Canine Osteoarthritis

I am 34 years old and I am one of the 13% of males, under the age of 40 years, who suffer from knee osteoarthritis. I no longer describe my knees as right and left, they are now affectionately known as ‘good knee’ and ‘bad knee’. I blame my early years as a large animal vet trying to be a James Herriot type hero coercing large, uncooperative cows, to do what I needed them to do.  My osteoarthritis is VERY mild but it affects my everyday life and I know that over time it is likely to progress.


But what exactly is osteoarthritis?

Isn’t it just a disease that we see in older people? Does it affect animals as well?

Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects the joints of the skeletal system. Cartilage is a rubbery tissue that acts as a cushion between the bones that make up joints like the knee and hip joint. Cartilage lines every joint surface in the body. When cartilage is worn away or damaged the joint becomes inflamed and the changes that occur in the structure of the joint lead to the development of osteoarthritis.

It is estimated that 20% of the adult dog population is affected by osteoarthritis.

The most common signs of osteoarthritis in the patients I see are lameness, stiffness, exercise intolerance and inability to climb or jump into the car or onto the sofa. The development of osteoarthritis is usually a slow, progressive, process and it is very easy for owners to overlook the development of osteoarthritis in their pets.


Osteoarthritis is managed using a variety of strategies.

There are four main pillars in the management of the condition;

  • weight management 
  • appropriate use of pharmaceuticals
  • joint supplementations
  • exercise modulation. 

It is very important that a veterinary surgeon helps guide the appropriate management of a patient with arthritis and this may involve taking x-rays to confirm which joints are affected by arthritis and monitoring the patient’s organ function if they are receiving pain relief medications.  

The management of patients with osteoarthritis requires a team approach. Owners must work with their pet’s veterinarians to formulate the best strategy to manage their pet’s osteoarthritis. While the supplements and pain management are best advised on by a veterinarian, weight management and exercise modulation are key factors of arthritis management which owners can manage completely.

Weight Management

Weight management and activity levels go hand in hand. One major difficulty owners face is that as their dog’s ability to exercise decreases due to osteoarthritis the dog inevitably starts to gain weight.

That’s where exercise modulation comes in!

The process of exercise modulation alters a dog’s day-to-day exercise plan in response to how much their osteoarthritis is affecting them.


But how can you accurately log and monitor your dog’s day to day exercise?

Well that’s where activity monitoring comes in. How many people use wearable technology to monitor how far they’ve ran, how many steps they’ve taken or how well they are sleeping! Well we can do exactly the same for a canine companion.

Activity monitoring prior to starting an osteoarthritis management plan helps both the owner and veterinarian gain a baseline understanding of how a patient is functioning. The data from activity monitors can show us how far a patient walks in a given week, how many walks they take over the course of a week and how restless they are overnight. Then as an osteoarthritis management plan is implemented we can look for improvements in the patient’s ability to exercise and hopefully see improvements in how long the patient can exercise for and how frequently they are able to exercise.


The data can also be used to identify trigger factors which may cause a flare in the patient’s osteoarthritis such as extended periods of off-lead exercise or a longer than usual walk along rough terrain

It is all too easy to focus on the exercise when it comes to osteoarthritis and forget an incredibly important aspect of disease managements – SLEEP! Dogs who have sore joints have shorter periods of undisturbed sleep then dogs with normal joints, we presume this is due to the aches and pains associated with the osteoarthritis. When a dog’s disease is managed successfully they sleep better, therefore, nocturnal activity levels drop because the dog is more comfortable and can sleep undisturbed. 

Activity monitoring provides us with amazing, objective data, regarding our dogs exercise patterns. If used in a smart fashion, we can use this data to help tailor a patients exercise plan to meet their health needs.

Well, my smart phone reports I have only done 4500 of my required 10,000 steps per day so I think it’s time to run away from my desk and take the dog for a walk. It seems activity monitoring can even guilt trip one man and his rather small dachshund to venture out in the rain to clock up those steps!

 Padraig Egan BVM&S CertAVP (GSAS) MRCVS is an ECVS Surgical Resident at Fitzpatrick Referrals. 

Padraig Egan BVM&S CertAVP (GSAS) MRCVS is an ECVS Surgical Resident at Fitzpatrick Referrals.