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Arthritis in dogs: Risks factors, symptoms, and treatments

November 19, 2020 6 min read

Golden retriever jumping in the fall leaves

Arthritis in dogs is an extremely common condition that may impact your canine companion. With so many pups falling victim to this degenerative joint disease, it’s important to understand the condition and how it can affect our furry friends as they age. So what is arthritis?

In this article we’ll dive into the details of osteoarthritis in dogs, and introduce you to a few helpful ways to offer your dog longevity despite this condition. 

What is arthritis?

Arthritis, or osteoarthritis, is a degenerative joint disease in dogs that can lead to chronic discomfort. Arthritis in dogs involves the inflammation and breakdown of one or more joints over time, leading to pain that can interfere with a dog’s daily life. 

When a dog is diagnosed with arthritis, their joints will enter into a degenerative cycle that can be challenging to combat. Since chronic inflammation can lead to damage of the tissue it impacts, this can threaten the health of the tissue in the joints. Once the tissue in the joints begins to break down over time, this in turn leads to more pain. As you can see, the osteoarthritis cycle can greatly impact your canine companion.

Risk factors for developing arthritis

Arthritis was originally thought to be a disease that was tied to the aging process in dogs. While dogs are certainly more susceptible to arthritis as the years go by, it’s not due to old age itself.  There is no single cause of osteoarthritis in dogs, but more a combination of life factors that can lead to its development. Some of the most common risk factors and possible causes of arthritis in dogs include:

  • Size of the dog (small breed vs. large breed)
  • Body weight throughout their lives (obesity is tied to arthritis)
  • Nutritional history (improper nutrition is tied to joint conditions)
  • Presence of joint conditions (hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, etc.)
  • History of injury or orthopedic surgery
  • Lifestyle and overall activity

If your pup falls into any of the above categories, they may be at risk of developing arthritis or other joint conditions. To help you be better prepared for this possibility, let’s discuss the common signs and symptoms of arthritis in dogs. 

Common signs of arthritis in dogs

Since our dogs can’t voice their pain, it’s up to us to be aware of the possible signs of arthritis in their daily lives. Since osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, the early signs of the condition may be a bit more challenging to notice. So what are the common signs of arthritis in dogs that you should be aware of? Let’s dive in. 

Signs and symptoms of arthritis in dogs include:

  • Slowing down over time
  • Stiffness and decreased range of motion
  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Slower to get up in the morning or after naps
  • Disinterest in physical activities they once enjoyed
  • Decrease in their normal stamina
  • Reluctance to climbing on furniture or other raised objects
  • Swollen or sore joints
  • Limping
  • Lameness in their leg(s)
  • Aggression towards other dogs, especially when playing
  • Change in behavior

If your canine companion displays any of the above behaviors, it’s best to speak with your veterinarian about the best approach going forward. Your veterinarian can create a well-rounded plan based on your dog’s specific history and offer immediate pain relief if needed. 

Treatment & management for arthritis

If your dog has just been diagnosed with arthritis, you may be looking for the best ways to offer them comfort. Some vets will offer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) right away. Others will help you develop an effective management plan for arthritis in dogs, which often includes multiple changes in their lifestyle. All that is to say that there are a few different ways to target this condition.

To offer your pup the best chance at a comfortable future, let’s discuss some of our favorite management options for arthritic dogs. 

Anti-inflammatory diet

Arthritis is a degenerative disease that causes painful inflammation. Because of this, it’s important to eliminate ingredients from their diet that can lead to additional inflammation and discomfort. Some common ingredients in dog food that can cause inflammation include wheat, barley, rye, soy, pea protein, corn, corn starch, and unrecognizable dyes and fillers. 

Some veterinarians will recommend a prescription diet that is created to support joint health, but others will recommend offering a homemade or raw diet with ingredients that you can control. By going this route you can choose ingredients that your dog loves, while also avoiding any inflammatory ingredients that can make their life more challenging. 

Exercise

Though you may think a dog with arthritis needs to rest as much as possible, that’s actually not the case. A sedentary life can cause a dog with arthritis to become stiffer, resulting in additional pain with any physical activity. Because of this, it’s important to offer your arthritic dog an array of low-impact exercise to keep them active. Some beneficial exercises include short walks on flat grounds, low impact swimming, quick games of tug of war, and any other exercise that does not involve climbing or quick bursts of running. Physical therapy can also be helpful for more severe cases.

Weight management

Dogs with arthritis deal with immense stress on their joints on a daily basis, making it so important to prevent any extra stress as much as possible. Obesity can cause many complications in a dog’s overall health, but especially when it comes to joint health. Arthritis can cause significant discomfort to our furry friends, meaning excess weight will only add to this discomfort.  Obesity can cause the joints to deteriorate at a faster rate, making weight control an essential part of arthritis management. 

Laser treatment

Laser treatment is one of the most popular options for arthritis management in dogs. Laser therapy for arthritis works by dilating blood vessels in painful tissue, improving lymphatic drainage in inflamed areas, and increasing circulation to promote healing. Each of these actions help to not only reduce inflammation, but reduce pain in swollen tissues. When sticking to a regular laser treatment protocol, dogs can find immense relief throughout their joint health journey. 

Joint support supplements

Joint supplements are one of the best ways to support your dog’s joints as they age. Normal wear and tear of the joints is enough to warrant the help of daily supplements, but especially in dogs with diagnosed arthritis. Joint supplements can help to reduce inflammation and pain, promote healing of damaged joint tissue, prevent further damage of the joints, and improve joint mobility in the future. A great joint supplement remedy involves daily use of glucosamine and chondroitin, omega fatty acids, MSM, green-lipped mussel, and other anti-inflammatory agents. 

Essential oils for diabetic dogs

When looking for home remedies for arthritis in dogs, many dog owners turn to essential oils. Essential oils can help to target inflammation, and even relieve pain when used directly on the painful tissue. Some of our favorite essential oils that are safe for use in dogs, as well as dogs with diabetes include frankincense (best at targeting inflammation), juniper berry, lavender, and black pepper. 

Though we mention these essential oils as being safe for dogs, it’s best to speak with your veterinarian before applying any oils topically. Some oils can aggravate health conditions, so it’s best to speak with your vet about your dog’s specific situation before beginning an essential oil regimen. 

Final thoughts 

Arthritis is a degenerative condition that can greatly impact our beloved companions. Be sure to review the information we discussed above and you can offer your dog the comfortable future they deserve!

About the author


    Amber LaRock
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    I am a Licensed Vet Tech that took my career online to spread knowledge on animal health and welfare. I grew up with a deep passion for helping animals and knew that it was my life’s purpose. With the experience I gained from my time working in emergency medicine, I have been able to spread accurate information online in all realms of pet health. If I am not at my laptop, or back home visiting family, you can find me somewhere in the world, cuddling every furry friend that I can find!



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