Understanding arthritis in dogs

dog running

The term ‘arthritis' means inflammation of the joints and is used to describe a variety of conditions that can develop in any joint in a dog of any age.

Common in large breeds, and obese and older dogs, osteoarthritis occurs when joint cartilage is unable to remain healthy or to repair itself after being damaged.

Symptoms include stiffness and difficulty rising, problems climbing stairs or jumping into the car, lagging behind on walks, lameness, or an awkward gait, and swelling of the affected joint.

Dogs with osteoarthritis normally suffer a gradual onset of the disease, but for some dogs it only becomes evident after a specific incident, such as bumping or straining a joint that was already arthritic.

Treatment usually involves the prescription of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain-relieving medicines. Regular controlled gentle exercise is important, as is controlling the dog's weight to prevent obesity. A long-term condition, ongoing management is vital to keep affected dogs comfortable and mobile.

Although there's no cure for arthritis there are various treatments that can help arthritic dogs:

  • Anti-inflammatory pain-relieving medication - called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Nutraceuticals such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, which can relieve pain and reduce joint inflammation. Essential fatty acid supplements may also help.
  • Acupuncture - involves placing small needles into sites on the body where they can have an effect on the nervous system to modulate pain.
  • Physiotherapy can help dogs to keep mobile and maintain their muscle strength, and relieve pain and stiffness.
  • Hydrotherapy and swimming.
  • Magnetic therapy such as magnetic collars. 


Can you prevent arthritis in dogs?

Degenerative joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis, is a normal consequence of the wear and tear that occurs with age. Both us and our pets will experience some degree of arthritic change in our joints as we get older. An acceleration in this process occurs in joints that have been injured, and in pets who have a range of underlying diseases, or are overweight. Feeding a healthy diet helps to keep a dog as healthy as possible, and maintaining normal to lean bodyweight is probably the single most significant factor in helping to avoid arthritic change. Feeding food supplements, such as glucosamine and essential fatty acids, is claimed to aid joint health and might help to treat dogs with early arthritic disease.