Blog Health

Arthritis in Dogs: What Is It And How Is It Treated?

Dogs can get arthritis too! Here's our vet advice on how it affects our dogs and what we can do to help them feel better.

Most people have heard of arthritis in humans, but did you know that your dog can get it too? Arthritis is a common cause of pain, especially in older dogs.

While it is a progressive condition for life, there is a lot you can do to help manage it. Continue reading on to find out a bit more on:

  • What is arthritis?
  • What causes and predispose your dog to arthritis?
  • Signs of arthritis in dogs
  • What to do if you suspect your dog has arthritis?
  • 5 Step Plan to managing dog arthritis
  • How to prevent arthritis in dogs


What is Arthritis?

Arthritis, or osteoarthritis, is a common condition particularly of older dogs.

It is a chronic disease characterised by inflammation in the joints.

When cartilage between your dog's joints becomes damaged or weakened, cover over the joints is reduced. This results in roughened, bony surfaces of the joint rubbing against each other. Further damage to the remaining cartilage then starts to occurs due to the increased friction! 

In an attempt to help, the body lays down new bone within and around the joint in response to the friction, but this just makes the joint stiffer and limits movement. Moving the joint will now be painful and your dog will avoid this by using it less. This disuse in turn weakens the surrounding muscles, ligaments and tendons putting more pressure on the joint.

It is a bit of a vicious cycle!


What causes and predisposes your dog to Arthritis?

Arthritis is a complex condition and it is unlikely to be caused by a single factor. There are many factors that contribute to the development of canine arthritis, all which result in increased wear and pressure through their joints.

Common examples of conditions that can cause dogs to develop arthritis include:

  • Old age
    • Arthritis is most commonly seen in older dogs
  • Congenital (present at birth) abnormalities to the joint
    • Canine elbow dysplasia 
    • Canine hip dysplasia
    • Luxating patellas 
  • Obesity/Increased body weight 
  • Previous orthopaedic surgery 
  • Historical injury
    • To the bone, ligament, cartilage, joint capsule or muscle 
  • Immune mediated polyarthritis
    • An auto immune condition where the body attacks its own cartilage
  • Breed - some breeds are more predisposed to arthritis due to their conformation, they include:
    • Labrador Retrievers 
    • Springer Spaniels 
    • German Shepherd Dogs
    • Golden Retrievers
    • Rottweilers 
    • Bernese Mountain dogs
    • Large/Giant breeds in general


Signs of Arthritis in Dogs

Spotting arthritis in dogs can be challenging as usually changes are gradual and worsen over time. As an owner, it can be quite hard to pick up on these changes as you see your dog every day. The signs of pain can also be quite subtle as animals are good at hiding their discomfort.


Common symptoms of arthritis you might see include:

  • Evidence of licking a particular joint or at the paws
    • This is because your dog licks the site in response to pain. If they can't reach the painful joint, you might see lick marks on paws instead, as that is a place they can reach
    • You might see your dog actively licking or you might notice red/pink patches popping up as a result of the licking
  • Stiffness of the joint 
    • As arthritis progresses the joint becomes stiffer due to changes in structure, meaning they are unable to bend it as much 
  • Swollen joint
    • You might notice a swelling over the joint associated with the inflammation (which can be subtle) it will feel soft and fluid-like
  • Lameness and hindlimb weakness 
    • Lameness can occur with the pain and stiffness as they struggle to walk, causing them to change their walking pattern
    • As your dog's lameness gets worse, he may become less able to use his leg. You might notice a noticeable loss of muscle tone over the joint.
  • Behavioural changes due to pain including depression and aggression
  • Avoiding being petted in certain areas due to pain and discomfort 
  • Difficulty standing up and sitting down
    • If your dog is a lap dog (or thinks they are), you might also notice that they are jumping up on furniture less or finding it harder to get in and out of the car
  • Reluctance to exercise
    • You might notice the length of walks gets shorter as your dog gets more reluctant to move
    • They might just seem a bit slower as if they've suddenly decided to embrace old age
    • This can be difficult to notice but use of Felcana GO can help by giving you information on your dog's activity history, so you can spot the changes over time

What to do if you Suspect your Dog has Arthritis?

Firstly, you can check if your dog might need emergency veterinary advice using our Felcana Symptom Checker.

If you suspect your dog has arthritis, we would suggest taking your dog to see your vet. This is to make sure there isn't anything else going on and to confirm that it is arthritis that your dog is suffering from, as there are other (albeit much less common) types of inflammatory joint disease.

Your vet may be able to tell which joint is affected by conducting a thorough orthopaedic exam. They will often then follow up with radiographs (X-rays) to see the extent of the changes to the joint.

You can gather some information about the changes in your dog’s behaviour and mobility to help your vet come to their diagnosis. This can be taking videos of any limping or change in gait you see and making a note of if it:

  • Is constant or intermittent
  • Is better or worse after a walk
  • Came on suddenly or gradually appeared
  • Is a static, worsening or improving condition


Managing/Treatment of Arthritis

Arthritis is not a curable condition, but there are things you can do to slow progression of the disease and provide supportive care - making your canine companion as comfortable as possible.

Management of canine arthritis requires a multi modal approach, with many of the changes being made at home along with advice and medication from your vet.

While it seems like there is a lot to do, the most important aspect of management of arthritis is consistency.

Follow these 5 simple steps and you will notice a considerable difference in the comfort of your dog:


1. Implement a controlled gentle exercise regime 

A common misconception about dogs with arthritis is that they should no longer receive regular exercise. In fact, inactivity actually worsens the progression of disease. Patients with canine arthritis benefit from gentle, consistent daily exercise. You should aim for short and frequent walks, avoiding vigorous activity (so no bounding off into a field or jumping off furniture anymore I'm afraid!).

An excellent way to monitor your dog's exercise is by using Felcana Go. This device tracks your dog's activity levels and helps you to maintain a consistent exercise plan.

Supporting an active life for your dog allows them to reduce the pressure through their joints and reduce arthritic pain by:

  • Strengthening ligaments around their joints - providing additional support and stability
  • Maintaining muscle mass and tone - strengthening the affected limb
  • Preventing fibrosis of the joints - allowing for maintenance of normal joint flexibility,
  • Lubricating their joints - reducing friction between remaining cartilage and therefore reducing further wear
  • Promoting proteoglycan production which is a component of cartilage - to better withstand compressional forces like weight bearing


2. Manage your dog's weight

Weight loss can do wonders for an arthritic joint!

Maintaining a healthy weight for your dog reduces the amount of force going through their joints as it reduces the weight that they have to support - preventing unnecessary, additional strain.

Weight management can be tricky in arthritic dogs due to their reluctance to move, however, by implementing an exercise plan as described above and providing a measured and healthy diet weight loss can be achieved.


3. Feeding joint supplements for dogs (Nutraceuticals)

You can give your dog non-prescription oral supplements that contain components that help maintain joint health. These can be given to your dog at any age. If you have a dog that is prone to developing arthritis, it may be good to start providing some joint aid early on in life!

The evidence of how effective each supplement is varies; however, it should not cause any major side effects to your dog so many people give it a go and report a good response.

There are many different supplements that you can find out there which can be quite overwhelming. Most contain Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Chondroitin Sulfate, Glucosamine and Hyaluronic Acid in various combinations. Your vet may have recommendations on specific supplements to try.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids act as an anti-inflammatory joint aid and help to lubricate the joint surfaces. The requirements and ability to process sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids vary between people and dogs - so we do recommend sourcing dog specific supplements. 


Chondroitin Sulfate and Glucosamine

Chondroitin Sulfate and Glucosamine are naturally occurring components of animal (and human) cartilage. They are often combined in the same product.

Chondroitin and Glucosamine supplements have many positive effects such as reducing inflammation. They also play a role in the maintenance of shock absorbing structures in the joint and inhibit enzymes that break down cartilage, contributing to cartilage protection.


Hyaluronic Acid 

Hyaluronic Acid has a similar structure to Glycosaminoglycan (GAG) which is a naturally occurring component of cartilage. Hyaluronic Acid acts to increase lubrication and shock absorption of the effected joint. It also has beneficial anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects. 


4. Modify your dog's environment

Small changes to your dog's environment can have a big impact on their comfort by preventing unnecessary pressure through their joints. Some examples of small changes you can do are:

  • Switching from hard to soft bedding
  • Using a harness to walk your dog
  • Placing ramps and steps where your dog may need to climb things
  • Placing food and water bowls at elbow height so they don't need to bend down as much 
  • Having non skid floors like carpet 
    • (If you don't want to rip up your beautiful wooden floors carpet runners, carpet tiles or rugs in the areas your dog uses can work just as well!)


5. Visit your Vet - Prescription Medication and Physical therapy Recommendations

Pain relief and anti-inflammatories are some of the most important contributors to long term canine arthritis management. The more comfortable your dog the more they'll take to their new exercise regime, helping to break the disuse cycle.

There are many different types of pain relief which your vet may prescribe. A common plan is to start off with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Meloxicam or Carprofen. They may then introduce other medications such as Librela, Gabapentin or Paracetamol if required.

Your vet will work with you and your dog to devise the best plan possible - there is no one size fits all for pain relief!

Alongside the gentle exercise routine, your dog will also benefit from physical therapy to create a specific plan to reduce arthritic pain. This physical therapy could include therapeutic exercises, dog massages, acupuncture and hydrotherapy using an underwater treadmill.

These therapies further enable your dog to build muscle mass around their effected joint and increase joint lubrication, taking some of the pressure of their arthritic joint.

You can chat to your vet to get recommendations for a dog physiotherapist or a centre that they usually work with.


How to Prevent Arthritis in Dogs 

Joint abnormalities and injuries can't be predicted, so arthritis may develop regardless of what we do for our dogs. Saying that, there are things we can implement early on to reduce the likelihood or delay the onset of arthritis.

The best ways to prevent/delay the development of arthritis are:

  1. Maintaining your dog's healthy bodyweight and lean physique throughout their entire life 
  2. Giving them regular and controlled exercise to keep their muscles strong and maintain joint health 
  3. Provide good, balanced nutritional food throughout their life so they have the nutrients they need to maintain the different components of their joints as they grow


Remember - Consistency is Key!

As a condition for life, managing arthritis can seem daunting and requires dedication and changes at home alongside veterinary care.

The most important thing for your dog is to ensure a good quality of life. Following the guide above and monitoring your dog's activity levels with Felcana Go might help you and your dog! 

With continuous support and adjustments as required, your dog can stay comfortable into their old age and have a normal life expectancy - they just need a little extra attention and patience to help them out!

As always, seek advice from your local veterinary surgeon if you are unsure about your dog's condition or require extra advice.