help.

If you suspect your dog has any type of physical problem, check with your vet as soon as possible.

Decreased activity

Some dogs are born couch potatoes, but most revel in physical activities. Of course, older dogs do tend to be more sedate than younger ones, but any sudden drop in play and exercise is definitely suspect. If you usually feel like your arm is about to fall off before your dog finally gets tired of playing fetch, and then that is no longer the case, it is a sign that there is something going on.

Your best play (pun intended) is to continue with your dog’s favorite exercise or activity but at a slower pace and/or for a shorter time. It will keep your dog healthier even as you take steps to address possible physical problems.

Increased sloppiness

Dogs regularly groom themselves, although not as ostensibly as cats. Grooming includes shaking their body or head when wet and licking whatever part of their body they can naturally reach. If you notice your dog becoming much less interested in contorting to clean their genitals or more tolerant of being dripping wet, then it might be because their joints and/or limbs are stiffening up or it causes them pain to do anything vigorous such as shaking their whole body.

Another sign of this loss of enthusiasm in keeping clean and dry is when they start soiling themselves. They might be having difficulty in squatting or raising their leg to poop or pee, so they end up missing the mark, so to speak.

Make a point of easing their discomfort by toweling them dry, giving them a good brushing regularly, and help with cleaning up when you notice a hit and a miss. You might also want to keep your dog’s nails short as long nails can make it more difficult for them to walk comfortably if they are in the early stages of mobility challenges.

Apparent loss of appetite

People tend to have less interest in food when feeling out of sorts, and the same applies to dogs. If your dog is eating less, it may be due to pain. Alternatively, your dog might be eating less because they are not comfortable standing or bending their head down for long periods of time or the walk down the stairs might be giving your dog pause.

The best thing you can do is to place the water and food bowls at a height at which your dog seems most comfortable, and to place the bed on the same floor to minimize the need for stairs. If you suspect pain is robbing your dog of an appetite, get the advice of your vet on how to relieve it.

Loss of enthusiasm

If you’re used to your dog flying through the door as the first whiff of your homecoming, and one day it’s more like a faint wave when you walk in the door, you might want to take notice. A normally rambunctious pet that follows you wherever you suddenly couldn’t be bothered is probably not a sign of loss of affection, but the onset of some type of physical disability.

Instead of taking offense, make much of your dog when you get home to continue the interaction. Make sure your dog has a comfortable bed or rug in the same room where you spend the most of your time to create an opportunity for interaction, and to keep your dog from feeling left out.

If your dog has fuzzy paws and tends to slide around your shiny hardwood or ceramic floors, lay down area rugs or carpet runners to keep them steady on their feet.  You might also want to provide your slippery-footed dog with floor gripping accessories such as ToeGrips.


Keeping a weather eye out for small signs of incipient mobility issues can help you stave off the worst of it later on. Consult your vet about possible early interventions and do your best to be proactive with small adjustments to your home and interaction to ensure the comfort and well-being of your dog.

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