Arthritis in dogs - the symptoms, causes and treatment
Updated: Apr 14
Arthritis in dogs is surprisingly common, with as many as one in five dogs reportedly suffering from the condition. And although arthritis is one of the most common ailments seen in middle-aged and older dogs, it can also affect younger animals too.
Arthritis can be painful and debilitating and if left untreated it can significantly affect your pet's quality of life.
How can I tell if my dog has arthritis?
As a pet owner you will often be best placed to notice subtle changes in your pet but the symptoms of arthritis and stiff joints can sometimes be difficult to spot – here are 7 of the most common signs to look out for.
Difficulty getting up from rest
You may find that your dog seems stiffer when getting up from rest and that any difficulty moving around seems to ease once they have warmed up.
Limping or lameness
Your dog might develop a limp or start favouring one leg over the other.
Pets suffering with arthritis may also develop muscle atrophy due to lower levels of activity and decreased muscle use. Look out for thinner muscles and signs of weight loss.
Your usually active dog might seem to be more tired, preferring to rest or taking shorter walks than usual.
Licking or chewing of joints
You may notice your pet licking the affected joints to try and relieve the pain. Sometimes this can result in inflamed skin and hair loss in those areas.
Reluctance to move as much
Perhaps your dog isn’t so keen on jumping into the car these days or doesn't want to go on long walks like it used to. These changes in behaviour could signal pain and discomfort due to arthritis.
A dog with arthritis may become more snappy when handled, particularly if it affects the affected areas.
What causes arthritis in dogs?
Arthritis tends to affect older animals but it can also develop from an early age. It can be caused by a number of factors, including trauma, poor nutrition, age, obesity, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, infection in the joint or congenital joint disorders like elbow dysplasia.
If you suspect arthritis, you should always consult your vet who will carry out a physical examination of your pet and will look for the following symptoms:
Grinding or creaking in the joints
Pain or swelling around the joint
Malformation of the bones
How can I help my dog with arthritis?
Unfortunately arthritis is rarely completely cured, but arthritis can be managed to help make your animal pain free and comfortable.
In the first instance your vet may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or an injection like cortisone.
Nutritional supplements for dogs
Nutrients like glucosamine for dogs are a good way to support your pet’s stiff joints and overall flexibility of movement. A high quality joint supplement like Joint Aid for Dogs plus Muscle Maintenance combines this important nutraceutical with others like chondroitin and Omega 3, and can help to reduce inflammation in the joints as well as supporting the muscles around them.
Occasionally surgery may be required if there is damage to the ligament, for example.
Physiotherapy, hydrotherapy or massage therapy
Alternative therapies may be advised for your dog to work on scar tissue and improve your pet’s mobility.
Your vet will also be looking for any underlying conditions like diabetes that may have caused the arthritis as part of the overall treatment plan.
Life after arthritis
Whilst arthritis is a painful condition, the right care can help to make life more comfortable for your pet. This may involve some lifestyle changes to minimise any ongoing stress to the joints and to keep your pet’s muscles strong and healthy. Diet and exercise will be key.
Your dog's diet
Keeping your pet at a healthy weight is essential as any excess weight will put extra strain on the joints.
Keep your dog active
This will help to strengthen the muscles around the joints, so they give better support. Swimming is a great non-weight bearing exercise for dogs as it uses the whole body. Make sure your pet is getting enough rest too.
You will also need to ensure that your pet gets adequate rest and that your home is comfortable and accessible. Make sure they have a warm soft bed that is easy to climb into, and consider using a ramp to get your dog in and out of the car if they are too heavy to lift.
Your vet may advise appointments every six months or so to make sure that any medication is treating the arthritis effectively and monitor progress.
Please note: this article is not intended to provide medical advice. If you suspect arthritis or you are worried that your pet is in any pain or discomfort, it is always recommended that you make an appointment with your vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.