What You Need to Know About Arthritis in Dogs

Madelene Hissom · Mar 10, 2021

Author: Amanda Brahlek

As our dogs age, they tend to slow down. While pets and people both experience a change in energy levels and physical ability, it’s important to distinguish how much of your dog’s change in pace is normal aging and how much is canine arthritis. Furthermore, if your dog does develop arthritis, you will likely wonder if you can prevent your dog’s joint discomfort and how to slow the progression of your dog’s arthritis.

With a deeper understanding of this debilitating disease and a few changes to your dog’s diet and daily routine, you can put a pep back in your dog’s step and reduce arthritis-related pain.  

What Is Dog Arthritis? 

Arthritis is a common joint disease that affects dogs and people. In fact, twenty percent of dogs will develop arthritis in their lifetime. Arthritis (or osteoarthritis) is often a combination of inflammation and deterioration of the joints. When a dog experiences arthritis, it can limit their daily activities and cause long-term chronic pain along with occasional acute pain. 

Osteoarthritis prevents the normal function of a dog’s joints. In normal joints, cartilage surrounds the bones where they come together to form a joint. This cartilage protects the bones by cushioning them, preventing the bones from rubbing against one another. Cartilage also allows the joint to move smoothly for seamless and easy articulation and movement. 

When the cartilage around the joint begins to wear away, we call this “arthritis.” Eroding cartilage causes friction between bones. The body’s immune system responds to this rubbing by triggering inflammation as a way to cushion the joint. Unfortunately, though, this inflammation and bone-on-bone rubbing causes pain and can lead to bone spurs. Without lubrication, movement within the joint also becomes more difficult. 

Arthritis primarily occurs in a dog’s hips, knees, elbows, carpal points, and paws. 

Because canine arthritis is a degenerative disease, it progresses and worsens over time. Many dogs will slowly experience greater pain and more limited mobility. This makes spotting arthritis and proactively preventing joint damage vital for a dog’s wellbeing. 

Which Dogs Are at Higher Risk of Arthritis? 

For the most part, arthritis mostly affects senior dogs but does occur in younger dogs from time to time. Arthritis also occurs more frequently in larger breeds and breeds prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, and osteochondrosis. Dogs that experience joint trauma or are highly active can also be at greater risk for arthritis. 

Some of the most common breeds to develop arthritis include: 

  • German Shepherds 
  • Labrador Retrievers 
  • Rottweilers 
  • Daschunds 
  • Great Danes 
  • St. Bernards 
  • Mastiffs 
  • Old English Sheep Dogs 
  • Newfoundlands 

Dogs that are overweight are also more likely to develop arthritis since their extra weight puts more strain on their joints.  

What Are the Signs of Canine Arthritis? 

Identifying that your dog has arthritis can make a major difference in their health and quality of life. An early diagnosis can prevent a dog’s condition from progressing rapidly. If you suspect your dog has arthritis or another joint-related issue like hip dysplasia, you will want to schedule an appointment to see your vet. 

It can be very difficult to spot the first signs of arthritis, but you may notice some subtle changes in your dog that can indicate your dog is developing a joint condition. 

Some of the first signs of canine arthritis include:  

  • Stiffness, including walking with straight legs, especially right after standing from a lying position. 
  • Crying or vocalization. When your dog plays, runs, or jumps, they may cry out just once in a while. 
  • Trouble standing up or walking on slick surfaces. 
  • Difficulty performing actions your dog used to, for example, jumping into the car or onto the sofa. 
  • Slight muscle loss. 
  • Playing more defensively or aggressively 

Over time, the symptoms of osteoarthritis become more pronounced. These signs are more apparent and alert dog owners that their best friends are struggling.  

Signs of established arthritis in dogs: 

  • Limping or lameness 
  • Dragging a paw or paws 
  • Trouble lifting a leg to go to the bathroom 
  • Joints are sore to the touch 
  • Lethargy and withdrawing from socializing 
  • Weight gain from inactivity 
  • Change in disposition, including irritability 
  • Deterioration of muscles 
  • Swollen joints 
  • Slowing down on walks 

What Can You Do to Help Your Dog Cope with Arthritis? 

Once a dog has arthritis, there is no way to cure the condition, but owners can help improve their dog’s mobility by treating the effects of arthritis. This can be done by reducing inflammation, preventing further cartilage damage, and pain management.  

The first priority for overweight dogs with arthritis is to lose weight since excess weight can cause further joint damage and severe pain. 

Your vet may prescribe your pup pain medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and suggest physical therapy. Veterinarians can also recommend exercise routines to improve your dog’s muscle tone to compensate for joint weakness.  

Some dogs respond well to acupuncture and massage for pain relief, while other dogs will need surgery. 

If your dog develops arthritis, you can make them more comfortable with an orthopedic bed, raised food bowl and water bowl, rugs to prevent slips and falls, ramps and stairs, and a joint-healthy diet. Some dogs love a heat pad added to their bed for extra pain relief. 

Preventing Canine Arthritis 

Because there is no cure for canine arthritis, it’s important to prevent your dog from developing arthritis. 

One of the most important steps in arthritis prevention happens long before most dog owners even think about their best friend’s joint health, during puppyhood. Slow and steady is key to proper joint development. This is why it’s not recommended that you run with a dog under the age of one or give puppies (especially large breed dogs) growth supplements--these can cause a dog to grow too fast for their joints to support. Giving your puppy a breed-size-appropriate diet can ensure proper growth for their size. 

Providing a dog with a high-quality diet with supplemental chondroitin, glucosamine, and collagen make a major difference in a dog’s joint health. Chondroitin, glucosamine, and collagen all encourage improved joint repair, greater joint lubrication, and better joint cushioning.  

Over the course of your dog’s life, keeping your dog at a healthy weight through diet and exercise can reduce the risk of arthritis. 

Dogs with Arthritis Can Live Long, Happy Lives 

With proper maintenance, dogs with arthritis can enjoy all the activities they once loved. Consulting your vet is the first step to providing your pup with their best life. You also want to maintain your dog’s weight and activity level and support their mobility around your home. Give your dog a reason to wag with joint-healthy treats. Provide your dog with a boost in glucosamine and chondroitin with delicious Natural Farm treats and learn more about how collagen can improve your dog’s joint health.