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Arthritis in Dogs: Early Signs, Diagnosis and Treatment

by Lana Paws on September 20, 2022

Growing old is most certainly a privilege but it is also hard, for humans and animals alike.

Arthritis is one such painful illness that more commonly affects senior dogs and causes joint problems that hugely affect their mobility and quality of life. According to a study, 80% of the dogs above 8 years old would have arthritis. It may not be easy to spot and identify the signs of early arthritis but with a little knowledge of the subject, pet parents can be more attentive towards any change in their dog’s behaviour or/and stability and act sooner. It is also important to remember that it can affect young dogs too.

This article focuses on everything you need to know about Arthritis in canines.

symptoms and treatment of arthritis in dogs


An inflammatory condition known as arthritis, affects the joints and results in pain, stiffness, and discomfort. When a dog has arthritis, the cartilage in their joints is damaged, which causes the bones in the joints to rub against one another. According to the Arthritis Foundation, canine arthritis affects one in every five dogs. Your dog may be experiencing arthritis if she is older and has started to walk more slowly or has trouble ascending and descending stairs. This condition can affect the legs, hips, back, and other areas, making routine motions unpleasant. It is most frequently found in senior dogs.

As a result of the constant rubbing of bone on bone, the joints might become even stiffer and more difficult to move over time.

There is no disputing how difficult it is for both the veterinarian and the pet owner to diagnose canine arthritis. Knowing that your pet is in a lot of discomfort can be devastating because it is an illness that gets severe and painful with time. However, by being aware of the risk factors, contributing factors, and indicators of canine arthritis, you can help your dog receive early treatment, which will help control the symptoms and the progression much better.


what to do if my dog is diagnosed with arthritis and joint pain?

Canine arthritis is commonly divided into osteoarthritis, septic arthritis, and immune-mediated polyarthritis.


One-fifth of dogs have osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disorder, but the issues aren't just limited to older pets. Both young and old dogs can develop this type of arthritis due to disorders like hip dysplasia, patella luxation, joint trauma, and other related conditions. Because their joints and tendons are put under more stress, research shows that larger dogs are affected more than younger canines. Degenerative joint disease, often known as osteoarthritis (OA), is by far the most prevalent kind of arthritis in dogs (DJD). The cartilage that surrounds the joints gradually deteriorates over time and permanently in osteoarthritis. The friction that results in pain and reduced motion.

Dogs experience differing levels of symptoms since the condition worsens over time. Soreness, discomfort, and stiffness are a few of these. This results in other behavioral modifications in your dog, such as impatience and abrupt responses.

It is beneficial to keep dogs with this illness warm and out of damp environments because cold aggravates degenerative arthritis.

Moderate exercise used as physical therapy can help dogs with osteoarthritis considerably. This strategy will aid in preserving joint mobility and muscular strength. Be careful not to overdo it.


Septic arthritis is a serious, pus-filled infections brought on by bacterial, fungal, or viral pathogens. It is a kind of reactive arthritis. This type of arthritis is very painful and only affects one or a few joints that have been inflamed by an infection source or agent that causes infections. Usually, the fluid between the joints contributes to its lubrication.

Joint or synovial fluid is the term for this substance.

Since the joint fluid is often sterile, taking it and cultivating it in the lab will yield no pathogens.

However, in this kind of arthritis, bacteria can be discovered in the joint fluid. Male dogs between the ages of four and seven are the most frequently affected, along with some breeds that are prone to it.

Dogs with compromised immune systems or those with diabetes and insulin dependence are more likely to get this condition.

Keep an eye on any open wounds or surgical incisions the dog may have, as they are a major contributor to this type of arthritis.

ALSO READ- Diabetes In Dogs: Is It Common?


A non-infectious immune system condition in your dog called immune-mediated polyarthritis (IMPA) affects his joints. All joints could become inflamed, which would be uncomfortable and painful for your dog. Since the indicators are frequently universal to many disorders, the symptoms of IMPA can differ and resemble those of other disorders. Lameness, numerous joint discomforts, joint swelling, fever, tiredness, difficulty walking or standing, and stiffness are a few symptoms.

Your dog's immune system is attacking its joints and other organs. A dog's immune system typically defends it against germs, viruses, and other invaders. It overreacts and targets healthy tissue in canines with autoimmune disorders. 

Erosive or non-erosive immune-mediated polyarthritis are both possible. No bone or cartilage is destroyed in the non-erosive type. In one or more of the afflicted joints, there is bone and cartilage degradation in erosive IMPA. The erosive form closely resembles human rheumatoid arthritis. Fortunately, erosive IMPA in pets is uncommon, with less than 1% of reported instances.


joint pain and knee issues in dogs and how to deal with it

In general, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other forms of "primary arthritis" can be distinguished from "secondary arthritis," which develops as a result of joint instability. The most typical type of arthritis found in canines is secondary arthritis. Dogs are frequently diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA), sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease, which is the most prevalent secondary form of arthritis (DJD). Dogs' secondary arthritis can be brought on by a number of conditions, such as obesity, hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament rupture, and so forth. Other causes include trauma, such as a vehicle accident or a sports injury, or joint infection, frequently brought on by bites (septic arthritis).

Other causes of arthritis include-


As we've already mentioned, dogs can get arthritis, a degenerative illness brought on by cartilage wear, in their bodies. The primary cause of this illness in dogs' bodies is ageing. However, growing older does not necessarily mean having this condition. On the one hand, some older dogs do not experience this disorder, while on the other hand, some younger canines do.


Although a dog is an active animal and will engage in bursts of activity that are good for them, they still need to give their muscles the right amount of rest, just like humans. If the joints are overworked, they may get stressed and develop arthritis if they don't get enough rest.

If your dog is suffering from arthritis, he/she might find it difficult to walk.

Using a dog walking support or a dog leg support could help manage the pain and provide strong support to dogs or cats from leg injuries, hock pain relief and loss of stability and mobility caused by arthritis.

Shop for Lana Paws dog walking support here


Larger dogs are particularly susceptible to this illness though it could also affect smaller dogs. The German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Rottweiler, and other medium- and large-sized dogs are more prone to get this painful condition in comparison to smaller sized breeds.


Another reason why dogs get arthritis is due to accidents and injuries to their limbs. The tissues and tendons around their joints may suffer some underlying damage as a result of an injury to one of their limbs, placing unnecessary load on them.

Additionally, a dog may experience some joint misalignment as a result of an accident or injury, which can stress tissues and cause bone to rub against them, resulting in arthritis.


You dog’s poor diet may also contribute to many illnesses including arthritis. For their bones, muscles, and tissues to remain strong and healthy, dogs require a diet that is well-balanced and contains the right levels of nutrients.

Long-term malnutrition can weaken their bones and muscles and start the process of ageing, which can lead to joint inflammation.


Your dog will almost certainly develop osteoarthritis if he is huge and overweight. The added weight accelerates friction between the bones that make up the joints by making the cartilage of the joints wear out much more quickly.

ALSO READ- How much should I feed my dog?


arthritis in dogs, signs & treatment

Some common signs of arthritis that pet parents can look out for include-

  • Reluctance to move
  • Irritability/ aggression
  • Limping and stiffness
  • Losing stability/ stumbling while walking
  • Struggling to get off the floor or sitting down
  • Misjudging steps and thresholds
  • Dragging their feet
  • Fatigue & tiredness
  • Slowing down/ Lagging behind during walks
  • Not wanting to use the stairs
  • Not wanting to be touched. Inflammation in the joints can cause the affected areas to be sensitive to touch
  • Excessive licking of joints could be a sign of inflammation in joints
  • Spending more time on their own
  • Not greeting you as they did earlier
  • Not interested in meeting and playing with other dogs

It’s crucial to be considerate and give your pet the finest care possible, so that they can seamlessly manage arthritis in the front or rear leg or any other place.

Arthritis could affect any joint in your dog’s body but most commonly affected joints include wrists, hips, lower back, elbow and knees.

Though Arthritis is not curable, the appropriate food, dietary supplements, lifestyle modifications and recommended medications from a veterinarian can all assist in managing the pain and quality of life.


The symptoms mentioned above are typically enough to determine whether a dog has arthritis, but only an X-ray and joint inspection by your dog's veterinarian will be able to completely confirm it. The veterinarian will press on the dog's joint locations to observe how he responds. Blood tests may also be performed by the veterinarian to rule out any potential future health issues. Early arthritis detection is preferable so you can create a step-by-step plan to assist your dog. While your dog is under a general anesthesia, a radiograph can be taken to confirm arthritis. To get the clearest picture, contrast dye may occasionally need to be injected into the joint before an x-ray.

The force plate analysis is yet another helpful diagnostic tool. A mat with plate sensors is set up on the floor for this test. The mat can assess the force on each plate as the dog walks across it since it is connected to a computer. To assess if the arthritis is inflammatory or degenerative, joint fluid may be aspirated.


Giving the dog a nutritious diet and lots of opportunity for exercise is a crucial first step. This reduces symptoms by preventing excessive weight gain. NSAIDs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines that are frequently administered to treat pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter high-quality joint supplements nee to be given regularly and, in rare circumstances, surgery could be an option. Since arthritis cannot be cured, treatment focuses on minimizing pain and preventing side effects including uncontrollable weight gain. NSAIDs are one of the most popular and successful therapies for arthritis in dogs.

Surgery is frequently a last resort when your dog is in excruciating discomfort or has joint damage. Surgery does have its own symptoms and side effects, including making your dog's suffering worse, even if it can significantly lessen his pain and increase his mobility.

Some pet owners prefer trying pain-relieving procedures like acupuncture, massage, physical therapy, hydro therapy and chiropractic adjustments on their animals. By improving circulation, reducing discomfort, and accelerating the body's natural healing processes, these complementary therapies may help your dog with various arthritic symptoms. Be aware that chiropractic adjustments for dogs are very debatable, therefore you should only consider them if you have a veterinarian with substantial training in orthopedics.

Other lifestyle changes are also required to manage sudden flares and pain caused by canine arthritis. Here are a few recommendations,

  • Use raised/elevated bowls for food and water
  • Do not play tug, fetch or throw ball with your arthritic dog (if your dog loves to play with ball, you can throw it slowly at their level towards them rather than throwing the ball away from them, making them jump, run and chase the ball)
  • Play more of mental puzzles and mental enrichment games such as, sniffing games, to keep them mentally active and to also help them burn calories
  • Limit or reduce use of stairs as much as possible
  • Place carpets/rugs around the house
  • Keep the paws dry post walks to avoid slippage
  • Do not take them for hikes and fast/long walks, instead do slow walks with your dog and allow them to sniff and explore at a slower pace

In conclusion, there are further things you may do at home to improve your dog's quality of life and perhaps lessen his suffering. For instance, when it's chilly or rainy outside, your dog's illness may get worse. Therefore, it's crucial to keep your dog in a warm, dry environment. As much as you can, keep him inside, and try to spoil him a little by applying warm compresses to his joints.

arthritis in dogs, signs & treatment

A dog with arthritis can nevertheless lead a full, happy life. Your dog can live normally and comfortably, as if she had no joint issues, with proper management.

However, it's critical to keep in mind that arthritis is a disease that worsens with age and is therefore a progressive condition.

Early diagnosis and proper care are essential for arthritic dogs to have a high quality of life by promoting joint health and reducing joint discomfort.


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