Arthritis in Dogs

June 2019

This article is written by one of our Pet Circle veterinarians, Dr Kimberley Chainey.

Is your dog showing signs of slowing down? They still love walks but they've lost that spring in their step? Maybe they can't jump up onto their favourite chair anymore. Is lying down and getting back up a huge task now?

While we might think these changes are inevitable with old age, it's likely that there's more to the story and arthritis is one of the most common conditions with see in older pets.

What is arthritis?

How to tell if your dog has arthritis

Treatment of arthritis in dogs

Understanding arthritis in dogs

Arthritis, scientifically referred to as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, is a degenerative, progressive, and irreversible condition of the joints. While the 'itis' in the word 'arthr-itis' makes us think that it is an inflammatory condition, inflammation is actually only one component of the disease process. While some degree of inflammation does occur, arthritis in dogs is also characterised by a loss of the cartilage (the soft structural component that overlies and protects the bone) and the formation of 'osteophytes' which are new pieces of bone laid down in an effort to protect the joint surface. Low-grade inflammation occurs when destructive enzymes within the joint start to break down the cartilage.

Arthritis can be classified as either primary or secondary. Primary arthritis is due to an intrinsic problem in the cartilage and is associated with ageing - this type of arthritis typically occurs in older dogs as a result of years of wear and tear on the joints. Secondary arthritis occurs due to an external factor or force disrupting the normal cartilage in the joint and most commonly affects a single joint. We typically see secondary arthritis due to physical trauma or injury, such as a cruciate ligament rupture, hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Arthritis in dogs is most often due to a secondary disease.

Common signs of arthritis in dogs
  • Lameness or limping which worsens after strenuous exercise
  • Appearing stiff, especially after rest
  • Slow to rise from sitting or lying
  • Reluctance to use stairs or jump into the car
  • Avoiding sitting or lying on hard surfaces

Treatment of arthritis in dogs

How To Help Your Dog With Arthritis from Pet Circle on Vimeo.

If you notice any change in your dog's gait or behaviour or you are concerned that your dog may be in pain, always seek veterinary advice. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination, playing close attention to the joints to assess for swelling, decreased range of motion, pain, instability and lameness. It's important to understand that many dogs won't vocalise when they are in pain, even with significant disease. As vets, we're taught to look for other important clues such as muscle wasting and stiffness to determine our patient's pain levels.

Your vet may recommend further diagnostics such as radiographs, blood work and evaluation of the joint fluid to differentiate from other diseases such as inflammatory arthritis. In some cases, surgery may be recommended such as for the management of a ruptured cruciate ligament or removal of a cartilage flap in the elbow.

While it's nice to think that a single 'wonder arthritis medication' is effective at controlling their pain long-term, in reality we need to combine techniques to be most effective. This multimodal approach means we're also less likely to see side effects associated with certain therapies. Most cases of arthritis in dogs are managed through a combination of pain relief medication, weight management, physiotherapy, environmental changes (like a supportive bed or access ramps) and the use of therapeutic diets or arthritis supplements.

Top arthritis supplements for dogs

Shop all Arthritis Supplements for Dogs

Remember, you can make a difference! In all cases, there are a few important steps that you can take at home which can significantly improve your dog's quality of life and pain.