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Home > Dogs > Arthritis In Dogs: Vet Approved Signs & Care

Arthritis In Dogs: Vet Approved Signs & Care

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Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maja Platisa

Veterinarian, DVM MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Arthritis is a complex condition that affects the joints. Sometimes one joint is affected, while in some dogs, multiple joints are problematic. Usually, inflammation is involved, as well as wear and tear of the joint. Typically, arthritis becomes an issue when it interferes with the activities of the dog’s daily life.

There is no cure for arthritis. However, it can be managed to reduce the dog’s pain and allow them to live a normal life.

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Causes of Arthritis

There is no single cause of arthritis. Instead, it is caused by a wide variety of different conditions. Larger dogs seem to be more prone to arthritis, as there is more weight on their joints. Dogs that are overweight are even more likely than dogs at a healthy weight. Again, this is because their joints are holding up more weight and therefore undergo more wear and tear.

Underlying conditions like canine hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and luxating patella can all increase the likelihood of arthritis, as they cause more wear on the joints. Some activities can cause excess damage, such as excessive jumping and anything that puts unnecessary strain on the joints. Some injuries increase the chance as well—for instance, fractures, ligament damage, and erosion of the cartilage.

Certain infections can cause arthritis. For instance, Lyme disease and bacterial infections have both been shown to cause arthritis in some dogs.1

Getting old is not a cause of this condition. It is not simply something that occurs with old age, but it does get worse as the dogs get older and the joint function reduces.

Signs of Arthritis in Dogs

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There are many different signs of arthritis. Difficulty getting up and down is often common. However, these are not the only signs. Some dogs walk stiffly and may be lame in one of their legs. Many dogs may not want to go up and down the stairs, as this may cause pain in their joints. Stiff and swollen joints may also occur. You won’t always notice a difference, though. Sometimes, a vet can notice this through palpation and a physical exam, but radiographs or other scans are often required to confirm the diagnosis.

Dogs may also lose stamina and fatigue faster since they may spend more energy to try and keep up with their usual pace. They may also be aggressive towards other dogs and people, as they may be in pain.



There is no magic bullet to combat arthritis. There is no cure. Instead, arthritis must be managed. Your goal should be to reduce pain and improve your dog’s overall life.

1. Dietary Changes

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Image Credit: chendongshan, Shutterstock

Sometimes, nutrition changes may be necessary. Supplements or a complete change in dog food may be recommended by your vet. Sometimes normalizing body weight is also required if your dog is overweight, as this can cause more problems with their joints. However, you shouldn’t try any nutritional supplements without speaking to your vet first.

2. Medications

Sometimes, prescriptions are recommended as well. NSAIDs are the most common line of defense and work well for most canines. Other anti-inflammatory drugs may also be used. However, some of them, such as steroids, cannot be used alongside NSAIDs. Instead, they must be used separately, depending on which one works best for your canine.

Gabapentin can be used alongside either of these medications for extra pain relief. It is best for dogs with serious chronic pain. It may be particularly useful for dogs who are unable to take NSAIDs. You shouldn’t try to treat your dog with pain medication made for people, as this can cause significant problems and lead to toxicity. Your vet will recommend the most appropriate painkillers for your dog depending on their general health and tolerance, as not all dogs can have these medications. Also, long term, your vet will advise on regular checks and blood testing to make sure the medication is not putting any strain on your dog’s kidneys, liver, or digestive tract. Like with most meds, long-term usage may lead to adverse effects.

Nutraceuticals may also be helpful. These are products that contain nutrients, vitamins, glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids, and polysulfated glycosaminoglycans and similar ingredients. They may be labeled to help with joint disease, depending on what they contain. You should ask your vet before trying any, as they may interfere with the dog’s current nutritional plan. Furthermore, some may not work as well as you’d hope and many still do not have research-proven efficacy.

If you use nutraceuticals, it is important to check out the scientific information behind them. For instance, green-lipped mussels are often recommended because they have performed well in trials. This isn’t true for all nutraceuticals, though.

3. Homeopathic or Traditional Methods

Sometimes, things like acupuncture may also help. Massage and chiropractic methods often help dogs with arthritis as well. Physical rehabilitation, hydrotherapy, and gentle muscle-strengthening exercise may be recommended for some dogs. Alternative options may be recommended as well.


Making Your Dog More Comfortable

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Image Credit: Christin Lola, Shutterstock

On top of providing your dog with the proper treatment, you should also take small steps to improve your dog’s pain. For instance, soft bedding can help with providing your dog with a comfortable and supportive bed to alleviate discomfort. Raised food and water dishes are also recommended, as they will prevent your dog from bending over quite as much. Non-skid floor surfaces can help your dog keep their balance when their mobility starts to decrease. A ramp for your car and couch may prevent jumping, which can cause many dogs joint pain.

Plus, you should adhere to your dog’s treatment method.

Long-Term Care

Arthritis cannot be cured. However, dogs can still have a normal life expectancy with a good quality of life.

Consistent and careful management is important to provide your dog with as much of a pain-free life as possible. Their lifestyle and activity level should correspond with their age and health, and focusing on mental stimulation, puzzle games, and short bursts of moderate physical activity will be more appropriate at this stage, tailored to their individual needs. Your vet can provide details about how to do this. You should plan on caring for your dog long-term.


Image Credit: Roger costa morena, Shutterstock

This condition can be prevented, or at least delayed in most cases. It is essential that dogs are fed appropriately when they are puppies. Otherwise, they can grow too large too quickly, which can cause all sorts of problems. For instance, the joints may grow at uneven rates, which can cause unnecessary wear and tear. This will cause arthritis, which is the body’s way of preventing more wear and instability.

This can’t always be predicted, though. For instance, abnormalities and injuries can cause problems as well, even if it is years down the line. Old injuries can act up later in life, for instance. It may be impossible to completely prevent this condition. However, with proper care, the onset of arthritis can be delayed or the severity reduced.

Regular exercise and optimal body conditions are important. Dogs that are overweight and not exercising properly can develop arthritis later in life.


Final Thoughts

Arthritis is not deadly, but it can significantly affect your dog’s life. The pain can make it difficult for them to move around properly and may make your dog’s life terribly difficult and painful.

Luckily, this condition can be managed, though it cannot be cured. With the proper medication and management, many dogs can live almost normal lives. It may take a bit to find the perfect medication for your canine. Some dogs often have to go through many different medication regimens before they find one that works for them.

This disease can be prevented or at least delayed with proper exercise and diet throughout life, especially during puppyhood. This will allow the joints to grow properly and prevent wear and tear.

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