Panosteitis (Growing Pains) in Dogs

Written by Small Door's medical experts

You may be familiar with growing pains in children, but did you know that growing pains can also affect dogs? Also known as panosteitis, growing pains occur in adolescent dogs and can be a painful condition that causes episodes of lameness (a change in how one or more limbs function) without any known injury. Read on to learn more about this condition and how to identify the signs and symptoms of panosteitis in your own dog.

In this article

What is panosteitis in dogs? 

A dog with panosteitis will have episodes of pain in the long bones of the legs. This typically happens when dogs are between the ages of five and 18 months. These painful flare-ups may cause limping and last approximately two to five weeks, and they may continue to reoccur until your dog reaches the age of one to two years. 

What causes panosteitis in dogs? 

Panosteitis is a condition that affects the bone marrow cavity in the long bones. A normal bone marrow cavity has two different types of marrow: hemopoietic marrow and fatty marrow. The hemopoietic marrow helps to create new blood cells, and the fatty marrow is just what it sounds like—fat. When panosteitis occurs, the fatty marrow is replaced with a type of tissue that is very fibrous (think of strings of fibers or yarn). Then, the fibrous, yarn-like tissue is replaced with a young and weak type of bone called woven (or primary) bone. This type of bone gets its name from the appearance of having interwoven fibers, and it is the source of pain in the bone. Normal bone will eventually take over the woven bone, dissolving and replacing it, and leaving the bones normal and healthy. 

As the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) states, the underlying reason why panosteitis occurs in dogs is still a bit of a mystery and under study. One theory is that panosteitis may be genetic in origin because certain breeds are predisposed to developing this condition. Another suspected cause is that high-protein dog foods may cause bone swelling, due to the high accumulation of protein in the bone marrow. Panosteitis may even stem from infection, such as through bite wounds that puncture the bone.

Dog breeds prone to panosteitis

While it may affect any breed or size of dog, panosteitis most often occurs in large and giant breed dogs that grow quickly, and typically in more male dogs than females. The following breeds are most prone to developing panosteitis: 

  • German Shepherd

  • Golden Retriever

  • Labrador Retriever

  • Rottweiler

  • Doberman Pinscher

  • Basset Hound

  • Great Dane

  • Saint Bernard

Signs & symptoms of panosteitis in dogs

Similar to growing pains in humans, dogs with panosteitis will most often experience intermittent episodes of musculoskeletal pain. 

Symptoms of panosteitis may include: 

  • Intermittent, leg-shifting lameness (which leg is affected may vary and shift in the same dog)

  • Lameness that occurs suddenly and without known injury. It may affect more than one leg.

  • Pain when the affected legs are touched 

  • Difficulty rising or sitting

  • Crying or vocalization (indications of discomfort or pain)

  • Loss of appetite or interest in food 

  • Fever

  • Infection (which is sometimes a dog’s metabolic and/or immune response to the panosteitis)

How is panosteitis in dogs diagnosed?

The first step in diagnosing panosteitis is a physical exam with your veterinarian. During the exam, your veterinarian will take a thorough patient history and examine your dog, checking for any orthopedic abnormalities or pain. Your veterinarian may recommend a set of radiographs, or X-rays, and, in some very rare cases, nuclear bone scans using liquid radiation may be needed. 

Why radiographs (X-rays) are important when your dog has panosteitis

Radiographs are a great tool to use when diagnosing panosteitis in dogs. Because of its woven appearance, panosteitis will cause the hollow areas inside of the long bones to appear “fluffy” or “cloudy” on radiographs. This characteristic appearance may help your veterinarian to confirm a diagnosis of panosteitis, and to rule out any other (potentially more serious) bone or joint issues.

Treatment for panosteitis in dogs

The focus of treatment for panosteitis in dogs is pain relief and reducing inflammation. The primary method of pain relief is with the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (also known as NSAIDs) to help reduce inflammation and control pain. Dog-specific NSAIDs (such as Rimadyl or carprofen) may be administered by mouth and also come as injectable medications. 

Never give your dog any over-the-counter pain or anti-inflammatory medications, as they may be very damaging, and even lethal, to your dog. 

Is there a cure for panosteitis in dogs? 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for panosteitis in dogs. However, this is a self-limiting condition and will resolve on its own. Typical treatment involves management of the symptoms by using NSAIDs or pain medication, which are administered during flare-ups of pain until the panosteitis has resolved. 

Is panosteitis in dogs contagious for humans or other pets? 

No, panosteitis in dogs is not contagious to other pets or humans. 

What is the cost of treating panosteitis in dogs? 

The cost of treating panosteitis may vary depending on a number of factors, but can run to over $1,500. You will usually need to budget for an initial exam, x-rays, medication, and potentially repeat x-rays. 

Recovery and management of panosteitis in dogs 

To manage the symptoms of panosteitis while your dog is recovering, your veterinarian will formulate a treatment plan and provide recommendations specific to your dog’s needs. Treatment methods may include one or a combination of the following: 

  • Anti-inflammatories or pain medication

  • Rest/activity restriction: Keeping your dog quiet and restricting activity during flare-ups may help manage your dog’s pain and avoid any exacerbation of inflammation.

  • Avoiding high-impact activities or over-exercising 

  • Physical therapy/rehabilitation

Can you prevent panosteitis in dogs?

Unfortunately, panosteitis in dogs cannot always be prevented. However, if you have a large or giant breed puppy, you should feed them a diet that has been specifically formulated for large breeds, as they provide specific calorie and calcium levels that encourage slow and steady growth; this reduces the risk of several developmental orthopedic conditions, and may help to lessen the impact of panosteitis.

Is there a vaccine for panosteitis in dogs? 

There is no vaccine for panosteitis in dogs. 

Summary of panosteitis in dogs

While the “growing pains” of panosteitis may be a painful condition, it can be treated and will go away on its own over time. X-rays may be needed to help diagnose the condition. Then, pulling back on activities for a bit, keeping inflammation down, and decreasing pain are key. Your veterinarian can help you manage your dog’s recovery and allow your dog to maintain a healthy, happy adolescence. 

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