Affecting one in five dogs or 20% of the canine population, arthritis is the most common degenerative joint disease in adult pets. It is also the primary reason for chronic pain in older dogs.

Considering how common this condition is, knowing what causes it and when to call the vet is of paramount importance for your canine’s overall health.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis in dogs is a painful inflammation of the joints caused by progressive cartilage degeneration. In normal joints, the cartilage acts as a shock absorber preventing two bone surfaces from rubbing.

In arthritic joints, the cartilage deteriorates due to repetitive stress, trauma, diseases, or old age wear and tear.

When the two bone surfaces start rubbing, the joint becomes inflamed, and the dog starts experiencing pain and impaired mobility.

Degenerative joint disease can occur anywhere, but it is most frequently seen in the hip, elbow, knee, shoulder, wrist, and lower back.

Signs of Arthritis in Dogs

When it comes to demonstrating pain, canines can be quite deceiving. Therefore, the expected crying, whining, and yelping are rarely seen. However, if your dog has osteoarthritis, you will probably notice one or more of these symptoms of arthritis.

Reluctance to Move

Once your canine starts associating movements with pain, it will become reluctant to move and more prone to sleeping and snoozing.

The reluctance to move is easy to notice in hyperactive canines. However, if your pouch generally prefers a more sedentary lifestyle, this sign will not come as a red flag to you.

Limping/Lameness

The exact form of limping depends on the type of degenerative joint disease and the affected joints. Limping can be classified based on several characteristics like intensity and persistency.

Based on the severity, it can range from light to non-weight bearing. And based on persistency, it can be intermittent or constant.

Finally, you should notice whether the limping is more intense after rest and/or exercise or if these factors do not influence it.

Pain when Touched

The swollen and inflamed joints are painful, and it is normal for your canine to react abruptly when touched on or around its joints. If osteoarthritis affects all joints, your dog’s entire body may be painful.

Licking, Chewing, & Biting

When in distress, many pets refer to licking, chewing, and biting the painful area. These activities have a soothing effect, and they allow the pet to focus on something else rather than the pain.

Muscle Atrophy

The lack of activity has several long-term consequences, including muscle atrophy (loss of muscle mass). The muscle mass loss worsens the condition because it weakens the legs.

Difficulty Getting Up

Arthritic dogs have a hard time getting up because their joints are stiff and with decreased motion range. Getting up and sitting down are activities that require full joint mobility – proper flexion and extension.

Reluctance to Go Up and Down the Stairs

The stiff joints and decreased range of motion are responsible for the reluctance to go up and down the stairs. Climbing stairs is a demanding physical activity and is one of the risk factors for joint disease development in predisposed breeds.

Causes of Canine Arthritis 

Generally speaking, arthritis occurs due to natural wear and tear and is associated with older dogs. However, certain diseases and conditions can trigger arthritis development regardless of the dog’s age.

Therefore, based on the exact underlying cause, there are two forms of arthritis in dogs:

  • Developmental arthritis
  • Acquired arthritis

It is a bit comforting to know that your dog’s arthritis condition is not your fault in both cases.

Developmental Canine Arthritis

Developmental arthritis means the pet is genetically predisposed to have some form of joint abnormality that will lead to arthritis.

The two most commonly reported developmental causes are hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia.

These predisposing issues cause joint inflammation and cartilage damage which eventually culminates in arthritis.

You cannot prevent developmental arthritis, but its progression can be slowed down starting early in life. A premature negative outcome and more severe clinical signs are more likely in dogs bearing too much weight, that do not exercise at all or exercise too vigorously, and are exposed to lots of stairs and slippery floors.

Genetically Predisposed Breeds

These are the breeds in which the predisposing developmental causes are most likely to develop:

  • Hip dysplasia – Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, German Shepherds, Newfoundlands, and other large and giant breeds
  • Elbow dysplasia – Bernese Mountain dogs, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, and other large and giant breeds.

Acquired Canine Arthritis

Acquired arthritis means the pet was not born with a higher than average risk of developing arthritis, but the degenerative joint disease development occurred due to other circumstances.

Traumatic Injuries to the Joint

Traumatic injuries include fractures, ligament damage, and dislocations. In most cases of a traumatic injury, the impaired mobility will be immediately visible. Prompt action as soon the dog damaged the joint can decrease the severity of subsequent arthritis.

Immune-Mediated Disease Targeting the Joint

Immune-mediated disease targeting the joints refers to the situation in which the dog’s immune system misrecognizes its own joint tissues and starts attacking them.

There are different types of immune-mediated disease – some stem from cancers located outside the joints, some develop as drug reactions, and some are specific to certain dog breeds.

In most cases, the underlying condition cause remains undetermined, and all efforts are focused on inflammation management and further joint damage prevention.

Infections Within the Joint

Infections within the joint commonly develop after penetrating injuries or surgical interventions involving the affected joint. They manifest as any other inflammation in the joints – with severe pain, swelling, and radiating heat.

Determining the exact infection culprit is vital for selecting the right treatment, which commonly includes a long antibiotic course. However, in more severe cases, the affected dog may need surgical management.

Ways to Help Your Dog with Arthritis at Home

Taking proper care of your dog’s joints requires a multimodal and complex approach. There is no universal approach – every dog is different and requires an individually tailored management plan.

Crafting the best plan for your dog requires extensive consulting with your trusted veterinarian and following his/her specific guidelines.

Ensuring joint health goes beyond frequent checkups, standard treatments, and using medications. It also entails making some simple but efficient modifications at home and in your dog’s lifestyle.

Weight Management

Weight loss is a key component of managing arthritis. Maintaining a normal to lean body condition is vital because of two main reasons:

  • The excess weight exerts too much stress on the dog’s joints (particularly cartilage and ligaments)
  • Fat cells produce hormones (leptin) and chemicals that support the inflammatory processes in the body

Many studies have demonstrated the importance of healthy weight and its beneficial impact on arthritic patients. For example, according to one study conducted on Labrador Retrievers, the group of Retrievers with lean bodies developed arthritis two years later than the group of slightly overweight Retrievers.

Diet

Providing your dog with healthy, high-quality food is vital for several reasons:

There are commercially available diets formulates specifically for canines with joint problems. Alternatively, you can home cook using natural ingredients.

Proper Exercise

Exercise is vital for maintaining a healthy body weight and strengthening the legs. Regular but low-impact exercise will improve overall joint stability and mobility. Physical therapy is a great way of ensuring exercise without overstressing the joints.

Natural Supplements

Adding some natural joint supplements to your dog’s diet and food bowl is a good way of managing its osteoarthritis signs and symptoms.

Fatty Acids

Canines with arthritis benefit greatly from two types of omega 3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA. Both EPA and DHA manage the inflammation in the joints and reduce the discomfort and swelling. The best source of omega 3 fatty acids are fish oil and Green Lipped Mussels.

Mobility - Green Lipped Mussel Joint Powder
  • This bacon popcorn flavored Honest Paws Joint Powder uses a blend of ingredients that focus on all-encompassing joint health and support.
  • It works to maintain joint mobility, improve cartilage development, and enhance overall bone and joint health.
  • Green lipped mussel extract contains a nutrient-rich blend of natural proteins, minerals and omega fatty acids.

Glucosamine Chondroitin

Glucosamine is one of the main cartilage building blocks and promotes new cartilage formation, while chondroitin prevents enzymatic cartilage damage.

Glucosamine and chondroitin act in synergy, meaning they boost each other’s effects. Therefore, most supplements contain both glucosamine and chondroitin.

Eggshell Membrane

Eggshell membranes are rich in many natural supplements, including glucosamine hydrochloride, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid, and collagen.

According to a study, long-term supplementation with eggshell membranes has a positive impact on arthritic canines. The study included 51 dogs with different osteoarthritis symptoms, including lameness, impaired gait, difficulty getting up and climbing stairs.

CBD

Adding CBD oil in your pet’s treatment plan is a natural and great way of dealing with joint issues. CBD oil comes in different forms – from oils through capsules to chewable treats.

CBD oil ensures joint health by supporting its structures. When formulated for dogs, CBD oil is derived from organic hemp and is 100% THC-free.

When to Go to the Vet

If your dog belongs to some of the high-risk breeds, you need to start working with your vet early on. Noticing some of the arthritis symptoms described above is also a reason to go to the vet.

Degenerative Joint Disease Diagnosis

The vet will start the diagnostic procedure with a physical examination to evaluate the overall health and severity of the condition.

Based on physical examination findings, the vet will order x rays of the suspected legs. The x-rays are enough for the veterinarian to set the diagnosis and recommend a therapy strategy.

Treatment Options

Generally speaking, all possible treatments can be classified as conservative (pain management) and surgical. Both options have their pros and cons. The vet will suggest which strategy is best for your pet.

Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs and steroids)

The brick and mortar of pain relief are the steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Although particularly efficient, their long-term use is associated with certain side effects. To prevent these side effects, the vet will recommend frequent blood tests.

Surgery

In more severe cases, the vet will recommend surgery. There are different surgery options and approaches.

Not all dogs are surgery candidates. Your vet will carefully review the situation and evaluate all aspects before recommending surgical correction.

Our Final Thoughts

Understanding what causes this skeletal ailment is vital for delaying its onset and recognizing its symptoms. It is important to be proactive contact your trusted veterinarian so you can start working on managing your beloved pouch.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you prevent arthritis in dogs?

In most cases, arthritis cannot be fully prevented, but its onset can be delayed, and if already developed, it can be managed.

How do you treat arthritis in dogs?

Arthritis is a manageable and not treatable condition. Its progressiveness can be slowed down with proper veterinary care.

How long can dogs live with arthritis?

Dogs can live long and high-quality lives despite their diagnosis if properly managed.

What are the symptoms of arthritis in dogs?

Limping is always considered a red flag. Dogs that limp should be examined by a veterinarian to check for other indicators of joint disease.