Arthritis in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment and Managing Pain

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An older dog with a concerned expression, limping slightly, indicating arthritis pain.

What is canine arthritis?

Arthritis in dogs is a joint disease causing inflammation and pain. It’s common and affects dogs of all ages. Cartilage deterioration leads to bone-on-bone contact, resulting in stiffness, limping, and reduced mobility. Causes include genetics, aging, obesity, and injuries. Proper diagnosis, medication, lifestyle changes, and supportive therapies are crucial for managing pain and improving the dog’s well-being.


Have you ever noticed your furry friend slowing down and having trouble getting up from their favorite spot on the couch? It could be a sign of canine arthritis.

Canine arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a common condition that affects dogs as they age. This condition causes the cartilage in your dog’s joints to break down, leading to a progressive loss of function and mobility. The hip joint is one of the most commonly affected areas.

According to recent statistics, it’s estimated that over 20% of dogs over the age of 1 have been diagnosed with arthritis. That’s a staggering number, and it highlights just how important it is to understand this condition and the impact it can have on our four-legged friends.

What breeds/ages are prone to canine arthritis?

Usually, DJD occurs secondarily due to trauma, nutritional disorders, or infections. It is prevalent in middle-aged to geriatric dogs (and sometimes in cats). Did you know that some young dogs with hip dysplasia can develop DJD too? Hip dysplasia is a common joint problem that affects larger breeds and breed mixes.

What medications are used to treat canine arthritis?

The goal of medicine for DJD is to make your pet more comfortable and help their joints. The most common medicines for this are called NSAIDs, which help with pain and swelling. They also help slow down any damage to the joints and help repair them.

  • Aspirin, an NSAID, is probably used more often than any other medication to treat DJD in dogs. Although effective in most dogs, aspirin does have gastrointestinal side effects.
  •  Carprofen (Rimadyl®) is significantly more potent than aspirin and has a very wide margin of safety. Rare instances of liver toxicity have been reported in dogs receiving carprofen.
  • Etodolac (EtoGesic® has potent analgesic activity. At the recommended dosage, Etodolac presents little potential for developing stomach ulcers.
  • Chondroprotective agents are drugs that help protect cartilage as it attempts to repair itself. They have become increasingly popular in treating DJD.
  • -Two such drugs are Cosequin® and Glyco-flex®. They consist of glucosamine and purified chondroitin sulfate, major building blocks of cartilage. Cosequin and Glyco-flex are neutraceuticals, i.e. dietary supplements or food additives that do not require FDA approval.
  • When it comes to treating DJD in dogs, there are two options: medicine and Adequan®. Medicine, like NSAIDs, helps control pain and swelling. But Adequan® takes it a step further by also protecting the cartilage in the joint. This special medicine is given as a shot and works best when given early on. If your dog has DJD, your vet may give them both medicine and Adequan® for extra relief. And just like with puppies with hip dysplasia, giving Adequan® early can lead to great improvements, as seen on x-rays.

Another important factor to consider in the treatment of DJD is weight management. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the stress on the joints and slow down the progression of the disease. In some cases, dietary changes may be recommended to help support joint health.

Physical therapy and exercise are also important components of treatment for DJD. Gentle, low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, and therapy exercises can help increase mobility, reduce pain, and improve joint function. In some cases, a veterinarian may also recommend using assistive devices such as braces or carts to help support the affected joints.

In conclusion, there are many different options available for treating dogs with DJD. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are key to achieving the best outcomes for your pet. Talk to your veterinarian about the best course of treatment for your dog and work together to keep them comfortable and pain-free for as long as possible.

Are there other ways, besides drug therapy, to treat dogs with canine arthritis?

Drug therapy is most effective when combined with appropriate exercise and weight management. Non strenuous exercises, such as swimming or walking, is therapeutic and may enhance the nutrition of cartilage. Dogs should be exercised on a regular schedule, and strenuous, high-impact activities should be avoided. Overweight dogs should be placed on an appropriate diet. Dogs with DJD may benefit from being somewhat underweight.

Is surgery an option for dogs with canine arthritis?

If the medicine isn’t working for your dog’s hip dysplasia, you have options! One surgery is called a femoral head osteotomy, where the vet removes the top of the thigh bone to stop the pain. Another is called a triple pelvic osteotomy, where the vet changes the position of the hip socket. If these don’t work, your dog can even get a total hip replacement with a prosthetic device!

Is acupuncture used to treat canine arthritis?

Some pet owners turn to acupuncture when their dogs have pain from hip dysplasia and DJD, but there’s limited research to support its effectiveness. A lot of people use it to help their dogs who are in pain from hip dysplasia and arthritis.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the first signs of arthritis in dogs?

Common initial indications of arthritis in dogs may encompass stiffness, challenges in rising or resting, a limp, and reduced levels of activity.

 What are the symptoms of arthritis in dogs hind legs?

Symptoms of arthritis in a dog’s hind legs can include lameness, difficulty walking or climbing stairs, muscle loss, and changes in gait.

What are the symptoms of severe arthritis in dogs?

Severe arthritis in dogs may manifest as chronic pain, joint deformities, difficulty in standing or moving, and a noticeable decrease in mobility.

Can dogs develop arthritis in their back legs?

 Yes, dogs can develop arthritis in their back legs. This condition can cause pain, stiffness, and difficulty in walking or jumping.

At what age do dogs typically get arthritis?

Dogs can develop arthritis at any age, but it is more commonly seen in older dogs, particularly those over the age of seven.

How do you treat arthritis in dogs?

Arthritis in dogs can be managed through a combination of approaches, including medication, weight management, physical therapy, exercise, and providing a comfortable environment.

How can I treat my dog with arthritis at home?


 Home treatment options for dogs with arthritis include providing joint supplements, maintaining a healthy weight, providing a supportive bed, and engaging in low-impact exercise.

What is the best arthritis medicine for dogs?

The best arthritis medicine for dogs can vary depending on the specific case. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and joint supplements are commonly prescribed by veterinarians.

Are there over-the-counter arthritis medicines for dogs?

Yes, there are over-the-counter arthritis medicines available for dogs. However, it is important to consult with a veterinarian before administering any medications to ensure their safety and efficacy.

When should I consider euthanizing a dog with arthritis?

The decision to euthanize a dog with arthritis is a personal and difficult one. It is best to consult with a veterinarian who can assess the dog’s quality of life and provide guidance based on their individual condition.

The following information isn’t intended to replace regular visits to your veterinarian. If you think your dog may have canine arthritis, please see your veterinarian immediately. And remember, please do not give any medication to your pet without talking to your veterinarian first.

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