Arthritis in Dogs - Understanding Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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brown and white dog resting head on carpet in brightly lit room

brown and white dog resting head on carpet in brightly lit room

What is dog arthritis?

As dogs age, they may develop a common ailment known as arthritis. This condition results from wear and tear on the joints or damage to the joints themselves. If you notice that your older dog is having difficulty with activities such as walking, running, or climbing stairs, arthritis could be the culprit. The chronic inflammation associated with arthritis primarily affects the legs, pelvis, and back joints. Over time, the cartilage inside the joint may become stiff, leading to pain and reduced mobility. Given that arthritis is a progressive condition, it's important to seek early diagnosis and treatment for the best outlook in life.

Common causes of arthritis in dogs

Arthritis in dogs can be caused by a variety of factors, including congenital reasons, trauma, and nutritional status. These factors can act alone or in combination to contribute to the development of arthritis in dogs. Pet owners need to be aware of these potential causes and take appropriate steps to manage their dog's condition before it worsens.

The main causes of arthritis in dogs are:

  • Body condition score

    As a pet owner, it's important to keep an eye on your dog's physical condition, and the body condition score (BCS) is a useful tool for doing so. When a dog is overweight or obese, they may experience added strain on their joints. This extra strain can contribute to the development of arthritis over time. Monitor your dog's weight and make sure they are maintaining a healthy BCS to prevent potential joint problems down the line.

  • Osteoarthritis

    Osteoarthritis can occur if the legs are congenitally bent or the joints are abnormally formed.

  • Excessive exercise

    Excessive exercise and walking can cause arthritis over time.

  • Trauma

    Arthritis can result from traumatic muscle rupture, ligament rupture, or fracture.

  • Nutritional issues

    An unbalanced diet can lead to arthritis.

Main symptoms of arthritis in dogs

brown and white puppy with half open eyes resting on brown couch

When a dog is experiencing arthritis, they may seem uncomfortable when moving and show signs of pain when touched. While only one symptom may be observed, it's also common for some of the following symptoms to appear simultaneously.

  • Difficulty sitting or standing up
  • Legs appear stiff when walking
  • Walks with a limp (lameness)
  • Difficulty going up and down stairs
  • Swollen joints
  • Shows signs of pain or aggression when touched
  • Decreased energy
  • Excessively licking the joint area

Risk of arthritis in dogs and when to see a vet

Arthritis, while not posing a direct threat to a dog's life, can significantly impact their mobility and overall quality of life due to pain and discomfort. This condition often requires professional treatment and ongoing management. In cases where arthritis is caused by trauma, such as a torn ligament, surgical intervention may be necessary. If your dog has been exhibiting signs of lameness or has been experiencing discomfort for an extended period, it is highly recommended that you seek medical attention. If you notice swelling in their joints or if their pain becomes increasingly apparent, a visit to the vet is strongly advised.

How to deal with arthritis in dogs at home

If you suspect arthritis in your dog, some steps you can take at home are to manage their weight and improve their environment.

  • Excess weight can exacerbate joint problems such as arthritis, as it increases the pressure on their joints while walking or running. Therefore, it's important to manage their weight by monitoring their diet and engaging in appropriate exercise. To do this, you may consider checking the calorie and nutritional content of the food you're feeding and incorporating low-impact activities such as light walks or swimming to help your dog maintain a healthy weight without causing further damage to their joints.

  • Enriching environment

    Arthritis can be worsened by environments that involve climbing or slippery surfaces. One way to manage this condition is by installing stairs or stepping boards to prevent your pet from jumping up or down from a sofa or bed. Additionally, using non-slip pads can also help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis by providing better traction.

Diagnosing arthritis in dogs

When visiting the veterinarian for arthritis in dogs, the typical process involves the veterinarian asking questions to gather more information about the symptoms, potential causes such as trauma, and their living environment. Based on this information, the veterinarian will then perform any necessary tests to properly diagnose the condition.

For an accurate diagnosis, the following tests may be performed:

  • Physical examination

    When examining your dog's leg, a vet will evaluate for any pain or stiffness when bending, extending, or touching the area. Your dog's standing and walking posture will also be observed to identify any potential issues. A vet can also identify potential patellar dislocation or ligament rupture during this process.

  • X-ray

    X-rays are a useful tool for assessing the health of bones and joints. A vet can identify any signs of inflammation or other conditions affecting these areas.

Treatment options for arthritis in dogs

man in rain boots standing next to black and white dog walking on water treadmill tank

Arthritis cannot be fully cured, but effective management can prevent its progression and enhance your dog's well-being. Proper management involves the use of medications and supplements that aid in the control of arthritis symptoms.

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs

    Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, commonly known as NSAIDs, are a popular class of medication used to alleviate joint inflammation and pain in pets.

  • Supplements

    Certain supplements, including hyaluronic acid, glycosaminoglycans, and pentosan polysulfate, have been shown to reduce inflammation and prevent degenerative changes in joints.

  • Acupuncture

    Acupuncture can help reduce joint pain.

  • Rehabilitation exercise plan

    Combining leg massages, water treadmill sessions, and laser treatments can help alleviate arthritis symptoms.

Preventing arthritis in dogs

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for preventing arthritis as it can place unnecessary stress on your pet's joints and aggravate inflammation. To ward off or slow down the onset of arthritis, a whole diet and regular physical activity are crucial. As arthritis symptoms can be subtle, it's advisable to seek medical attention and speak with a veterinarian at the earliest sign of trouble for early management.

Find out more about your dog’s symptoms and diseases on the Buddydoc app!

Buddydoc dog symptom checker infographic

The Buddydoc library is filled with everything you’d want to know about each symptom and disease your pet may experience. If you would like to find out more about the causes, signs, treatments, preventions, and more for your dog’s disease. Try out the Buddydoc app and search for your pet’s symptoms or diseases in the Buddydoc library.

Scan or click the image below to download the Buddydoc app now and begin giving your pet the best care possible!