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Dog Arthritis

Slowing up? Your dog might have osteoarthritis.

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What is arthritis?

Osteoarthritis, often referred to just as arthritis, is a painful disease caused by wear and tear of a joint. It makes movement difficult and sore.

Affected dogs are usually in their middle and senior years but arthritis can be seen in younger dogs, especially those with developmental joint problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia.

Most commonly arthritis affects the hips, elbows and knees but it can involve any joint. 

You can make your dog more comfortable by employing simple strategies, and planning the best treatment for your dog with your vet. 

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Why does it develop?

Roughening and loss of the cartilage within a joint leads to arthritis. Healthy cartilage acts to smooth movement, and without it joints become stiff and inflamed.

Daily wear and tear leads to loss of cartilage, which is why arthritis is so common. Most dogs, if not all, will develop some amount of arthritis throughout their life. 

Dogs are more likely to develop severe arthritis if:

  • They are overweight
  • They have suffered injury to a joint
  • They have joint development problems such as dysplasia
  • They do a lot of hard exercise 

Can arthritis be cured?

There is no cure for arthritis. However, you can make your dog more comfortable and slow down the progression of arthritis by using simple strategies, supplements and medications.


The earlier you start supporting your dog and their arthritis, the more successful you are likely to be.

Even with help you may find that your dog still has bad days or periods. These are sometimes associated with cold, damp weather, or excessive exercise. These are likely to increase in severity and frequency as your dog ages.

This means that you will have to manage your dog’s arthritis for the rest of their life.

The signs

Often the first indication your dog is suffering from arthritis is that they seem to be slowing down. Don’t think of this as just a ‘normal’ old age change – just like us, arthritis affects movement because it is painful. It is important to see your local Vets4Petsvet if you suspect your dog has arthritis.

Specific signs include:

  • Difficulty climbing stairs
  • An overall decrease in activity, especially play
  • Resting more than usual
  • Being slow to rise from lying down
  • Slowing down on walks, or refusing walks
  • Slow or stiff movements upon waking, after a rest, or in cold weather
  • Reduced ability to jump up
  • Reduced ability to bend joints
  • Licking at a joint 

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Diagnosis

Your vet may be able to diagnose your dog with arthritis after a full physical examination, and asking you questions about their behaviour at home.

They will bend and stretch your dog’s legs to see how much movement they have, and will watch the way they move.

If your vet needs more information, they may do an x-ray of your dog’s joints to assess them and look for arthritic changes. This helps rule out other problems too.

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How can I help?

Lots of different treatments are used for osteoarthritis in dogs. This is because each case is different, and because using multiple treatments together often has a better outcome than using a single treatment alone.

Many of these involve changes you can make at home, with support from your Vets4Petsteam. 

Using ramps to get into the car, restricting the times your dog needs to use stairs, and providing a thick comfortable sleeping spot are all ways you can make life easier for your arthritic dog at home. 

Exercise strengthens the muscles that support joints.  Moderate amounts of low-impact exercise also improve mobility.

Exercise should be little and often, as too much exercise or high-impact exercise may cause your dog’s joints to become more painful.

Hydrotherapy is a good way to provide low-impact exercise for your arthritic dog in a safe and warm environment. 

All dogs with arthritis benefit from being a healthy weight. 

Approximately half of all dogs are overweight or obese. For these dogs losing even 10% of their bodyweight can have visible results on their arthritis.

Vets4Pets clinics will be able to support you with dieting your dog, with weigh-ins and advice on food and exercise appropriate for your dog. 

Medication

Some dogs with arthritis do not need any medication or supplements at all, and are simply managed with changes to diet, exercise and home routine.

In more painful cases, dogs may need extra help to be comfortable.  These may be needed as soon as your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, or can be added in at a later stage as your dog’s arthritis worsens. 

This joint-supportive injection is given weekly for four weeks and claims to help with cartilage production and protect against cartilage damage. This cannot be used at the same time as anti-inflammatory drugs. While reports of success are mixed, cartrophen is safe and is also anecdotally successful for some dogs. 
Lots of supplements are available for arthritis in dogs. These contain various ingredients, most commonly a source of glucosamine and chondroitin.  While clinical evidence for supplements is mixed, they are very safe and anecdotally can be helpful in arthritis cases.  Supplements claim to work by supporting joint health, and therefore have to be taken long-term. 

Anti-inflammatory drugs combat inflammation in the joints, relieving pain. These can be given long-term or in bursts as needed, but should never be given at a higher dose than recommended by your vet 

Several different types of anti-inflammatory drug are available, and your vet will recommend which is best for your dog. Some medications are liquid and others are tablets, so this may impact the most suitable choice for you and your dog.

We advise monitoring of kidney function when dogs are on these drugs long-term.

Alternative Treatments

Lifestyle changes and medication are the most common treatments for arthritis, however there are other treatments available to consider that might be suitable for your dog. 

Often best in combination with conventional treatment, acupuncture is thought to stimulate the body’s repair mechanisms. 

Acupuncture can only be done by an appropriately qualified veterinary professional. 

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PRP therapy involves using your dog’s own platelets to stimulate natural healing.

Read more about PRP