Arthritis In Dogs

Arthritis is a severe issue for both humans and dogs. But there are ways using which you can manage your pet’s pain. Arthritis is among the most common diseases in middle-aged and older dogs. Even young dogs may suffer from it despite being fit and active. The condition can cause severe changes in the dog’s joint area and can induce pain in the space responsible for many of the signs associated illness.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is also known as Degenerative Joint Disease, DJD, Osteoarthritis or OA, and refers to inflammation of one or mutiple joints. DJD can be a result of any traumatic injury, joint infection(s), physical deformities, genetic predispositions, or a problem with the immune system. This disease is very painful, progressive and even scarier is the fact that it is permanent. It can also lead to joint deformities, lameness, loss of standard joint functions and stiffness. The complication of Arthritis depends on the number of joints involved and the general health and the age of the dog. In some serious cases, it can be wholly deliberating and crippling. It's very unfortunate that this condition is very general in companion dogs.

Signs & Symptoms of Arthritis

The signs and symptoms are gradual, slow and progressively worsens over time. Extreme signs are not specific and can mimic other conditions. The initial symptoms are so mild and subliminal that the observant himself in most cases may miss noticing those signs. Eventually, with time, one will see noticeable changes in the dog’s behavior and acts. The primary and noticeable symptoms include:

  1. Lethargic behavior
  2. Reluctant to move
  3. Stiffness, especially after vigorous exercise or a prolonged period of rest or sleep
  4. Swollen joints which feel warm and tender when one touches them
  5. Noticeable joint deformities
  6. Painful joints, when it palpates or moves
  7. A prolonged period of rest or sleep, generally more than the usual standard
  8. Disinterest in physical activities
  9. Weight gain, followed by depression and irritability
  10. Become aggressive when someone touches its joints
  11. Appetite loss and an unusual stance when it walks

The breeds suffering from Arthritis will wake up slower in the morning and take up longer duration naps in the day. The dog will invest more time in sleeping and resting, eventually becoming fatty which will aggravate the effect of the disease. If the condition affects only a single leg, then the animal will become a three-legged lame. If not taken care off, Arthritis will affect other parts of the joints. The progression will depend on several factors including the breed of the dog, the nutrition, genetics, etc. with some other factors such as weight and age of the dog.

So Which Breeds Are More Prone To Arthritis?

There is no general disposition by breed and gender that increases the chances of developing Arthritis in them. Though it mostly affects the older and aging dogs. However, breeds that naturally incline towards Elbow Osteochondrosis and Dysplasia such as Labrador Retrievers, Rottweillers, and Bernese Mountain Dogs, and others have more chances of contacting Arthritis.

Dogs with a chance of developing some other conditions such as Cranial Cruciate Ligament Tear have chances of developing Degenerative Arthritis. The ones that freely roam have a higher risk of traumatic injuries making these dogs prone to develop Arthritis in those areas. Overweight dogs, athletic dogs, and working dogs suffer from similar threats. Genetics also play an essential role in promoting Arthritis.

Diagnostic Process for Arthritis

Initial Diagnosis

After the history and physical exams are done, the initial diagnosis for aging dogs includes collecting the urine and blood samples. Later it is submitted to the hospital for further investigation. These tests do not provide much diagnostic information about the overall condition but provide some useful information about the dog’s inflammation and infection according to their geriatric baseline health. X-rays play an essential role in identifying and assessing Arthritis.

The Next Steps

The tests can show changes in the joint capsules, soft tissue thickening, shrinking of the joint spaces, joint effusion, cartilage buildup, modifications of the bones, mineralization of the soft tissues, Osteophytes, and other physical changes that are known to be accompanied with Arthritis. In most cases, the X-Rays do not always show the degree of abnormality of the bones and tissues and the actual condition may be more severe than the owner might think.

Another process by the name of Bone Nuclear Scintigraphy can help the doctor in localizing the site(s) of the degenerative joint disease. Analyzing the synovial fluid can help the Vet to conclude on the degree of inflammation and whether any joint is at all infected. MRI and CT scan are also available to test and diagnose physical cartilage changes,  joint inconsistency and the overall reach of the dog’s Arthritis.

A particular note on this is Arthritis in most dogs is progressive and irreversible. Fortunately, in the contemporary world, this condition is quite manageable in some ways and help most of the dogs to sustain a healthy life.

Treatments And Care 

There are the options of both surgical and non-surgical drugs that can improve the condition and help the dog in living a peaceful life. Surgery is considered as the last resort and option to treat as the operations themselves have complications. They include pain and other symptoms that are already a part of Arthritis.

Non-Surgical options

Non-steroidal Anti Inflammatory Medications or NSAIDs reduces pain & inflammation

Chondroprotective Agents is an option to promote healthy cartilage repair

Examples of such agents are Polysulfated glycosaminoglycans, glucosamine, hyaluronan, chondroitin sulfate, Vitamin C, omega 3 and six fatty acids, along with MSM and others.

Opioids such as tramadol, butorphanol, among others is an option to reduce pain.

Other Possible Treatments

  • The Veterinarian might suggest dietary modifications and a weight loss program. This is because overweight Arthritis affected dogs tend to suffer more compared to regular dogs.
  • A moderate form of exercise may be the way to stimulate the cartilage repair. It also prevents to some extent the degeneration of joints. A dog may also get benefit from an extended on-leash walk in the dog park.
  • Physical therapy especially hydrotherapy and passive flexion are often part of the healing sessions for the affected dog.

Other less traditional techniques and products are massage therapy, acupressure, acupuncture, adjustment of the chiropractic. Usage of different useful herbs for homeopathic remedies can stimulate blood flow and reduce stress. However, most of these alternative remedies do not have the approval of the government. They need the supervision of the Vet doctor.


If the case becomes too severe and unmanageable, the next most viable option will be surgery. Under the surgical option, there are options like Anthroscopic and Open surgical joint replacement, with joint fusion and joint repair. According to the current trends, Arthroscopy is the most sort after option for Arthritis affected dogs.

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