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Does My Dog Have Canine Arthritis?

Aimee Labbate
  • Aimee Labbate

  • RCVS: 700039


What is canine arthritis in dogs? 

Canine arthritis is caused by inflammation within the joints and it is the most common cause of chronic pain in dogs, with 4 out of every 5 older dogs affected. While it cannot be cured, and will gradually worsen over time, there are various ways of managing the condition to keep your dog as comfortable as possible.

How does canine arthritis occur in dogs?

With arthritis, the cartilage lining a joint becomes damaged, causing the bone surfaces to rub together resulting in further damage to the cartilage and pain for the dog. As a response to this cartilage damage, new bone starts to form around the joint, restricting its movement resulting in stiffness. These changes lead to a spiral of pain, lameness, limb disuse and muscle wastage. As the dog starts to favour other limbs, this can cause them to become overloaded, causing further pain elsewhere.

What are the signs of arthritis in dogs?

While different dogs will tend to show symptoms in different ways, the classic signs of canine arthritis include:

  • Stiffness after rest or after walks
  • Lameness
  • Muscle wastage over the hips and back end
  • Reluctance to jump or climb stairs
  • Slowing down on walks
  • Unusual or different behaviour - being grumpier or quieter than usual (this is often just blamed on old age)
  • Sleeping more
  • Pacing at night
  • Licking at the joints (this can cause saliva staining making the fur look pink)

It is important to be aware that dogs will tend to adapt and cope with the pain until it is severe, hence they often do not show signs until there is significant arthritic change. So look out for subtle changes in your dog’s behaviour and mobility, as it is best to intervene with supplements and treatments before the arthritis has started to spiral. Look out for signs such as stiffness after rest, bunny-hopping up steps, hesitation to jump into the car and grunting when lying down and getting up for example.

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How is arthritis in dogs diagnosed?

We can be highly suspicious of arthritis from symptoms alone, but this is usually confirmed by performing full physical examination including testing the limb for stiffness and pain. Further investigations may be suggested including blood/urine tests and x-rays or CT imaging of the affected joint(s). Trial treatment is likely to be offered to monitor the response and this may be adapted depending on the response.

What are the treatment options for arthritis in dogs?

There are many different treatment and management options available for canine arthritis, depending on the stage and severity, which we adapt for your individual dog. It is therefore important to have a thorough discussion with your vet to find which combination of the following would work best for your household and dog.

How can weight management affect arthritis in dogs?

  • Carrying extra weight is known to negatively impact on joint health. A very important aspect of arthritis management is therefore getting your dog to their optimal weight.

  • Ensure you are feeding your dog according to the package guidelines, using their ideal target weight rather than their actual weight (if they are overweight). Be careful to not give too many treats and titbits, reducing their overall daily food intake accordingly if you are giving treats.

  • Using body condition scoring to check if your dog is carrying excess weight. This is something that we can go over with you during a video call. We score dogs from 1 to 9, and it is best to aim for 5-5/9.
  • You can also measure your dog’s waistline! Again, this is something that we can show you how to do and it is great for tracking your dog’s weight loss, helping you to track progress and maintain motivation.
  • Encourage exercise. Hydrotherapy is great for dogs that enjoy the water.

    How can joint supplements affect arthritis in dogs?

    • These can help to reduce stiffness, promote better joint health and increase mobility, especially when used in the earlier stages of arthritis.
    • However, there are lots of products available, and they vary in their ingredients and effectiveness so always consult your vet about which they would recommend.
    • Check out our shop section, where you can buy Yumove Advance 360 – a fantastic product that is only available to buy from vets. A study conducted by the Royal Veterinary College found that it significantly improved the motility of arthritiwithin 6 weeks.

      How can pain relief medication affect arthritis in dogs?

      • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): these are the most common types of pain relief used for canine arthritis and they can offer a dramatic improvement in mobility and quality of life. There are many different formulations available so speak to your vet about what is best for your dog.
      • Opioids: this is a different class of pain relief which works in a different way to NSAIDs but can be a helpful add on or alternative where NSAIDs are not well tolerated.
      • Gabapentin: this is a human drug that can be useful in managing the pain associated with canine arthritis.

        How can home modifications affect arthritis in dogs?

        • Provide a thick, orthopaedic bed that your dog can easily get into and out of. We have various beds available to order in our Shop.
        • Cover hard floors with rugs and other non-slip surfaces.
        • Minimise stair usage and assist your dog during ascent and descent if needed.
        • Use ramps for the car or to avoid the use of steps.

        What is the prognosis for dogs with osteoarthritis?

        This varies greatly between individuals. However, with careful management and treatment it’s possible to greatly improve your dog’s comfort and quality of life.

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