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Toe joint arthrosis in dogs – when the paws hurt with every step

Zehengelenksarthrose beim Hund ist schmerzhaft und schwer behandelbar. ich zeige dir, welche Möglichkeiten es gibt und was du als Hundehalter tun kannst.

When a dog suffers from osteoarthritis in the toes – that is, arthritis of the toe joint – it is usually downplayed and trivialized. It’s just arthritis in the toe. At the same time, arthritis in the little toe has a big impact on how your dog feels.

Your dog’s paws are in daily use

Your dog needs his paws. And every day. The toe joints must follow every movement of the body. If he suffers from arthritis in his toe joints, it will affect his every step. And painfully so. While a toe joint is only a very small joint compared to a hip, for example, if it hurts, it will still greatly affect your dog’s locomotion.

He begins to limp, perhaps permanently, perhaps “only” intermittently, not wanting to put weight on his paw properly. This has consequences for the entire body of the dog. The affected paw is relieved, other areas of the body are thus subjected to increased stress. By the way, this provides the perfect breeding ground for arthrosis to develop in other (toe) joints as well. By the way, in this article you will find a lot of general information about the clinical picture of arthrosis.

The normal course of movement is disturbed and muscular tension can also occur. That in a nutshell.

The anatomy of the toe joints in dogs

Let’s take a quick look at your dog’s paw. Anatomically, the toe joints like to be neglected and hip, elbow / Co. are much more present in our perception. The toe joints of the dog are the articulations between the individual phalanges, but also of the metatarsophalanges with the metatarsals.

In terms of structure, a distinction is made between the metatarsophalangeal, metatarsophalangeal and metatarsophalangeal joints.

The structure of the individual joints corresponds to that of a completely “normal” joint. This means that the joint-forming components include the bony joint partners, the joint capsule, joint cartilage, joint fluid, and stabilizing ligaments. But everything in a very, very small version, if you compare a toe joint, for example, with the knee joint.

In the treatment of toe joint arthrosis, this delicacy does not really make it any easier for us. But more about that later.

How can arthritis develop in the toe joints?

  • Injuries
  • Wear due to age
  • Overweight
  • Malpositions
  • Excessive load

These signs may indicate osteoarthritis in the toe joints

  • Lameness – permanent or intermittent
  • Frequent licking of paws and joints, which is often misunderstood as grooming
  • Always hold up the paw
  • The dog walks “like on eggs
  • Sensitivity to touch on the paws
  • Noticeable warming of the joints
  • Difficulty with everyday movements such as climbing stairs, getting into a car
  • Less joy during walks
  • The dog runs stiff legged
  • Enthusiasm for the game wanes

Of course, this is only a selection of symptoms. It is important that if you recognize the signs in your dog, that you present him to your veterinarian for further examination. It’s best to make a note of what you observed before you go to the doctor. In the excitement at the vet often suddenly disappeared all the thoughts that you had previously remembered about it.

How the vet diagnoses osteoarthritis in the joints of the toes

The doctor will examine the paw closely and check the mobility of the joints. He will also look for possible signs of pain. In addition, it is important to hear whether the joint possibly shows crepitant noises (dry, grinding sound of the joint) due to the cartilage damage. Furthermore, he will of course examine whether your dog may have another injury, such as from a thorn or similar. An x-ray can be used to visualize the arthritis in the toe joint through imaging.

How to treat toe joint arthritis in dogs?

As already mentioned, the treatment is extremely difficult. But not impossible. Under no circumstances should you act with the attitude “It’s only a toe joint, it doesn’t matter!” and simply put it to rest. As described at the beginning of the article, even “minor” arthritis in the toe joint has a major impact on the dog’s entire musculoskeletal system.

The treatment goals should be:

  • Pain relief
  • To stop the progression of osteoarthritis
  • Maintain and promote joint mobility and joint function
  • As normal a load as possible on the paw to allow normal and healthy movement of the entire body.
  • Anti-inflammatory

Treatment options

From a veterinary point of view, conservative therapy with painkillers and anti-inflammatories is usually advised. This may (but not always) relieve the pain, but the arthritis will still have free rein. In the next step, the toe is then often amputated. But this has significant implications for the dog’s movement. It must be said that the dog can better compensate for an amputation of one of the outer toes than if it is middle toes that are the focus of the stress.

However, even though the treatment of toe joint arthrosis is not easy, there are a variety of options from the physiotherapeutic field that we can draw on. Some of them you can also do as a dog owner at home (after consultation with the physio).

My recommendation in the treatment of arthrosis of the toe joint:

For example, I like to use laser therapy, which provides good relief and reduces inflammation and pain, as well as increases mobility. Passively moving the toe joints is also very helpful. This can also be done as a homework exercise by the dog owner.

Additionally, poultices such as quark poultice, comfrey poultice or rescuer’s point po ultice are good options that can also be applied by the dog owner.

Regular movement exercises from active movement training will help your dog regain healthy movement patterns. In the end, the entire body is also involved in toe joint arthrosis and should also be taken into account in the treatment.

Additionally, it may help your dog to wear a paw shoe when out and about. This also protects the toe joint, buffers something and dulls possible pain. Make sure that the paw shoe is not too tight, but please also not too loose. In addition, it should not press on the affected toe. Meanwhile, orthotics are also offered, which protectively surround the affected paw and act similarly to the paw shoe. This is where you should have an orthotic made by a canine orthotist.

Additionally, supplements that nourish the joints are a great way to support your dog. Here, collagen peptides, green-lipped muscle extract, devil’s claw, & Co. are mentioned as examples.

What can and should be considered in everyday life with toe joint arthritis in dogs?

Please avoid at all costs that your dog runs on hard surfaces. You’ll notice that he’s noticeably more lame on a surface like asphalt. Instead, choose pliable surfaces such as forest floor. It is gentler on the joints and provides significant cushioning. For a dog with arthritis in his toes, this is a huge relief.
Also, adjust the walks according to your dog’s condition and illness. The walks should be designed so that you run shorter laps and more frequently. It’s better than taking two big walks a day.

As you can see, there are many ways to support dogs with arthritis in the toe joint. In any case, joint disease should be taken seriously and not downplayed because of the small joint size.

You still have questions about the topic? Feel free to email me at tina@doggy-fitness or leave me a comment!

Would you like to learn more about pain in dogs and how to reliably recognize signs of pain? Then join my free online mini course “Recognizing signs of pain in dogs – incl. Checklist”!

All love,


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