Arthritis in Dogs – Symptoms and Treatment

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/14/20242-4 minutes
A dog smiling

Arthritis in dogs is the biggest cause of chronic pain, particularly in older pets. With early diagnosis and appropriate management, your pet can continue to lead a happy life.

Arthritis in dogs is an extremely common condition and the main cause of chronic pain in dogs. According to Canine Arthritis Management, Osteoarthritis affects an estimated four out of five older dogs, and sadly it’s progressive – meaning that it cannot be cured and gradually worsens. However, there are plenty of management options available to help slow the disease progression and alleviate the symptoms. Many dogs continue to live a happy and otherwise healthy life after diagnosis.

If you suspect your senior dog has arthritis, you’ll probably be wondering about the symptoms and the current dog arthritis treatment and management options available. To help, we’ve created this guide to tell you everything you need to know about arthritis in dogs.

What is Arthritis in Dogs?

There are different types of arthritis in dogs, but usually, we are referring to Osteoarthritis (OA). In a healthy joint, the bone surfaces are covered with a thin layer of smooth cartilage and a small amount of joint fluid to lubricate them. This allows them to glide over each other without friction, so your dog can move freely. 

In a joint affected with Osteoarthritis, there is degeneration of the cartilage and underlying bone, leading to joint instability and pain. The process is a cycle, with these structural changes causing further inflammation and degeneration. This can also cause bone remodeling where there is new bone growth further affecting joint movement as well as weakening of the soft tissue structures around the joint – the muscles, tendons and ligaments. 

Potential Causes of Arthritis in Dogs 

Arthritis in dogs’ legs or other joints (such as within the neck) is associated with aging and is most commonly seen in older pets. There are other risk factors that predispose a dog to developing arthritis.

Any cause of abnormal loading of weight on the joints can increase degeneration of the cartilage. These include joint abnormalities, such as hip dysplasia, incorrect joint development from under or overexercise as a puppy, or an injury that affects the joint, such as ligament damage and fractures.

There are also certain breeds which can be genetically predisposed to arthritis, including Labradors, Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Rottweilers and Golden Retrievers. It’s worth noting that while these breeds are more predisposed to it, arthritis can affect any dog as they age.

Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs

Arthritis in dogs is associated with a range of symptoms, including: 

  • Stiffness which will generally be worse after exercise or after waking up 
  • Lameness or limping 
  • Lethargy and unwillingness to exercise 
  • Reluctance to jump or climb stairs 
  • Change in gait, taking shorter paces 
  • Losing muscle and muscle tone 
  • Licking or chewing painful areas 
  • Groaning when lying down or getting up 
  • Difficulty with toileting positions, e.g., a male cocking his leg

If your dog displays any of the symptoms listed above, take them to the vet for a checkup. Early diagnosis and good quality arthritis management can help keep your pet more comfortable.

Dog Arthritis Diagnosis

At a vet appointment, the vet will ask a range of questions to help you understand what signs your pet is showing and what impact this is having on their life. If your veterinarian suspects your dog has arthritis, they’ll perform a thorough health check. This will include an orthopedic examination that may involve flexing and extending your dog’s joints and watching them walk. This will give an initial indication of whether your pet is experiencing pain in certain joints and helps to start ruling out other causes of joint disease. Your vet is likely to suggest further diagnostics, such as X-rays, to look for signs of joint disease.

Dog Arthritis Treatment 

There is currently no cure for arthritis in dogs, but with lifelong management and appropriate veterinary care, you can help keep your dog comfortable and happy. A vet will advise the most appropriate management plan for each individual.

Supplements for Arthritis in Dogs

It’s a good idea to also ask your vet about giving your dog supplements. Certain supplements, such as Purina Pro Plan Joint Care are available in the form of tablets, liquids or powders. Purina Pro Plan Joint Care supplements come in an easy and convenient chew form, and hip and joint supplements, such as EverRoot oils and soft chews, are also easy to serve directly over or in addition to your dog’s food. 

How Long Can a Dog With Arthritis Live?

The lifespan of a dog with arthritis depends on various factors, like the severity of the illness, their overall health and the treatment they receive. While arthritis can impact a dog’s quality of life, with the proper treatment and care, most arthritic dogs can live normal lives for several years after diagnosis.

Can You Walk a Dog With Arthritis?

Yes, dogs with arthritis can enjoy walks, but it’s important to make sure you adapt the length and pace of the walk according to your dog’s needs. Often, shorter walks on a leash are best as they can get the exercise they need without experiencing fatigue or joint stress.

A regular routine of short- to medium-length walks is better than sporadic, longer walks.  Always make sure you’re paying attention to your dog’s behavior on walks, and if they look like they’ve become too tired or uncomfortable, take a break and adjust your plans. 

If you notice they struggle towards the end of a 30-minute walk, for example, or they’re particularly stiff the next day, you may need to adjust their walks. Reducing them to 20 to 25 minutes or splitting the longer walk into a couple of 15-minute walks spread throughout the day may help.

Your vet should also be able to discuss an exercise plan personalized to your dog’s needs so that they can enjoy life as much as possible.

For more expert tips on senior dogs, explore our other senior dog health articles. 

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