Does Your Dog Have Arthritis? (2023)

family walking beagle; managing arthritis in dogs

Does Your Dog Have Arthritis? (1)

Credit: Russ Rohde / Getty

Dogs are living longer lives, and similar to humans, their advanced years often come with painful chronic diseases like osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, the signs of arthritis in dogs are often dismissed. "We [pet owners] have a tendency to write off the signs as the dog just 'getting older' or 'slowing down,''' says Joyce Login, DVM, CPH, Veterinary Medical Lead, Chronic Pain Portfolio at Zoetis. "But I think most of us know there's something not quite right with our pet. We just don't know what it is."

What Is Canine Osteoarthritis?

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, canine osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is characterized by the wearing away of joint cartilage (the connective tissue that protects the ends of bones), the buildup of fluid within the joint, and the formation of new bone around the joint. All of this results in pain and decreased joint mobility and function.

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While the cause of osteoarthritis in dogs isn't always known, there are several things that might be to blame. These causes could include issues like injury, infection, the animal's immune system, obesity, poor nutrition, and abnormally formed joints (like those seen in hip dysplasia).

Osteoarthritis in dogs is quite common. The American College of Veterinary Surgeons says it affects approximately a quarter of dogs and can occur in dogs of all ages. While any dog can develop arthritis, large dog breeds are more prone to the disease. Arthritis is also progressive, meaning it will get worse with time if not treated.

Signs of Arthritis in Dogs

"Dogs don't show their pain the way we expect them to," Login explains. "They don't always cry out or yelp like a lot of people think they will." She says the signs tend to be more subtle and behavioral.

According to Login, the behavioral signs of osteoarthritis in dogs to watch for include:

  • Limping after exercise
  • Not being able to walk long distances and moving slower than usual
  • Difficulty getting up after lying down
  • Difficulty jumping (e.g. your dog is no longer able to jump onto the couch like he used to)
  • Difficulty using stairs
  • Stiffness
  • Increased irritability

These changes in behavior can be easy to dismiss as normal aging or to even miss altogether. And because your veterinarian can't see how your dog behaves in his natural habitat, your observations from home are a crucial part of getting to a diagnosis. Luckily, we pet parents have some tools available to us that can help.

Diagnosing Dog Arthritis

Zoetis has created a free, simple checklist for dog owners to fill out online that can serve as an osteoarthritis screening tool. The questionnaire includes the list of signs above but provides more details, including some helpful animations that illustrate exactly what to watch for in your dog's behavior.

Login says you can start filling out the checklist for your dog at any time—even when he's young and has no signs of disease. It can help to start early and complete the questionnaire before each wellness exam so you can more easily spot any gradual changes over time. Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, so the earlier you catch it, the better.

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When it comes to helping your veterinarian diagnose osteoarthritis in your dog, your phone—specifically the camera function—is one of the best tools you have at your disposal. Login says that by recording your dog going up the stairs, walking, playing, etc., you can show your veterinarian exactly what your concerns are without relying on your memory or descriptive abilities. "And if it's osteoarthritis," she explains, "your veterinarian will be able to help identify that from the video."

In addition to a physical exam and your observations from home, your veterinarian may order X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computed tomography (CT) to definitively diagnose osteoarthritis in your dog.

How to Treat Osteoarthritis in Dogs

There isn't a cure for canine arthritis, but it can be successfully managed. Login says the goals of treatment are to improve your dog's comfort and to slow disease progression. This typically involves a three-part plan:

1. Control Your Dog's Pain

"Pain control is the foundation," Login explains. That's because if your dog hurts, he's probably not going to want to exercise. And if your dog won't exercise, it becomes more difficult to control her weight.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as carprofen are the most common arthritis medicines for dogs, Login says. But if your dog doesn't tolerate these drugs well, your veterinarian may recommend some other options to try.

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You aren't limited to pharmaceuticals when it comes to pain control, however. Talk to your veterinarian about your options, and whether holistic veterinary care—including treatments like acupuncture, laser therapy, massage therapy, physical therapy, aqua therapy, and stem cell therapy—might help. Your dog could also be a candidate for supplements like omega-3-fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin.

2. Control Your Dog's Weight

Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of slowing disease progression as excess weight puts more pressure on your dog's painful joints and can promote inflammation. Your veterinarian can help you develop a plan that includes a target weight, what kind of food to provide, how much to provide, and when to provide it. Some prescription diets for dogs are designed to both manage weight and provide joint support.

3. Regular, Low-Impact Exercise

Exercise is key to keeping joints healthy, but you may need to modify your dog's regular activities if he's suffering from osteoarthritis. For example, instead of letting him run free, the American College of Veterinary Surgeons recommends keeping your dog on a leash and going for walks. If you're not sure how to safely keep your dog moving (or even how to motivate him to move), ask your veterinarian for tips.

In some cases of dog arthritis, surgery is the best treatment option. Partner with your veterinarian to determine the best plan for your pet. And remember to always check with your veterinarian before starting your dog on any sort of treatment—even if it's an over-the-counter supplement.

Adapting Your Home to Help Dogs with Arthritis

There are several simple adjustments you can make to your dog's home environment to increase his comfort if he has arthritis pain. Login suggests providing:

  • Warm, supportive bedding. Login notes that you can buy heating pads designed specifically for animals but warns that human heating pads should never be used on animals, since their skin can burn much more easily.
  • Ramps or stairs to help your dog access the couch or other furniture he enjoys.
  • Raised food and water bowls so your dog doesn't have to bend down.
  • Non-skid surfaces like rugs or yoga mats on slippery hardwood, tile, and vinyl flooring to keep your dog from falling and to make it easier for him to lay down and get back up.

You are the expert on your dog's behavior, so if you see something out of the ordinary—even if it's seemingly small and insignificant—don't dismiss it.

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How long do dogs last with arthritis? ›

Arthritis is a long-term condition that needs life-long management. Arthritis slowly worsens over time, but if well managed, most dogs can live happily for many years after diagnosis.

How do you stop arthritis from progressing in dogs? ›

Unfortunately, osteoarthritis is a progressive disease and there is no known cure. Preventing the development of osteoarthritis through diet, exercise, and the use of protective joint supplements is the best way to keep your dog's joints healthy.

Is there a test to see if your dog has arthritis? ›

To diagnose arthritis, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and check the joint areas for pain. Blood tests and X-rays may be ordered to rule out other ailments, such as bone cancer. These diagnostic tests will show how severely the joints have been affected and help guide the treatment plan.

What percentage of dogs suffer from arthritis? ›

Dogs can start to show signs of arthritis as early as 1 year of age. According to the Vet Times (pdf), the degenerative joint condition can be found in 20% of dogs before their first year and 80% of more senior dogs at or over age 8.

What triggers dog arthritis? ›

Factors contributing to a dog developing arthritis include aging, congenital joint disorders like hip dysplasia, osteochondrosis, elbow dysplasia, old injuries, repeated trauma to joints, activity levels in working and athletic dogs placing increased stress on joints, obesity, and metabolic diseases such as diabetes ...

Do dogs feel pain with arthritis? ›

Osteoarthritis is a common ailment found in older dogs, as well as some larger breeds that are genetically prone to it. Similarly to humans, arthritis in dogs causes changes in the affected joints that can be incredibly painful for your pet.

What foods make arthritis worse in dogs? ›

Just as in humans, grains can cause inflammation in dogs, as well. Wheat, rye, and barley all contain gluten, which can aggravate arthritis symptoms.

Should you still walk a dog with arthritis? ›

Arthritic dogs will benefit from controlled exercise. Gentle regular lead walks are better than an hour spent running around after a ball or with another dog.

What is the best thing to give an older dog for arthritis? ›

If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, your veterinarian can recommend nutraceuticals such as fish oil, glucosamine, MSM, MicroLactin (Duralactin), and herbal supplements, or prescribe daily pain medication to keep her comfortable.

Do dogs cry with arthritis? ›

The signs of arthritis in pets can often be subtle. Typically our pets will not cry or whine in pain. Instead, the most common signs of arthritis are changes in your pet's mobility or behavior. These signs may gradually creep up and go unnoticed until there are significant changes to your pet's mobility.

What do vets give dogs for arthritis? ›

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) play a major role in controlling dog joint pain and inflammation. Prescription medications such Galliprant, Carprofen, and Meloxicam are the safest options for controlling pain and inflammation compared to over-the-counter, non-veterinary products.

Can arthritis just come on suddenly in dogs? ›

Oftentimes the terms “arthritis” or “arthritic joints” is associated with older dogs. This particular type of arthritis can occur in any age of dog, as it is directly the result of an infection caused by an outside source. The symptoms of this type of arthritis may be more sudden than other arthritis forms.

Can arthritis be healed in dogs? ›

Can arthritis be cured? Unfortunately not. Once cartilage in your dog's joint(s) has been damaged it rarely repairs itself completely. But many pets can successfully be made pain free by appropriate long-term use of medication and sensible management to control further deterioration.

Can dogs live a happy life with arthritis? ›

Arthritis in dogs can be difficult to deal with because it makes running, jumping, and even walking or sitting very painful. However, over 75% of dogs who suffer from arthritis or severe dysplasia can live comfortable and happy lives with the proper management and vet services.

What can I do at home to help my dog with arthritis? ›

How can I help a dog with arthritis at home?
  1. Create a prescription medication plan with your vet and track your dog's progress. ...
  2. A supplement a day keeps the joint pain away. ...
  3. Keep tabs on your dog's diet. ...
  4. Bring on the exercise in moderation. ...
  5. Help your dog get a grip. ...
  6. Splurge on that fancy dog bed.
25 Mar 2021

Does CBD oil help dog arthritis? ›

Arthritis: Several studies have looked at CBD's effectiveness against arthritic pain, all with positive results. A Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine study found dogs given CBD at a rate of 4.4 mg per pound twice daily for a month showed significant improvement in pain relief and quality of life.

How do vets check for arthritis in dogs? ›

OA is diagnosed through a combination of a thorough physical examination, a palpation (feeling with the fingers to localize pain and determine its intensity), and additional diagnostics including x-rays or other imaging technology.

Do eggs help with arthritis in dogs? ›

Egg shells can help older arthritic dogs. Egg shell membranes significantly reduced joint pain and improved joint function in 51 dogs experiencing a range of joint problems, according to a 2016 study.

What meat is best for dogs with arthritis? ›

Fatty Proteins

While protein is important in an arthritic dog's diet because it supports strong muscles to protect joints, if they are carrying even a little bit of extra weight, try to favor lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, or grass-fed meat.

What food is a natural anti-inflammatory for dogs? ›

  • Start with the Right Ingredients. "Inflammation is a normal process of the body used by the immune system to combat foreign organisms like bacteria, viruses, and irritants. ...
  • Glucosamine. Start with glucosamine, which Dr. ...
  • Turmeric. ...
  • Ginger. ...
  • Alfalfa. ...
  • Blueberries. ...
  • Mangoes and Papaya. ...
  • Coconut.
1 Feb 2021

How can I strengthen my dogs back legs with arthritis? ›

Walking uphill activates the dog's hindquarters, so it is beneficial for dogs with arthritis in their hips or back legs. When the dog walks uphill, they extend their hip joint and activate the gluteals and hamstring group of muscles for propulsion. These muscles support the hip joint.

What natural pain relief can I give my dog? ›

Natural Pain Relief for Dogs
  • Hot and Cold Therapy.
  • ​Ginger.
  • Turmeric.
  • Boswellia.
  • Devil's Claw.
  • CBD Oil.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Fish Oil.

When should you put a dog down with arthritis? ›

Stage 4: Pain can be severe at this stage. Lack of mobility is a life threatening disease – dogs who can't get up or walk anymore usually are euthanized. This is the stage we are trying to prevent by intervening early. At this stage, the pet may resist, cry or even scream when the joint range of motion is tested.

Do heating pads help dogs with arthritis? ›

Benefits of heat:

Heat is a great way to reduce pain, joint stiffness, and muscle spasms. It also improves blood flow especially in dogs with injuries and osteoarthritis.

What is the best natural remedy for arthritis in dogs? ›

Natural and Herbal Arthritis Remedies Procedure in Dogs
  • Comfrey. Comfrey has pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties. ...
  • Frankincense. Frankincense is an all-around perfect herbal remedy. ...
  • Yucca. Yucca is often used in arthritis medications for humans as well as animals. ...
  • Alfalfa. ...
  • Turmeric. ...
  • Diet. ...
  • Exercise. ...
  • Supplements.

Is arthritis in dogs expensive? ›

Costs associated with treating canine arthritis can vary. Because it is the most common chronic condition that affects dogs, it can be quite costly, most likely amounting to a couple of hundred dollars. However, if the dog is covered by pet insurance, pet owners may be able to reduce costs.

Does dog arthritis show up on xray? ›

How will my veterinarian diagnose arthritis in my dog? The most common way to diagnose arthritis is with an x-ray (also called radiograph). X-rays indicate joint swelling or changes to the bone, such as thickening or bone spurs. Depending on your dog, sedation might be needed to get a clear x-ray.

How long should a dog with arthritis walk? ›

In summary, the best medical recommendation for dogs with arthritis is that they should exercise regularly, ideally 30-60 minutes every day, and not engage in high-impact activities such as running, jumping and rough play.

Should you massage a dog with arthritis? ›

Massaging your pet with arthritis can significantly improve its quality of life. The purpose of a massage is to provide relief, ease sore muscles, and reduce stress.

What helps dogs with arthritis in their legs? ›

Physical therapy, like appropriate forms of regular exercise, as mentioned earlier can be extremely beneficial for dogs with arthritis. Many owners also find hydrotherapy, or water therapy, helpful. Holistic therapies, like acupuncture, can be useful as well.

Can anything be done for arthritis in dogs? ›

Physical therapy, like appropriate forms of regular exercise, as mentioned earlier can be extremely beneficial for dogs with arthritis. Many owners also find hydrotherapy, or water therapy, helpful. Holistic therapies, like acupuncture, can be useful as well.

Should you walk an old dog with arthritis? ›

The ASPCA recommends daily walks for arthritic dogs. Not only does your pet benefit from more mobile joints but it also helps keep your dog at a healthy weight. Excess weight puts more pressure on the joints which makes it even more painful for your pet to get around.

Whats the best treatment for arthritis in dogs? ›

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) play a major role in controlling dog joint pain and inflammation. Prescription medications such Galliprant, Carprofen, and Meloxicam are the safest options for controlling pain and inflammation compared to over-the-counter, non-veterinary products.

Can dogs recover arthritis? ›

Can arthritis be cured? Unfortunately not. Once cartilage in your dog's joint(s) has been damaged it rarely repairs itself completely. But many pets can successfully be made pain free by appropriate long-term use of medication and sensible management to control further deterioration.

Can CBD Oil help my dog's arthritis? ›

CBD oil is a great option for treating dogs with arthritis because it is anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving. It can also help to improve your dog's appetite and energy levels. CBD oil is safe for most dogs, but you should always talk to your veterinarian before giving it to your pet.

What is a natural remedy for arthritis in dogs? ›

Turmeric – As a type of spice rich in antioxidants, turmeric can help reduce inflammation and damage to your dog's joints. The recommended intake is 0.5-1 teaspoon of turmeric powder per day or about 15-20 mg based on your pet's body weight. Comfrey – Comfrey has pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties.

Should I let my dog with arthritis run? ›

Dogs with arthritis should avoid activities that include jumping and running. Jumping can cause too much stress on a dog's joints and will worsen the pain. Pain and discomfort after play suggest that the session was too long.

What food can I give my dog to help with arthritis? ›

Foods that are anti-inflammatory

Fortunately, there are many whole food options that can ease arthritis pain when fed regularly to your pet. These include celery, alfalfa, ginger, mango, papaya, blueberries, and kale, among others.

What do veterinarians give dogs for arthritis? ›

Medication options for treating arthritis in dogs
  • Deramaxx (deracoxib)
  • EtoGesic (etodolac)
  • Metacam (meloxicam)
  • Previcox (firocoxib)
  • Rimadyl (carprofen)
  • Galliprant (Grapiprant)
28 Apr 2020

What can a dog with arthritis avoid? ›

If your dog has arthritis, grain-free food may be the way to go. Many processed commercial dog foods contain grains such as wheat, rice, soy, and spelt, which can cause your dog's blood sugar levels to fluctuate and increase painful swelling. Limiting the grains in your dog's diet can decrease their inflammation.


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