Elderly dog lying on its bed

Arthritis in dogs

  • Arthritis is very common in older dogs as joint function deteriorates with age 
  • But it can affect younger dogs after an injury or those with joint and bone development problems
  • Weight control and appropriate daily exercise is vital to help manage symptoms
  • Drug treatments help alleviate pain and increase mobility

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition which causes inflammation in the joints, making movement painful and difficult. Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is the term used to describe the progressive deterioration of the joints as a result of the inflammation. 

What are the signs and symptoms of arthritis in dogs?

Arthritis is a progressive disease with symptoms that gradually develop and worsen over time. The first thing you’re likely to notice is your dog starting to slow down; they may take it easier on walks, be reluctant to play as much or they may no longer go up the stairs or jump on their favourite chair. Book your dog in for a vet check-up if you notice any of these signs.

Other symptoms of arthritis include:

Elderly dog Hector sitting on a lap
There are a number of arthritis symptoms
  • Limping or lameness
  • Stiff gait, likely to be worse after exercise and when first waking up
  • Groaning or caution when laying down or getting back up
  • Wary of you touching the joints affected
  • Muscle wasting
  • Tiredness
  • Irritability 
  • Licking or chewing on areas that may be painful

What causes arthritis in dogs?

Most commonly, arthritis affects older dogs and is caused by wear and tear on the joints. 

But it can also be the result of:
•    An injury such as ligament damage or broken bones
•    Hip dysplasia, which is a deformity of the joints, often caused by bad breeding
•    Under-development of joints, caused by too little or too much exercise during puppyhood

Bichon Frise Edna sitting in her bed

How can arthritis be diagnosed?

Your vet may diagnose arthritis based on a history of symptoms and is likely to do a physical examination to test for stiffness, pain and/or swelling of the joint. Where arthritis is suspected in younger dogs, or if there’s a possibility of joint surgery that could be helpful, X-rays or other scans may be done to establish the underlying cause.

How can it be treated?

Chihuahua sits in a bed
Arthritis can be managed well in most cases

There is no cure for arthritis, but the pain can often be managed with anti-inflammatories and/or painkillers. Relieving pain improves mobility which helps to maintain supporting muscle mass. Weight control is vital in managing symptoms and supplements such as YuMove are said to reduce stiffness, promote better joint health and increase mobility. But dogs with arthritis are likely to need medication; your vet will be able to advise on this.  Massage, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy may also help. In some cases, surgery may be advised but it’s unlikely that surgery will restore perfect joint function for life. New therapies, such as stem cell therapy, are also becoming more available for dogs and some seem to yield promising results.

How can I manage my dog’s arthritis?

A healthy diet, maintaining an optimum weight and the right amount of exercise will also improve symptoms.  Discuss with your vet what exercise regime is best for your dog but - in general - little and often is likely to be better than very long walks. If your pet is limping on the way back, they’ve probably overdone it. Rest your pet on days they are lame or stiff. 

Providing a soft, comfortable bed will help to take pressure off of your dog’s joints when they are resting. Ramps up any stairs they need to climb or to help them into the car will also benefit your dog if they are suffering from arthritis.

Can arthritis be prevented?

Age-related arthritis can’t be prevented, but you can certainly do a number of things to help reduce the risk and delay the onset and severity of symptoms. As detailed above, this includes controlling weight through a healthy diet and regular exercise.

The risk of hip dysplasia, which can cause arthritis and is particularly prevalent in certain breeds, can be reduced by good breeding practices including the hip scoring of potential parents.

What is the prognosis for dogs with arthritis?

This will vary greatly between cases. But with careful management, it’s possible for affected dogs to have a good quality of life. However, owners will need to be mindful that certain activities, such as very long walks or agility training, may not be possible

— Page last updated 24/04/2019

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