Image of sad dog

Key takeaway

Dog arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that can cause discomfort, kinetic decline, and other associated issues. Though signs are difficult to identify, dog owners may pay special attention to lameness and limping, joint swelling, lethargy, and hesitant movements. Treatment for dog arthritis focuses on addressing symptoms by implementing weight loss, using anti-inflammatory drugs, and more.

Did you know that dogs can get arthritis, too? It’s true, even Fido can get that swelling and stiffness of their joints, just like humans can. And just like humans, arthritis can be painful and disruptive to daily life. 

Dog arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis, or OA, is very common in older dogs and can be quite annoying and difficult to live with. Arthritis can make doing simple tasks much harder for your pup — like walking up the stairs or jumping up onto the couch. Arthritis in dogs can cause serious damage, so if your pup is suffering from it, it’s important you get them the care they need. 

In this blog post, we’ll be discussing all there is to know about dog arthritis, including dog arthritis symptoms, how to diagnose a dog with arthritis, potential dog arthritis treatments, and more. Continue reading, or use the links below to jump to the section of your choice.

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints due to the degeneration of cartilage joints. Cartilage normally serves as a cushion so that joints can move comfortably, but with osteoarthritis, the cartilage is breaking down, causing the joints to not move as easily due to increased bone on bone contact. Osteoarthritis can be caused by old age, injury, stress, or other diseases. The result of osteoarthritis is often associated with pain and inflammation in the joints, as well as a decreased range of motion. Osteoarthritis is most common in the limbs and lower spine.1

Dog Arthritis Symptoms

There are various dog arthritis symptoms that you should be aware of. Dog arthritis symptoms can be hard to detect until they progress or until the joint is badly damaged. If you have an older dog, you should keep a close eye on their behaviors to see if they exhibit any of these symptoms, as some dogs will try to hide their pain.

Graphic listing symptoms of arthritis in dogs

These are some of the most common symptoms of arthritis in dogs2:

  • Joint swelling
  • Lethargy
  • Hesitancy to walk or play
  • Stiffness or difficulty getting up
  • Irritability or changes in behavior
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Loss of muscle mass on spine and limbs
  • Thickening and scarring of the joint membrane
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Slow gait
  • Licking of joints
  • Pain, especially when the affected area is touched

If enough damage is done to the joint, it may even be possible to hear a grating sound during movement. An X-ray can be done to show any fluid in the joint, soft-tissue swelling around the joint, formations, or bone thickening. 

Causes Of Arthritis In Dogs

There are many different causes of arthritis in dogs, but in order to treat your pup’s painful joint swelling, you need to figure out exactly what’s causing it. Any dog can develop OA, but there are some risk factors that make a dog more susceptible to developing it.

Graphic listing possible causes of canine arthritis

These risk factors include:

  • Large dog breeds, including German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers
  • Obesity
  • Age, namely middle-aged to senior dogs
  • Genetics
  • Improper nutrition
  • Lyme disease
  • Repeated stress due to athletic activities 
  • Poor conformation 
  • Injuries like fractures or ligament tears
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia 

If your dog has any of these risk factors, it’s important to monitor them carefully and keep them up to date with their trips to the vet. This ensures you will be able to catch arthritis early on and provide your pup with the proper treatment they need as quickly as possible.

Diagnosing Dog Arthritis

Noticing arthritis in your dog may be difficult because dogs tend to hide when they’re in pain. This is why it’s so important to be aware of the above dog arthritis symptoms, especially if your dog is older. If you suspect your dog is suffering from arthritis, it’s important to bring them to the vet so they can get a proper diagnosis. 

In order to diagnose a dog with arthritis, a vet will first conduct a physical examination. In the physical exam, a vet will look for any abnormal bone formations, muscle atrophy, joint pain, and tenderness, decreased range of motion, and grinding of the joint. They will also likely perform a palpation, which is a method of feeling with the fingers to identify the location of pain and its intensity. Your vet may also perform additional diagnostics, like an X-ray or a force plate analysis, to confirm arthritis in your dog.

Dog Arthritis Treatments

There are various dog arthritis treatments that your vet may recommend. Typically, treatment for any dog with arthritis will involve a lifestyle change. You’ll likely need to change your dog’s diet and ensure they exercise on a regular basis. Your vet may also recommend additional treatments, such as surgery or medication, depending on the cause and severity of your pup’s arthritis. 

Graphic listing treatments for dog arthritis

Some potential treatments for dog arthritis include2:

  • Weight loss: If needed, your vet may recommend that your dog loses weight, as excess weight can put strain on the joints and increase pain. This will include both weight loss and diet management. Just make sure your dog exercises only on soft, stable surfaces so it’s gentle on their joints. Exercise will help reduce the pain your dog feels and improve their mobility, which will give them better support. As for diet management, your vet may recommend a specialized diet plan to help your pup lose weight. 
  • Medication: In some cases, your vet may recommend medication for your dog’s arthritis, namely nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that will reduce pain and inflammation. Your vet may also prescribe corticosteroids, which can reduce inflammation, or joint fluid modifiers, which can help to relieve pain. However, long-term use of medication can cause several side effects, such as loss of appetite and vomiting, so it’s crucial to discuss with your vet if medication is the right route for your dog. The medication your vet prescribes will differ depending on your dog’s age and overall health.
  • Surgery: In severe cases of arthritis, like if there is a torn ligament, your vet may recommend surgery, Surgery may include joint replacement, cutting the joint, or amputation, depending on the location and severity of arthritis. 

Some additional treatment plans your vet may recommend include acupuncture, ultrasound therapy, laser therapy, magnetic therapy, or stem cell therapy. The main goal of dog arthritis treatment is to improve your dog’s mobility and increase their comfort levels. 

 Dog receiving physical exam by vet

Dog Arthritis: Frequently Asked Questions

What are the signs of arthritis in dogs?

There are various signs of dog arthritis, but it can be very difficult to identify them as they’re usually relatively subtle and present differently depending on the dog. Some of the most common signs of arthritis in dogs include joint swelling, lethargy, difficulty getting up, irritability, and muscle atrophy. If you notice your dog exhibiting any of these symptoms, consult your vet right away so you can get a proper diagnosis. 

How do you treat arthritis in dogs?

There are several different ways you can go about treating arthritis in dogs, including medication, surgery, and/or weight loss. The treatment plan your vet recommends will differ depending on your dog’s age, overall health, and the severity of their arthritis. Your vet will have the best idea of how to go about treating your dog in an effective way.

At what age do dogs get arthritis?

Dogs can start showing signs of arthritis at any age, but the risk of arthritis increases as they get older. Arthritis affects 20% of dogs under one year of age and 80% of dogs over eight years of age.

Dog owner looking affectionately at dog

Final Notes

Arthritis can be very painful and uncomfortable for your pup. Arthritis makes doing simple tasks, like jumping up on the couch or going up the stairs much more difficult for your pup, so it’s important to get them the care they need as soon as possible. 

The signs of dog arthritis may be hard to identify, so it’s important to be aware of them so that you can tell if your pup is in pain. As soon as you see your dog showing any dog arthritis symptoms, bring them to the vet so you can get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan figured out.

And if you need help bringing your pup to the vet, check out Dutch.com. Dutch is a convenient solution for pet care, so you can get your pet the treatment they need right when they need it. Dutch is an online telehealth service that connects pet owners to licensed veterinarians right from home. Dutch-affiliated vets are qualified to help with various health conditions and prescribe your pet the medication they need, delivered right to your door within 7 days. Rather than having to drag your pet to the vet and wait for a diagnosis and treatment plan, let us handle your pet care with a simple click of a button. We’ll get your furry friend the treatment they need as quickly as possible.

References

  1. Parnell. “Osteoarthritis in Dogs - Signs and Treatment.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 22 June 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/osteoarthritis-signs-treatment/

  2. Harari, Joseph. “Osteoarthritis (Degenerative Joint Disease) - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Dec. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders-of-dogs/osteoarthritis-degenerative-joint-disease?query=osteoarthritis

  3. Caring for Geriatric Dogs - Vettimes.co.uk. https://www.vettimes.co.uk/app/uploads/wp-post-to-pdf-enhanced-cache/1/caring-for-geriatric-dogs.pdf