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Could Your Dog’s Bed Be Causing Joint Pain? Here’s How To Tell.

| Published on May 2, 2016

Joint disease in dogs (particularly larger dogs) is an extremely common and painful ailment, but evidence shows that proper bedding can alleviate symptoms and serve as a preventative measure. But what exactly is proper bedding? Which beds should your dog be using?

Eric Shannon, worried for the health of his pet and the alarming rates of joint issues plaguing dogs, learned the importance of bedding that wouldn’t flatten while providing an appropriate amount of padding. In 2012, he founded Big Barker to produce high-quality, orthopedic beds, designed to alleviate and prevent joint pain and disease.


To ensure his bed was doing what he created it for, Shannon conducted an internal study to determine the effectiveness of four of the most popular types of dog beds using Tactilus pressure mapping sensor technology.

The sensor was placed on the floor, underneath the bed. Results were measured with a 92 lb. Lab mix laying on the beds, and again with a 190 lb. English Mastiff.

The sensor showed exactly how much pressure was transferring from the dog’s pressure points to the floor.

The following beds were tested:

Polyfill, which is the most common type of dog bed. The stuffing is similar to human pillows.

bedtest polyfill
Example, not the one used in their testing

A Crib Mattress, which is often used by large-dog owners.

Example, not the one used in their testing
Example, not the one used in their testing

4” memory foam dog bed, which has been a best-seller on Amazon for several years. The one tested was made in China, like almost all memory foam dog beds.

Example, not the one used in their testing
Example, not the one used in their testing

A Big Barker bed.

examples of Big Barker beds
examples of Big Barker beds

“The primary function of a dog bed is to keep a dog from feeling direct pressure from the floor,” explains Dr. Sarah Wooten. “If a knee, elbow, or hip is pressing down through the bed and into the hard floor below, the feeling is uncomfortable for any dog, but can be extremely painful for large dogs or older dogs, 60 percent of which are known to be suffering from some degree of arthritis.”

Dr. Wooten is an associate veterinarian at Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital in Greeley, Colorado. She is also a member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists and is a consulting DVM for Big Barker – currently working on a project in the area of canine joint disease and mobility issues, which is being sponsored by the bed company.

If the bedding improper, it can actually make things worse.

“The worst outcome from improper bedding for a dog could be exacerbation of inflammation and pain from arthritis in joints, resulting in loss of mobility,” Dr. Wooten said. “Improper bedding could also result in increased incidences of painful skin conditions, including pressure sores, decubital ulcers and pressure point pyodermas.”

Related: The 9 Best Beds For Senior Dogs

The Results Of The Test

The findings were that the polyfill and China-made memory foam beds provided little to no support for either dog, showing significant amounts of pressure.

These images are the results from Hank, a 92 lb. Labrador mix. Red areas show the most significant amounts of pressure.

 bedtest1 bedtest3

The crib mattress performed better than polyfill or the China-made memory foam bed, but still showed significant stress along pressure point areas.



Hank on Crib Mattress - Polyfill - Memory Foam


The Big Barker bed showed zero signs of significant pressure anywhere along the dog’s body.




Hank and Tessa on Big Barker

To learn more about the results, watch the video below:

So What Makes Bedding Improper?

Shannon gave us the following tips on what to look for when purchasing a bed for your dog:

  1. If a dog can feel the floor, it’s a bad bed. An easy way to test the quality of the bed is to get on the bed yourself. Lay on it. Roll back and forth. Can you feel the floor?
  2. Kneel on the bed. Lean on your elbows. These are pressure points. Feeling the floor is not comfortable; it would be hard to get a good night’s sleep if you were feeling that all night. It’s similar to sleeping on a bad pull-out couch or sleeping in a flimsy sleeping bag on a hardwood floor. Now imagine if you had arthritis or otherwise sore knees or elbows. Would you feel good sleeping on this bed?
  3. If you’ve got a big dog, don’t bother with Polyfill. It can look cute and fluffy, and the idea of “same material as a human pillow” sounds appealing, but it cannot possibly support the weight of a large dog. The fibers themselves have no resiliency. Laying on the bed forces the air out and you’re left with a heavy body laying on clumps of fibers that are pressing directly to the floor.
  4. If the bed is made of foam, make sure that there are at least two layers. The top layer should be soft and comfortable. This layer envelops the dog’s curves and pressure points and makes the bed feel nice to lay on. Under the comfort layer should be a support layer. This layer is a stiffer, more resilient foam. It provides a buffer zone, absorbing any pressure transferred through the bottom of the comfort layer. Without the support layer, the dog’s pressure points will sink right to the floor (as shown in the Tactilus images).

Related: 12 Best Dog Beds

The “insides” of the Big Barker bed.

Related: Ultimate Resting Spot For Your Dog: Big Barker Orthopedic Dog Bed Review 2023

If the bed is made of foam, find out where it’s made. If the foam is made in China, buyer beware: China-made foam is notorious for breaking down and quickly degrading over time.

  • Does the bed have a warranty against flattening?
  • Beware of knock-offs online that look like high-end beds but are really inferior quality made from China. Always research the company before purchasing!
  • In addition, the size and weight of the dog needs to be factored in as well.

“The heavier the dog, the more support required,” Shannon said. “A Yorkshire Terrier will probably be reasonably comfortable on a polyfill bed. But a big dog like a Boxer or German Shepherd will instantly smush a bed right down to the floor unless it’s engineered properly using high-quality materials.”

Large dogs tend to flatten beds whose filling is not “strong enough” to withstand their weight. This breaks down the materials and renders the bed practically useless. At this point, it’s time to buy another bed. Which, at $100+ for a big dog bed, can get expensive!

“The Big Barker bed was designed to eliminate the flattening problem once and for all,” Shannon adds. “It’s engineered with foam specifically designed to support the weight of large dogs from Boxers all the way up to Great Danes and was the first bed to offer a ten-year warranty against flattening.”

Big Barker beds are available on their website as well as Amazon.

Related: 8 Best Dog Beds for Older Dogs

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