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What is Osteoarthritis & Arthritis in My Dog?

What is Osteoarthritis & Arthritis in My Dog?

Dog osteoarthritis is a specific type of arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. It’s very common. Some estimates cite that it affects 1 in 5 dogs, and that 80% of dogs over the age of 8 are suffering from it. Read on to learn how to help your dog.

What is Osteoarthritis or Arthritis in Dogs?

Osteoarthritis is a progressive, complex condition that involves the deterioration of joint cartilage and inflammation of the joint. It leads to reduced mobility. It’s often very painful and, when in its advanced stages, can significantly impact a dog’s quality of life if left untreated. It’s sometimes categorised into four stages, with four being the most severe.

Although osteoarthritis can appear in any joint, it’s most often seen in the leg and spine joints. If your dog has hip or elbow dysplasia, the development of osteoarthritis as a secondary condition is highly likely.

Dog osteoarthritis develops overtime and is most usually seen in older dogs, although it can affect dogs of all ages. It isn’t a curable condition, so will need long-term management.

Dog arthritis is a broader term that encompasses joint inflammation, which can have several causes including infection, autoimmune disorders, or trauma.

Arthritis is associated with the ageing process, or can develop because of an historic injury to a joint.

As osteoarthritis and arthritis affects your dog’s overall wellbeing, treatment should be considered holistically i.e. taking into account the ligaments and muscles surrounding the joint, the joint capsule, pain management, not just looking at the joint itself. 

Dogs with well-managed osteoarthritis and arthritis can lead happy lives, with normal life expectancy.

"My dog has bad arthritis and is struggling to use his back legs, especially upstairs and getting into the car"

"My dog has bad arthritis and is struggling to use his back legs, especially upstairs and getting into the car"

Arthritic Changes in My Dog

Arthritis is the most common cause of lameness in dogs. It is associated with the aging process,although it also occurs as a secondary condition to diseases such as hip orelbow dysplasia or historic injury to a joint. Larger breeds and athletic or working dog are recognised as being more at risk however increasingly it isbeing identified across all breeds. Other contributing factors to arthritis and osteoarthritis developing are: bodyweight, obesity, gender, exercise as well as diet.

Osteoarthritis falls into two classifications; either primary or secondary. Primary osteoarthritis stems from an unknown cause, triggered by the aging process including wear and tear on the joints. Secondary osteoarthritis refers to the condition occurring because of another condition, for example hip or elbow dysplasia, trauma or injury to a joint or a patellar luxation.

So, what is actually happening in the joint? As arthritis develops, bonyspurs and thickening of the tissue around the joint can occur, this in turn causes pain and stiffness. Since cartilage has no nerve supply, the disease is able to advance for some time without any outward signs of being present. This means that even if you are looking out for signs or symptoms in your dog, theymay not show until the disease has progressed for some time.

"Can you kindly advise on the best dog boot for arthritis to keep his front paws comfortable and cushioned?"

"Can you kindly advise on the best dog boot for arthritis to keep his front paws comfortable and cushioned?"

Best Dog boots

Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis and Arthritis in Dogs

Individual dogs will exhibit a combination of different signs showing that they might be suffering from dog osteoarthritis or arthritis - there isn’t one definitive symptom. However, you may have noticed your dog not being their usual enthusiastic self when it comes to playing or going for walks.

These are other dog arthritis symptoms you might see:

  • Finding it difficult to get up from sitting or down from standing

  • Stiffness - This might particularly be the case after rest or on walks. Your dog might struggle to rise from a lying position, or find it challenging to lie down comfortably, especially on hard surfaces.

  • Limping or Lameness - In one or more legs. The limp may be noticeable or it may express itself as slight unevenness. You may notice your dog’s posture becomes more ‘slouched’ when sitting

  • Change in Gait - Your dog’s way of running or walking may look changed.

  • Avoiding Jumping off Furniture - Arthritic dogs may avoid activities that used to be easy for them, such as jumping in and out of the car, or going up and down stairs. This is because they don’t want to do anything that requires them to put extra stress on their joints. 
  • Not wanting to be touched on some parts of the body and showing pain or discomfort if they are.

  • General loss of stamina, taking longer on walks, or wanting to stop earlier than normal

  • Behavioural changes, such as uncharacteristic aggression towards other dogs or humans 

  • Hips and hindquarters start looking more narrow, because back leg muscles are weakening as they adapt how they change to minimise load on the affected joint

  • Lethargy or increased sleeping

  • Repeated licking of a particular joint as they try to alleviate the discomfort, until the fur is saliva stained

  • Enlarged, swollen joints that might be hot to the touch

  • Joint clicking when your dog’s getting up or lying down, walking, or running

It’s worth becoming very familiar with your dog’s own unique expressions of pain and discomfort. This will help you know whether or not your chosen treatment plan is proving successful.  

Some advice suggests that you identify 3-5 signs of pain and discomfort for ongoing, frequent evaluation of your dog’s condition. These will help you monitor whether your dog’s pain is improving or worsening. (A dog jumping into and out of a car isn’t a good marker as this won’t change quickly. Choose something specific for example, if your dog keeps licking a single spot on a joint. Has that increased or decreased in frequency?) 

"It’s amazing. My dog stopped walking and standing completely because of arthritis but a couple of hours after wearing this she started to stand and wander around by herself."

"It’s amazing. My dog stopped walking and standing completely because of arthritis but a couple of hours after wearing this she started to stand and wander around by herself."

Dog Hip brace

What Should I Do if My Dog has Osteoarthritis or Arthritis?

Early detection of osteoarthritis or arthritis enables more effective management of them as conditions.  Therefore if you think your dog might be suffering, it’s essential you get a vet’s appointment to check it out.

Your vet will give your dog a physical examination and palpation (using fingers to locate pain and assess its intensity) and take X Rays. X Rays may also be used to monitor the status and progression of the disease. CT or MRI Scans, or an arthroscopy - when a tiny camera is inserted into the joint to see the joint and cartilage - may also be recommended. During an arthroscopy tiny bits of joint or cartilage that have been problematic can sometimes be removed.

Once a diagnosis is made you and your vet can decide upon a treatment plan.

"I have an American Akita who is struggling with arthritis and now not sturdy on back legs.How do the dogs go to toilet using the wheels"

"I have an American Akita who is struggling with arthritis and now not sturdy on back legs.How do the dogs go to toilet using the wheels"

Read about dog wheelchairs here

What Causes Dog Osteoarthritis & Arthritis?

Arthritis is usually associated with the ageing process and normal wear and tear of life. As a dog ages, wear and tear on their joints accumulate which lead to degenerative changes. 

However, younger dogs can also develop it if their joints have grown abnormally and don’t fit well together (developmental joint disease). 

In addition, genetics, joint instability, body conformation (how it’s built), and previous injuries - ligament tears or fractures - can all play a role in its development. 

Beyond this, certain conditions such as Lyme disease, or infections, can trigger joint inflammation which, if not treated promptly, can lead to chronic arthritis in dogs.

Bodyweight, obesity, gender, exercise, and diet are all also contributing factors of osteoarthritis and arthritis.

Osteoarthritis falls into two classifications: either primary or secondary.

Primary osteoarthritis stems from an unknown cause. It’s triggered by the ageing process, including wear and tear on the joints. 

Secondary osteoarthritis refers to the condition occurring because of another condition e.g. hip or elbow dysplasia, trauma, patellar luxation, or injury to a joint.

So what’s actually happening inside an arthritic or osteo-arthritic joint? The cartilage of the joint, which gives bones their smooth surface so they can glide against each other without friction, is being destroyed. This cartilage isn’t replaced by the body. Cartilage doesn’t have a nerve supply so the disease is able to advance for some time without any outward signs being present.

However, the cartilage loss means bone is eventually rubbing against bone. As dog arthritis develops, bony spurs (extra bone that’s not needed) and thickening of the tissue around the joint can occur. The additional bony spurs cause even more pain.

Your dog may start moving in different ways to avoid the pain. This can cause weight to be loaded in other areas of the body that shouldn’t be carrying it, which can result in new musculoskeletal problems. 

When the bones start rubbing against each other, the pain from that can result in a separate phenomenon called ‘central sensitisation’. This is when the central nervous system reacts to pain by effectively creating a pain ‘feedback loop’ - sending pain signals as efficiently as possible back to the brain, which is now on high alert for it. Pain then becomes so prominent that it could be seen as effectively a separate issue.

As the disease can progress ‘silently’, even if you’re looking out for signs or symptoms in your dog, they may not be evident until the arthritis has advanced past a certain point.

Can I Prevent my Dog from Developing Dog Osteoarthritis & Arthritis?

Some risk factors, particularly genetically inherited ones, are unavoidable. However, proactive measures can help to minimise the risk and severity of arthritis.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight through proper nutrition and regular exercise is crucial. Studies have shown that skinnier dogs have a longer life expectancy, and are less likely to develop osteoarthritis. One demonstrated that 25% food restriction actually increased median life span by 15%. There’s a high correlation between a dog being overweight or obese, and developing osteoarthritis. To put it another way, a dog being the right weight can delay the onset of osteoarthritis.
  • Joint supplements with active ingredients of glucosamine and chondroitin can also help support joint health.
  • Omega 3 supplementation supports joint health and helps control inflammation
  • Appropriate rate of growth as puppies is important. A puppy growing slowly and keeping a healthy weight through to adulthood is one of the most important ways to prevent osteoarthritis. This is because bones are able to develop in sync with each other, without abnormality.
  • Delay neutering until a dog’s reached full maturity. This can minimise the risk of developing the bone abnormalities that are associated with a dog being neutered too early in their life.

What Age does a Dog get Osteoarthritis / Arthritis?

Although the majority of arthritis and osteoarthritis is seen in older dogs, much younger dogs can also start to show signs of developing the disease, even as young as one years old. This is especially the case if your dog has suffered from any joint injury as mentioned above. It is also sadly the case that some breeds are much more prone to early onset, most commonly recognised is very active dogs and larger breed dogs.

What Dog Breeds Suffer from Dog Osteoarthritis & Arthritis?

Larger breeds and athletic or working dogs are recognised as being more at risk. However, these conditions are being increasingly identified across all breeds.

Specific breeds that are born with a susceptibility to developing arthritis or osteoarthritis at an earlier age are:

Toy and Small Breeds

  • Miniature Poodles
  • Boston Terriers
  • Chihuahuas
  • Pugs
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Welsh Corgis
  • Dachshunds

Medium to Large Breeds

  • Staffordshire Terriers
  • Labrador and Golden Retrievers
  • American and English Bulldogs
  • German Shepherds
  • Mastiffs
  • Boxers

Giant Breeds

  • Great Danes
  • St. Bernards

The British Veterinary Association and Kennel Club both run screening schemes for some of these breeds, working to lower the odds of dogs being bred who are vulnerable to arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Treatment for Osteoarthritis / Arthritis in Dogs

With arthritis or osteoarthritis, the aim of dog arthritis treatment is to keep them mobile and pain free, as well as slowing down the progression of the disease as much as possible, reducing inflammation and improving joint function.

As arthritis progresses sometimes your dog needs extra support. A lifting harness can be useful when your dog is getting out of bed in the morning or after lying down for a long period of time. More generally a sling or harness can help to give your dog extra support when needed.

While arthritis in dogs cannot be cured, a blend of measures can help to manage the condition and improve your dog's quality of life. Often it is through a combination of treatments that the best results are achieved. It can also be a case of trial and error in finding out which combination works best for your individual dog, so a regime which has worked really well for one dog, may not have the same results on another.

Depending on the severity of the disease and how far advanced it is affects what dog arthritis medicine and treatment plan your vet suggests. Obviously, over time, if the disease progresses, the treatment plan may change in order to meet your dog’s needs.

Beyond that, giving your dog a  joint supplement and a good-quality diet, high in Omega-3 fatty acids, are two of the areas which make a difference. Firstly, they can help slow the development of arthritis, and secondly, they will work to reduce inflammation and help manage symptoms once your dog’s developed it. They are also two areas which, as an owner, you can have direct control over.

Treatment often involves one or more of these:

  • Weight management / weight loss - Maintaining a healthy body weight is crucial to reduce stress on arthritic joints and minimise inflammation and damage. Being overweight puts more pressure on your dog’s joints. A study has shown that dogs who lose weight when they’re diagnosed with osteoarthritis, reduce their lameness.

  • Controlled Exercise - If your vet has confirmed it’s alright for your dog to continue exercising, take them out for short walks on a regular basis. Allow your dog to warm up, walk and even run a little but avoid strenuous exercise such as jumping, skidding, chasing balls, or running on uneven ground.

  • Regular Movement - Lying down for extended periods of time during the day may cause your dog’s joints to become stiff and painful. Little moments of movement can help avoid this.

  • Low impact exercise - Regular, low-impact exercise helps maintain joint mobility and muscle strength. Swimming or hydrotherapy is often recommended as excellent ways to exercise your dog with minimal stress on joints

  • Physiotherapy - A veterinary physiotherapist will use joint mobilisation, passive range of motion (PROM), and stretching as a way of helping your dog with arthritis. Physiotherapy can also help minimise the compensatory dysfunction in surrounding soft tissue and distant joints, that arthritis can cause.

  • Hydrotherapy - Helps to keep muscles active without the joints having to bear weight. Also helps maintain cardio health and physical condition.
  • Orthopaedic aids - Orthopaedic beds, ramps, slings and braces etc. can all help improve your dog's comfort

  • Surgery - In severe cases or when there is significant joint damage, especially in young dogs, surgical options like joint replacement or ligament repair may be considered

  • Canine Massage Therapy - This increases circulation, can help reduce pain and inflammation, and promotes mobility.

  • Acupuncture - The nervous system is stimulated by needles to release natural pain relieving and anti-inflammatory substances, such as endorphins, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters.

  • Laser Therapy - The pain signals that are transmitted by nerve cells are reduced. Nerve sensitivity is reduced. This helps to alleviate the pain of osteoarthritis.

  • Shockwave Therapy - Studies show that this is a promising treatment to alleviate the pain of osteoarthritis. Shockwaves, via an applicator, are sent to the affected area. How it works isn’t fully understood.

  • Joint Supplements - Dog arthritis supplements which have active ingredients glucosamine and chondroitin support joint health, and reduce arthritic symptoms. In addition, research has shown that foods which provide high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, can also help decrease inflammation.

  • At Home Pain Relief - Winstons Pain Formula is a supplement that, anecdotally, has good feedback about its effect on osteoarthritis pain. LED wraps  are another way to help keep your dog comfortable.

Medication

  • NSAIDS - Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories work to reduce inflammation and the associated pain. Studies show that anti-inflammatories don’t seem to halt the progression of the disease. Your dog’s prescribed NSAIDs should NOT be used with other anti-inflammatories such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • Others - Gabapentin, Tramadol or Amantadine may be used if the NSAIDs are starting to lose their effectiveness.

Joint Injections

  • Stem Cell Therapy - Injecting stem cells into the joint can reduce pain and improve the joint function and mobility. In studies, 8 out of 10 dogs with moderate to severe arthritis showed significant reduction in pain.
  • Hyaluronic Acid - In arthritic joints, the HA molecule is smaller than usual. This means the joint fluid is thinner. It’s believed injecting artificial HA into the joints alters the metabolism of the naturally HA. This in turn helps osteoarthritis pain. It’s unproven.
  • Steroids - This is a common treatment for both human and animal osteoarthritis, to decrease inflammation and for pain reduction. However it can’t be used repeatedly as it damages cartilage. Suggested use is reserving it for end stages of the disease, when there’s no cartilage left. Your dog may develop extreme hunger or aggression as a side effect.
  • Librela - This works to inhibit pain signalling and alleviate the pain from osteoarthritis. It’s a biologic therapy, meaning that it works to mimic the immune system. Its aim is to target and neutralise a protein that stimulates the pain from arthritis in animals.
  • Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycans (PSGAGS, ADEQUAN) and Polyglycan Sa - This group of drugs might be able to repair damaged cartilage and interfere with pain signalling. 

Surgery

  • Joint stabilisation - Repositioning and stabilising the joint in proper alignment (TPLO)
  • Arthroscopic surgery - Removal of bony chips and cartilage. It may take place as part of exploratory keyhole surgery.
  • Joint replacement - Replacing the diseased joint with new, smooth weight-bearing surfaces
  • Arthrodesis - Fusion of the joint
  • Ostectomy / osteotomy - Removal of the diseased parts of the joint and improving joint congruity

How to Help Around the House

There are a number of ways in which you can help your dog cope with having arthritis in their everyday life.

If you have slippery floor surfaces such as wooden or tile floors, your dog can find it painful to grip and move about because their arthritic joints are less flexible. It’s helpful to put down large non-slip rugs (concentrate on the areas your dog uses the most as a priority), or use dog boots or socks, which have non-slip soles.

It’s worth investing in an orthopaedic dog bed. These provide comfortable, orthopaedic support to your dog’s joints while they’re resting. They should be at a suitable height for your dog, so that they can get in and out of it without having to struggle or climb, i.e. not too high or too low.

Stairs can be very painful on your dog’s joints when they have arthritis, so try and limit how much your dog has to go up or down the stairs. Ideally, lift them. If they’re too large or heavy then think about getting a pet gate.  This can be a difficult decision, as many people love having their dog upstairs with them, but long flights of stairs and individual steps are a major ‘trip and fall’ hazard for your dog when they have arthritis, as well as being painful for them to navigate.

If a pet gate isn’t practical, consider a full body harness for stairs, to help support your dog and reduce the weight on your dog’s joints.

A ramp can sometimes be very helpful with any steps which you might have, or getting on and off furniture. Similarly it can be very helpful with getting your dog into and out of the car.

Make sure your dog stays warm. Heat is soothing for your dog’s sore joints. You could try a heat pad under your dog’s bed, particularly when the weather’s cold. Ensure your dog’s dried off if they’ve been in the rain.

Think about the height of your dog’s food and water bowls. Arthritis will change the way a dog uses his body so, for example, if a dog is suffering from hip arthritis, the neck and shoulders may be taking more of the strain. So if they have to lean forward heavily to eat and drink, it can cause discomfort. Raising the bowls so they’re at the same height as their elbows will make it easier for them to eat and drink.

Conclusion

Dog osteoarthritis and arthritis can heavily impact a dog’s overall wellbeing, and cause significant pain and mobility problems.  They’re life-long conditions that need long-term management. 

Quality of life can be improved with proper care and early intervention. Regular veterinary check-ups, a healthy lifestyle, and a supportive home environment are key elements in managing these joint conditions. Be aware of your dog’s specific signs of pain. If you think pain is worsening, tell your vet so that medication can be adjusted.

Looking after your dog who has arthritis is a full-time commitment, but the effort will keep the disease at bay and maintain a good quality of life for him. 

Dog Osteoarthritis & Arthritis - Causes, Prevention and How to Help

Get an in-depth look into how you can prevent, treat or at least alleviate dog osteoarthritis and arthritis. Many dogs can start showing signs of arthritis from as young as two or three years old, but most commonly in older stages for a dog. There are many joint supplements on the market, it is worth trialing a few different ones for your dog to get the best one for them. Look at Winston's Joint System, YuMove and Flexerna Omega.

Looking for help with your dog and arthritis or joint care?

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