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As dogs age, they become more susceptible to various diseases and illnesses, including osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), is progressive, meaning it worsens over time. This type of arthritis is a common issue for senior dogs and large breeds due to wear and tear on their joints, and there's no cure. 

While dogs with this joint disease need life long management, life expectancy varies. Many dogs can live happily for many years after diagnosis. If you have a large breed or senior dog, learning everything you can about osteoarthritis can help you learn how to properly care for them by reducing their pain and making them as comfortable as possible. 

This article will discuss everything you need to know about osteoarthritis in dogs, including symptoms, causes, and treatment options. 

25% of dogs have osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis

What Is Osteoarthritis In Dogs?

Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear of the cartilage within a joint, causing it to break down. The joint cartilage continues to break down — or degenerate — over time, leading to inflammation and pain.1 

The cartilage protects the bones to provide a cushion and prevent them from rubbing against one another during movement.2 As the cartilage breaks down, bones begin directly rubbing against other bones, causing pain. However, the severity of the pain depends on how far the disease has progressed.2 For example, dogs with minimum wear and tear on their joints will likely suffer less pain than dogs with more severe cartilage breakdown. 

Any joint can develop osteoarthritis, but it can be common in the legs and lower spine.3 Additionally, osteoarthritis can affect any dog, regardless of age or breed. However, some breeds are more prone to it than others. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in dogs, affecting around 25%.4 

Osteoarthritis symptoms

Osteoarthritis In Dogs Symptoms

The most common signs of osteoarthritis in dogs are:

In addition, the disease can progress and cause a grating down during motion as the bones rub together.1 Some dogs developing osteoarthritis may not want to be touched because of the pain, and they may have altered sleeping patterns.2 Treating osteoarthritis in dogs early can improve their range of motion and prevent pain. However, dogs with this joint disease must continue exercising to prevent muscle atrophy, which can worsen the pain.2

Causes of osteoarthritis in dogs

What Causes Osteoarthritis In Dogs?

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis caused by the deterioration of cartilage that cushions the joints and prevents the bones from coming into contact with one another.5 This disease can affect any dog, but it's most common in large breeds like Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. Unfortunately, the cause of osteoarthritis is unknown, but in some cases, it may be a secondary condition that occurs as a result of another.6 

Some factors predispose some dogs to osteoarthritis, such as:

  • Obesity
  • Age
  • Repetitive stress on the joints
  • Injuries
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Infections of the joints
  • Improper nutrition
  • Genetics3

Anything can cause osteoarthritis in any dog since there's no known underlying cause. However, size, age, and weight play a role for several reasons. Firstly, large dogs have increased stress on their bones and joints, which can lead to wear and tear over several years. In addition, older dogs have more wear and tear on their joints and the rest of their bodies than young, healthy dogs. Meanwhile, overweight or obese dogs have more added stress on their joints. Anything that causes joint stress can result in wear and tear and osteoarthritis, including walking on hard surfaces like pavement. 

If your dog is at risk of developing osteoarthritis, you can talk to your vet about a prevention and treatment plan to potentially slow the progression of the disease. While there's no cure or true way to prevent osteoarthritis in dogs, there are several things you can do to help reduce the severity of the disease later in their lives.

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis In Dogs

If you suspect your dog has osteoarthritis, you should make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. This disease is very painful, so getting them treatment as soon as possible is crucial. Diagnosing osteoarthritis in dogs is straightforward for vets. First, your dog will have a physical exam, and the vet will check their joints. If your vet suspects your dog is suffering from arthritis based on clinical signs and the information you've provided them, they'll take X-rays.5

X-ray is the most common diagnostic method because it doesn't require surgery. Unfortunately, they can only give vets information about the bones rather than imaging the soft tissue cartilage.4 Other diagnostic tests and tools your vet may use involved in the treatment of osteoarthritis in dogs include:

  • Blood work
  • Joint fluid analysis
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography(CT)4

Treating & Managing Osteoarthritis In Dogs

There is no cure for osteoarthritis in dogs. It's a progressive disease that will worsen over time. In most cases, Osteoarthritis in dogs treatment focuses on joint pain management, decreasing inflammation, and slowing the development of the disease.3Typically, treatment consists of various therapies, lifestyle changes, and medications, including the following: 

Weight management

Overweight dogs are at an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis, and being overweight can worsen the condition because extra weight puts added stress on the joints and bones. Additionally, overweight dogs are typically less active, which can make osteoarthritis more painful.2

Overweight dogs should lose weight and maintain a healthy weight through proper nutrition. In a study, dogs were split into two groups: one group was fed as much as they wanted, while the other had restricted feeding. The dogs on restricted feeding had an increased lifespan and delayed onset of osteoarthritis.5

Weight loss may also reduce lameness associated with osteoarthritis in dogs.5 

Therefore, if your dog is diagnosed with osteoarthritis, your vet may focus on their eating habits and diet to ensure they can lose weight and maintain a healthier body composition to reduce the amount of stress on the joints. 


Exercise is crucial for dogs suffering from osteoarthritis because inactivity makes the disease worse and more painful. For dogs with osteoarthritis, it's usually best to take it slow and provide them with gentle exercise that won't increase their pain. 

For example, shorter walks may be better for them than a single long walk in the morning.5 These dogs should not engage in intense activities like long hikes or running off-leash at the dog park. Instead, they should engage in the same or similar types of exercise every day.5 If your dog with osteoarthritis will be engaging in higher-impact activities like playing fetch or running with other dogs, they should have a warm-up period that consists of a short walk beforehand and exercise should be gentle and to the tolerance of the dog.5

Depending on your dog's pain and the progression of the disease, they may benefit from animal physical rehab to help them maintain a healthy weight and get gentle exercises to reduce the pain associated with osteoarthritis. You can also work closely with your vet to devise a physical therapy treatment plan to ensure your dog is getting enough of the right type of exercise to reduce their pain and inflammation. 

Joint supplements/nutraceuticals

Dietary supplements, also known as nutraceuticals, can help support joint health by decreasing the effect of some of the destructive enzymes in the joints while lubricating them.5 Joint supplements given early during treatment may help slow the progression of the disease. However, while they support overall joint health, more research is needed to determine if they play a role in helping to prevent osteoarthritis.5

In any case, side effects of joint supplements are rare and mild when they occur, so there's ultimately no reason not to give them to your dog before they've been diagnosed with osteoarthritis. Your vet may even recommend them after your dog has been diagnosed. 

It's important to note that while joint supplements may be a part of your dog's treatment plan, they won't provide a significant result immediately. Supplements have a delayed onset, so it can take weeks for them to have a therapeutic effect on your dog.5

Many joint supplements are available on the market, so it's crucial to do your research. Some brands invest in clinical studies to prove the efficacy of their products, which can help you make the right choice for your dog. Omega-3 fatty acids are proven effective at decreasing inflammation in arthritic joints, with EPA being the most effective fatty acid in dogs.5

Additionally, you may try glucosamine and chondroitin supplements that have been proven effective at alleviating joint pain and stiffness.

Managing osteoarthritis in dogs

Osteoarthritis Medicine 

Pain medication treats pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. Your vet might try several types of medications to reduce your dog's inflammation and pain. The most common type of pain medication used for osteoarthritis treatment is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including carprofen, galliprant, meloxicam, deracoxib, and ketoprofen.4 Unfortunately, not all dogs can have NSAIDs, so your vet might try other medications, such as gabapentin, tramadol, codeine, or corticosteroids.4 However, there's limited information about these medications' efficacy for treating osteoarthritis pain. 

Gabapentin, an anticonvulsant, is another popular medication used for osteoarthritis in dogs. In a case study on degenerative joint disease in dogs, a dog named Lacy was given non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and gabapentin to treat her pain in conjunction with non-pharmacological treatments of acupuncture while maintaining her body weight. As a result, Lacy's condition significantly improved over a year, and her pain was further managed with tramadol.2

Pain medication can greatly improve a dog's quality of life, but it's best used in conjunction with other therapies. Unfortunately, there are risks to giving your dog pain medications, so it's crucial to follow your vet's instructions. 

Surgery & alternative treatments

Some dogs with severe degenerative joint disease may require surgery to stabilize or replace the joints with prosthetics. Another type of surgery for osteoarthritis is to fuse the joints to eliminate the pain associated with the disease.5 

Alternative treatment options, such as laser treatment, joint injections, and non-pharmacological treatments like acupuncture, are also a possibility. However, only you and your vet can determine what's right for your dog. 

Osteoarthritis in dogs requires lifelong management to reduce your dog's pain and improve their quality of life. You'll work closely with your vet to determine the best daily routine, exercises, and medications to support your dog's overall joint health. Depending on the severity of your dog's pain, they may recommend physical therapy, massages, swimming, or working with a small animal physical therapist to improve your dog's range of motion and reduce their inflammation and pain. 

Preventing Osteoarthritis In Dogs 

As you now know, osteoarthritis is caused by the deterioration of joint cartilage. Therefore, the best prevention is by helping your dog avoid stress on their bones and joints that can lead to wear and tear. One of the best ways to prevent osteoarthritis in dogs is to help your pet maintain a healthy weight. Thin dogs have longer lifespans and typically don't suffer from as severe osteoarthritis as overweight or obese dogs because they have less stress on their joints.5

Of course, since the underlying cause of osteoarthritis in dogs is unknown, we can't tell you that ensuring your dog is a healthy weight will prevent it. Several risk factors, including breed and genetics, may predispose your dog to this condition. However, knowing everything we know about osteoarthritis, we can provide you with a few tips to help delay the onset of osteoarthritis or prevent it by supporting your dog's overall joint health. Here are a few arthritis prevention tips for dogs:


As mentioned several times throughout this article, a sedentary lifestyle is bad for your dog's joints. Regular exercise is crucial to your dog's overall health and can help the joints stay healthy while ensuring your dog maintains a healthy weight. Avoid high-impact activities like going for long hikes when your dog isn't accustomed to them. 

If you want to engage in higher impact activities, it's best to build your dog's activity level up slowly to help their bodies get stronger. In addition, walking on soft surfaces like grass instead of pavement can reduce the impact on your dog's joints. Low-impact activities for dogs include swimming, nose work, agility training on grass, and walking. Taking your dog on slow strolls is one of the best activities for dogs because it's lower impact than running and can help them maintain muscle mass while lubricating the joints. 

Joint supplements

As we've mentioned, there's not enough research to determine if joint supplements can actually prevent degenerative joint disease. However, they're designed to support overall joint health, which may help delay the onset of osteoarthritis in dogs. 

Visit your vet

Any dog can develop osteoarthritis. Therefore, you must see your vet every year for a physical exam to ensure your dog isn't suffering from joint issues that can affect their quality of life. Additionally, you should make an appointment with your vet as soon as you notice any osteoarthritis symptoms in dogs we mentioned above. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve your dog's outcome by reducing pain and inflammation and allowing you to make lifestyle changes for them that can reduce the severity of the disease. 


What is the difference between arthritis and osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that can afflict dogs. Although it's the most common form of arthritis, there are a few other types of arthritis that impact dogs, such as rheumatoid and septic arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis in dogs is rare and affects around 2 out of every 25,000 dogs, particularly small or toy breeds.7 This type of joint disease occurs when the body's immune system attacks its own tissues, including the joints, resulting in joint and cartilage damage. On the other hand, septic arthritis in dogs occurs due to a joint infection that causes inflammation due to trauma, surgery, or a blood infection that travels to the joints.8

The symptoms of these three types of arthritis are similar and include lameness, swelling, lethargy, and reduced mobility. If your dog has any of these symptoms, take them to the vet as soon as possible because they can all worsen. Each type will require different treatment methods or a variety of treatments to ensure your dog's health and quality of life. 

Can all dogs develop osteoarthritis?

All dogs can develop osteoarthritis, and it's more common as dogs age and reach their golden years. However, large breeds and overweight dogs are at an increased risk of osteoarthritis because their size and/or weight puts increased pressure on the joints, which can lead to faster wear and tear. Any dog can develop osteoarthritis, regardless of their age, so it's crucial to monitor your pet and take them to the vet for diagnosis and treatment if you notice any of the symptoms we discussed above. 

Can I still exercise my dog if they have osteoarthritis?

Exercise is a crucial component of the osteoarthritis treatment plan for dogs because it can help lubricate the joints. Dogs that don't exercise will likely have worse pain, resulting in them being able to enjoy exercise, contributing to even more pain. Therefore, keeping your dog active throughout their lives is crucial, especially after being diagnosed with arthritis. 

Dogs with osteoarthritis should engage in gentle, low-impact exercises like swimming or going for leisurely walks to reduce pain and inflammation. However, you should never overdo it. Pay close attention to your dog while you're exercising them to ensure they're comfortable. If you're unsure how to exercise your arthritic dog, you can consult a vet who can help you create a physical therapy plan.

Is osteoarthritis in dogs a progressive disease?

Yes. Osteoarthritis in dogs is a progressive disease that worsens over time and as dogs age. Therefore, it's crucial to seek treatment as soon as you believe your dog might be suffering from this disease because, without it, your dog's pain can become unbearable. While there's no cure for this disease, getting your dog treatment early on can prevent the pain from worsening, and it gives your vet more time to determine the best course of action to reduce your dog's inflammation and pain.

Middle aged man hugging his senior dog

Final Notes 

Osteoarthritis in dogs is a painful progressive condition with no cure. However, there are several treatment methods available to ensure your dog lives a long, happy, pain-free life. If you believe your dog has arthritis or joint pain, consult a Dutch vet as soon as possible. 

We can diagnose and treat joint issues with a variety of techniques and medications to improve your dog's quality of life. Try Dutch today to receive your treatment plan. 



  1. Harari, Joseph. "Osteoarthritis (Degenerative Joint Disease) - Dog Owners." Merck Veterinary Manual, 22 Mar. 2023, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders-of-dogs/osteoarthritis-degenerative-joint-disease

  2. Case Study: Degenerative Joint Disease in Canines. https://nsuworks.nova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=mako

  3. "Osteoarthritis in Dogs - Signs and Treatment." American Kennel Club, 26 May 2022, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/osteoarthritis-signs-treatment/

  4. "Small Animal Topics." ACVS, https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/osteoarthritis-in-dogs

  5. "Arthritis Management and Prevention." Veterinary Teaching Hospital, 15 Dec. 2020, https://vetmedbiosci.colostate.edu/vth/services/orthopedic-medicine/arthritis-management-and-prevention/

  6. "Osteoarthritis (OA) in Dogs." PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/musculoskeletal/c_multi_arthritis_osteoarthritis.

  7. "Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis Characterized by Hyperprolactinemia: Veterinary Science Development." Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis Characterized by Hyperprolactinemia | Veterinary Science Development, https://www.pagepress.org/journals/index.php/vsd/article/view/6463/7220

  8. "Septic Arthritis in Dogs." PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/musculoskeletal/c_dg_arthritis_septic

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