Osteoarthritis in Dogs
By Dr James St Clair Top Dog Health USA
Osteoarthritis (OA) is also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), or simply arthritis. It is a slowl,
progressive cartilage degeneration that includes the production of osteophytes, or bone spurs that form
along the margins of the joint. It is usually caused by trauma or abnormal wear of the bones of the joint,
which leads to the destruction of the cartilage that cushions the joints. As the cartilage wears away, the
joint become more inflamed, unstable, and painful. Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint, but is most
commonly seen in the elbows, hips, and knees.
Who gets Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis can affect any dog, in any joint. It is common in dogs with a congenital condition of the
joint, such as a patellar luxation or hip dysplasia. However, it is most commonly seen in medium to
larger breed dogs, and older dogs are at the greatest risk.
Usually owners begin to notice that their dog is slower or more reluctant to participate in normal
activities such as running, jumping, getting into the car, or using stairs. He/she is often stiff and slow
to get up in the morning or after resting and tires much more easily. The dog will have an altered gait,
as he/she tries to shift weight to the unaffected limbs. This can lead to muscle atrophy of the affected
limb(s), since the dog avoids using those legs. Some dogs with OA will seek warm, soft places to sleep,
and will bite at or lick the painful joint. Osteoarthritis doesn€™t usually cause swollen joints, and the pain
is a dull, aching type, so most dogs do not cry out in pain.
Diagnosis of osteoarthritis is based on the dog€™s history, clinical signs, and a physical exam. Your
veterinarian will also take radiographs to assess the degree of osteoarthritis in the joints.
There is not one primary cause of OA, but there are several secondary causes. For example, the
condition may form as a result of trauma, abnormal wear on the joint and cartilage, or from a congenital
defect such as hip or elbow dysplasia. Osteoarthritis will form in any joint that is suffering from
instability. It can form as the result of an injury such as dislocation of the kneecap or shoulder, cruciate
ligament tear, or a fracture involving the joint. Dogs with osteochondritis dessicans (OCD) usually
develop OA, due to the formation an abnormal flap of cartilage in the joint. Obesity is also factor in the
development of osteoarthritis, as excess weight puts additional wear and strain on the joints.
Neither medical nor surgical treatment can cure osteoarthritis. Rather, the goal is to alleviate the
symptoms, slow the progression of the disease, and make the animal more comfortable. Anti-
inflammatories are usually prescribed to decrease pain and inflammation in the joint. Exercise
and physical therapy can be beneficial in maintaining normal motion of the joint and tone of the
supporting muscles. Heat and cold therapy can also be used to manage pain and inflammation. Joint
supplements are given to slow the progression of OA by maintaining joint cartilage and promoting the
synthesis of new cartilage. In some dogs, surgery can be performed to remove aggravating bone and
cartilage fragments. Total hip and elbow replacements are also performed in some severe cases. Your
veterinarian can help you decide the best plan for managing your pet€™s OA, and whether or not he/she is
a good candidate for surgery.
When adopting a puppy, it is a good idea to understand the common orthopedic conditions that affect
the particular breed. The earlier a joint condition is recognized, the sooner you can take steps to slow
the progression of osteoarthritis in that joint. Natural dog supplements can be used to
maintain joint health. Weight control is critical in preventing or slowing OA, because excess weight puts
additional strain on the joints. Regular veterinary exam are also important in monitoring the progression
Because osteoarthritis is progressive and continues to worsen over time, the sooner a problem is
detected, the better the prognosis. Medical treatment can slow the development of OA and keep
your dog comfortable and active for years. Even in cases that progress to the point where surgery
is indicated, recovery is usually good. The most important thing is to monitor the progression of the
disease and take the necessary steps to support the health of the joints and the dog as a whole.