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What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a degenerative disease that is often a result of years of everyday wear and tear on your joints. This disease is a chronic illness that can become debilitating as it progresses.

Arthritis occurs in humans and canines alike. Research has shown that arthritis affects one in five dogs. You may think of arthritis as something that only affects older dogs. Arthritis occurs most often in older dogs, but it has been found in young dogs too.

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How Do You Know if Your Dog Has Arthritis?

If you notice your aging dog becoming less active than he used to be, you might chalk it up to old age alone. However, your dog may also be slowing down because he is suffering from joint pain. Arthritis is one of the most common causes of pain in older dogs. 

Dogs often do not let you know when they are not feeling well or are in pain. For this reason, it is a good idea to be proactive in finding ways to treat your dog if you suspect he might have arthritis.

There are a lot of different methods you can try to help relieve your dog’s arthritis symptoms. The first thing to do is to make an appointment with your veterinarian. They will be able to check out your dog for arthritis and give you recommendations for treatments.

What Are the Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs?

Your dog may be suffering from arthritis and not showing any symptoms at all. Arthritis symptoms in dogs often start slow and gradually get worse. In the beginning, arthritis can be hard to detect. 

Common signs of arthritis in dogs include difficulty getting up after resting, lameness, stiffness, sleeping more than usual, walking slowly, and muscular atrophy. The sight of the arthritis pain may get swelled up and be hot to the touch. 

Dogs with arthritis pain may show their discomfort by displaying new anxious behaviors or aggressive outbursts, changes in weight, depression, and an aversion to jumping, running, and other physical activity. Additionally, dogs with arthritis may begin having accidents, urinating indoors, or where they usually would not go.

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Are There Different Types of Arthritis?

There are five different types of arthritis dogs can get. The most common form is osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease). Osteoarthritis is a result of erosion of cartilage, which leads to increased friction between the bones. This type of arthritis is especially common in purebreds. 

The second most common type of arthritis found in dogs is called inflammatory joint disease. Bone spurs and infection often cause this type of arthritis. Inflammatory joint disease can occur in a single joint or several. Some dogs develop this disease because they have an inherited flaw in their immune system. 

Three other types of arthritis occur in dogs, although less often. The first type is crystalloid arthritis, in which crystals form inside the joints. Metabolic arthritis occurs when there is bleeding in the joints. Neoplastic arthritis is cancer that forms inside the joints. These forms of arthritis are much rarer than the first two. 

What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?

Arthritis occurs for a variety of reasons. Your dog can develop arthritis as a result of any disruption of cartilage, bone, ligaments, or synovial membranes around a joint. Such disruptions can include injuries, trauma, and infections. Any stress or pressure put on your dog’s joints repeatedly or for prolonged periods can cause arthritis to develop. Such prolonged pressure is especially common in working dogs. Cartilage damage or deficiencies cause arthritis too.  

Arthritis in dogs can be caused by foreign bacteria that spreads through the blood and into the joints, tick-borne diseases, and fungus. Additionally, any congenital joint disorder can cause arthritis in dogs. Such congenital joint disorders include elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia (common in golden retrievers). Other diseases like diabetes and Cushing’s disease can lead to arthritis. And, of course, old age, obesity, and poor nutrition can result in arthritis too. 

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How Can I Tell If My Dog Has Arthritis?

It can be challenging to determine if your dog has arthritis because dogs tend to hide their pain and discomfort. For this reason, it is best to take your dog to a veterinarian to get him checked out. Your vet will be able to use their expertise to diagnose the underlying root cause of the problem as well as provide advice and treatment options. 

Your vet will likely do a physical exam and look for signs of arthritis. Your vet may look for signs of abnormal bone formation, sensitivity or swelling around the joint, limited range of motion, muscular atrophy, and grinding of the joint.

Your veterinarian may perform a radiograph to determine whether your dog has arthritis or not. Your dog will go under general anesthetic for the radiograph. Your vet may use contrast dye and x-ray your dog’s joints to see if and where the arthritis is occurring. 

Joint aspiration is another diagnostic strategy your vet may use to determine if your dog’s arthritis is degenerative or inflammatory. Your vet will administer local anesthetic and remove fluid from the space around your dog’s joint with a syringe. 

Your vet may also do a force plate analysis test to diagnose your dog’s arthritis. Your vet will put a mat full of plate sensors on the floor for this test. This mat connects to a computer that will analyze the force placed on each plate when your dog walks on it. 

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How to Treat Arthritis in Dogs

Several factors will affect the type and level of treatment your dog will need. Your vet will determine what the root cause of your dog’s arthritis is so they can provide you with the appropriate treatment. You may have to make a few small adjustments, or you may have to make a complete lifestyle change for your pup. 

Once your vet diagnoses your dog with arthritis, they will recommend treatments that are appropriate for your dog’s specific needs. Treatment will, of course, depend on the cause and extent of the disease. Your vet will set up a plan of action and give you treatment recommendations. 

The first thing your vet may prescribe is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce both pain and inflammation in your dog’s joints. Your vet may also suggest steroids. 

To reduce your dog’s pain and swelling, your vet may prescribe an injection of cortisone. Your vet may recommend glycosaminoglycans to help reduce cartilage breakdown. Your vet may also inject a gel into your dog’s joint to lubricate the cartilage. This procedure, called Visco-supplementation, reduces pain and helps to restore some flexibility. 

Depending on the type and severity of your dog’s arthritis, surgery may be necessary. For example, if your dog’s arthritis pain is caused by a torn ligament, surgery will most likely be required. Your vet may perform an arthroscopy to remove cartilage between your dog’s joints. 

Your vet may recommend physiotherapy to reduce scar tissue and pain and improve your dog’s mobility. Hydrotherapy is another possibility. For hydrotherapy treatments, your dog will walk on a treadmill while his body is underwater. Water allows your dog to improve mobility without putting any pressure on his joints. Your veterinarian may also recommend other treatment options such as acupuncture, laser therapy, magnetic therapy, or stem cell therapy. 

Finally, a healthy diet and exercise are the best medicine to improve your dog’s quality of life in general but is especially important to keep his bones and joints healthy too. 

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What is the Recovery Process for Arthritis in Dogs? 

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight for his bone structure is super important for reducing and preventing arthritis pain. If your dog is carrying excess weight, it puts more strain on his joints. 

Your veterinarian will be able to provide you with recommendations for food that will keep your dog’s weight in check. These foods will likely contain extra Omega 3 fatty acids. 

It may seem counterintuitive to exercise with arthritis, but providing your dog with opportunities for moderate exercise will help lessen the pain and increase his mobility over time. As mobility increases, the supporting muscles will become stronger,  giving your dog’s joints more support. This improved muscle function will ultimately prevent additional joint damage. 

When it comes to exercise for dogs with arthritis, moderation is the key. Make sure to have your dog exercise for short increments, not longer than 15-20 minutes each. Swimming is a great activity because the water won’t put pressure on your dog’s joints. 

Equally as important for your dog’s recovery as a healthy diet and exercise is making sure he gets plenty of quality rest each day. Take a look at your dog’s bed. There are a lot of dog beds on the market made especially for arthritic dogs.

A good dog bed for arthritis will be warm and soft, but will also be firm for support. Look for a bed with memory foam, or one that specifically says it is suitable for arthritic dogs. Read our other article to learn more about dog beds.

To make life a little easier on your recovering pup, set up ramps to help him get in and out of vehicles, up and down from couches or beds, and in place of stairs. 

It is super important to monitor your dog when he is on medications to see if he is improving and if there are any side effects. Your vet may have you bring your dog in every six months to check the progress, do a blood test, and administer treatments. You may want to attend your dog’s therapy sessions if he is doing laser or hydrotherapy, for instance, so that you can see his progress. 

Sarah Nishimoto

The author Sarah Nishimoto

Sarah is not only a pet owner but loves animals of all shapes and sizes.

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