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Arthritis in Dogs

Arthritis (osteoarthritis) is a degenerative disease that affects the cartilage of different joints in an dog’s body. This disease is usually caused by different injuries, abnormal development, abnormal conformation, lack of activity, and extreme activity of the dog. It is a very common disease in dogs, and it can be cured with persistent treatment and patience.

Can Dogs Get Arthritis?

Unfortunately, dogs are a species susceptible to arthritis, especially if they fall in the following categories:

  • Large breeds (Labradors, German Shepherds and Chow Chows)
  • Overweight dogs (BMI over 25)
  • Work dogs (shepherds, hunting and service dogs)
  • Athletic dogs (dogs that participate in different sports, such as agility, canicross, bikejoring, mushing)
  • Dogs older than 6 years

Dogs older than 1 year have a 15 to 25% chance of getting arthritis because of cartilage deterioration.

Causes of Arthritis in Dogs

Dog jumpingThe main cause of arthritis is a traumatic injury. Very often, the cause of the injury is a car accident. It can also happen in athletic dogs: their cartilage becomes worn from long exercises and by the constant pressure and impact on hard surfaces (e.g., running on the ground). Younger dogs can suffer from inborn (congenital) arthritis during the development of the skeletal system. Also, a frequent cause of arthritis is an infection, which can be caused by the skin being punctured by wooden splinters, metal wires, or some other sharp object.

Different Types of Arthritis in Dogs

In this article, we will first take a look at all the different types of arthritis in dogs, and then we will walk you through the most efficient remedies to help to preserve the health of your furry friend as much as possible.

Osteoarthritis classifications:

  • Primary or idiopathic (unknown cause) osteoarthritis is rare but can be found in some breeds like a labrador and a chow-chow
  • Secondary (erosive) osteoarthritis is usually caused by an infection

Arthritis in a Dog’s Hips

Arthritis in a dogThe main cause of this type of arthritis is hip dysplasia, which means there is an abnormal formation inside the articulation, most commonly in the pelvic bone, in the acetabulum, also known as the socket. This is a genetic developmental disease that results in malformation of the hip joint (a ball-and-socket joint). 1Arthritis in dogs. Pet Health Network. Retrieved 18 July 2020.

Symptoms of hip arthritis:

  • Lameness
  • Pain during position change (getting up, lying down)
  • Licking of the painful area
  • Atrophy

This kind of arthritis has to be treated persistently for a longer period of time to show some progress and to make your pet’s life easier.

Arthritis in a Dog’s Legs

This type of arthritis can occur with dogs that grow at a faster rate. On dogs’ forelegs, the part that is most susceptible to arthritis is the elbow, and the most vulnerable part on their hind legs is the knee.

Spinal Arthritis in Dogs

Spinal arthritis in dogsSpinal arthritis needs a longer time to develop visible symptoms, usually a few years. During this time, the cartilage becomes thinner and thinner, and the connective tissues start to degenerate, which leads to bone exposure and friction between the two bones. If you doubt that your dog might have arthritis, you should check the joints by palpating and moving the two adjacent bones, such as the upper leg and lower leg, for the presence of pain. If you notice different behavior than usual, you should contact and consult your veterinarian.

Arthritis in a Dog’s Knee

In the knee, there are three bones that articulate together: two long bones (femur and tibia) and one small bone (patella). Causes of arthritis in a dog’s knee are similar to those mentioned above, but trauma is the most common reason. Weight is a big problem for this type of arthritis because joints are more stressed than usual. A swollen and painful knee is the first noticeable symptom.

Arthritis Symptoms in Dogs

There are many symptoms that may indicate that a dog is suffering from arthritis. Some of them occur in the initial stage, while others are specific to the advanced stage of arthritis.

Early Symptoms of Arthritis

The first symptoms can sometimes be difficult to spot. Below are some signs to pay attention to in your dog’s behavior:

  • Changes in mobility
  • Change in activity (less active)
  • Slight lameness

These signs should not be ignored. As soon as you notice one or more of these signs, you should consult your veterinarian for further action. Inactivity can be a sign of a different problem, so it should not be something to rely on definitely.

Later Symptoms

These symptoms are easier to notice. The main later symptoms are:

  • Pain
  • Swelling of the area
  • The affected area is warmer than the rest of the dog’s body
  • Cracking noises when your dog moves its joints, especially in the elbow
  • Lameness is much more noticeable, especially during the cold weather and after prolonging the therapy and pain management; it can get so bad that some dogs become unable to walk

The first signs of spinal arthritis:

  • Difficulty in running, doing exercises, and taking long walks
  • Stiffness of the body
  • More intense pain, which leads to problems with walking and basic movement, so the dog is in constant pain; deformation can occur, but this is not very common

Diagnosis of Arthritis in Dogs

Veterinarians usually use a combination of different diagnostic methods to diagnose arthritis, depending on the stage and symptoms of the illness. First of all, communicate with your veterinarian about the changes in the behavior of your dog, and report/describe every symptom that you notice; don’t leave anything out.

Veterinary helping dogAfter the anamnesis has been taken, a veterinarian will conduct an orthopedic exam. At the beginning of the examination, they check the dog’s walking ability. After this, the veterinarian will check every joint, step by step. After a thorough examination, in some cases, it can already be obvious that your dog has arthritis.

When it’s not as obvious, the most common and useful diagnostic method is roentgenography, and in some veterinary clinics, arthrocentesis can be performed (a procedure for removing synovial fluid from the joint and taking it for analysis). The biopsy can also be taken to exclude neoplastic processes. Roentgenography (RTG) can show a deterioration of the cartilage, where veterinarians can see that the cartilage is much thinner than in healthy dogs.

Arthritis Treatment for Dogs

With standard medical care; the use of medications, physical therapy, and other medical procedures that are necessary for the treatment of arthritis in dogs, there are certain foods and supplements that will also help improve the condition.

Arthritis Medicine for Dogs

When arthritis is diagnosed, the veterinarian starts treatment. First, they apply NSAID drugs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for pain, high body temperature management, etc., such as Carprofen or Meloxicam. After NSAIDs, veterinarians apply chondroprotective supplements. The main purposes of chondroprotective supplements are pain relief and prevention of further cartilage damage.

Gabapentin can be used to reduce chronic pain, but it has side effects such as diarrhea and vomiting. If the degenerative process has gone too far, surgical treatment might be the only solution. Physical therapy should be included; it’s very beneficial for the healing process because muscle activity prevents muscle loss (atrophy) and improves leverage in the joints. You can try taking them swimming, doing recommended exercises with them, and taking them on easy walks.

Best Dog Food for Arthritis

Your dog should be eating food that is rich in omega 3 fatty acids and proteins, which can be found in fish meat. Also, dogs should eat chicken-based food and some retail food that is rich in glucosamine and chondroitin. Of course, this food is most beneficial when combined with treatment and should not be the main source of supplements. Therapy with glucosamine and chondroitin should begin immediately after the arthritis is diagnosed.

Laser Treatment for Arthritis in Dogs

Some veterinary clinics may offer laser treatment for arthritis in your dog. The basic goal of laser treatment is stimulating cell growth. Laser treatment reduces pain and inflammation. Depending on the tissue, different methods are used, such as hot laser treatment. It aims to stimulate the body’s own healing mechanisms through photobiomodulation, which means the energy from the light works at the cellular level 2Managing arthritis: complementary therapies – laser-therapy. Canine Arthritis Management. Retrieved 18 July 2020.. Usually, one laser treatment lasts around 1-4 minutes per day. Supplements should not be excluded from the therapy, because laser therapy helps to reduce common symptoms, such as pain.

Arthritis Supplements for Dogs

The most effective supplements for arthritis treatment are chondroitin and glucosamine. There are two ways for application: injections and oral supplements. 3Johnson K. (2017). Blackwells five-minute veterinary consult canine and feline, 6th edition, 2016. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 58(9), 974..

Glucosamine is an organic compound that is naturally produced in the body. The main purpose of glucosamine is to help produce other chemical compounds in the body, which helps with building tendons, ligaments, synovial fluid, and cartilage.

Chondroitin is also naturally found in the body. Chondroitin helps with the reparation of the cartilage and with the elasticity. The best way to administer the drug is orally, because it is less stressful for you and your dog, and it is time-saving because you don’t have to make appointments with your veterinarian. If your dog refuses to take drugs, you can mix it with food or treats. New drugs are always being developed and becoming available, so the development of a successful management plan in the patient requires regular review of the current medications with detailed progress reports from the owner.4Arthritis in dogs. The Kennel Club. Retrieved 19 July 2020.

There are some mixtures of glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM on the market that have shown good results for prevention and pain relief.

Natural Remedies for Arthritis in Dogs

There are a few known natural remedies that can help with the treatment of arthritis.
Some of them are curcuma (turmeric), garlic, and foods rich in vitamins B and C. Based on the experiences of dog owners around the world, curcuma and garlic can help with pain relief, and vitamins B and C are also helpful with the healing process. Vitamin C prevents further development of arthritis, and vitamin B improves joint mobility.

Prevention of Arthritis in Dogs

To prevent arthritis, it’s important that your dog eats high-quality food rich in calcium and takes supplements at an early age for better development and formation of the joints.


The rare type of arthritis in dogs is very common for labradors and chow-chows, but the most common arthritis can occur already after the first year of a dogs’ life. Your dog should eat food rich in calcium to prevent arthritis. But most types of arthritis are not easy to prevent. If you notice any change in the mobility of your dog, you should contact your vet. If body parts like the knee or hip are swelled, it could be already too late. If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis the best supplements and painkillers are supplements that contain glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM. Natural remedies can help gaining a little bit of mobility back, but they are not helpful against the pain. We recommend buying supplements made in USA only and only directly from the manufacturer. If you don’t take appropriate care of your dog with arthritis, surgery may be unavoidable, so please don’t postpone to visit your vet. If detected on time, your dog’s mobility can be saved.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Arthritis in Dogs

How Long Can my Dog Live with Arthritis?

A dog with arthritis can have a long life if you follow the recommendations given by your vet. With proper care, exercise, and diet, your pet could reach the geriatric age. Arthritis is not a life-threatening disease, but it can have a negative impact on your dog’s life.

What Can I Give My Dog for Arthritis?

Dogs with arthritis should be treated with glucosamine and chondroitin, and you will need to change their diet plan.

Are Dog Beds for Arthritis Helpful?

Dog beds can be very helpful, especially when the dogs are unable to walk or move. The beds have a soft padding, which prevents decubitus and the formation of calluses.

Does Heat Help Arthritis in Dogs?

Heat can sometimes be helpful because it relaxes the muscles and can help with joint lubrication. Laser therapy, for example, is a heat-based process. Cold compresses can reduce inflammation, pain, and stiffness.

When Should you Euthanize a Dog with Arthritis?

Euthanasia is, of course, the last possible resort. It should only be considered in cases where the dog is completely unable to walk and move, where there is no possible solution for treatment and if the dog has unbearable pain that cannot be managed.


1 Arthritis in dogs. Pet Health Network. Retrieved 18 July 2020.
2 Managing arthritis: complementary therapies – laser-therapy. Canine Arthritis Management. Retrieved 18 July 2020.
3 Johnson K. (2017). Blackwells five-minute veterinary consult canine and feline, 6th edition, 2016. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 58(9), 974.
4 Arthritis in dogs. The Kennel Club. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
Dr. Benjamin Razic (DVM)
Dr. Benjamin Razic (DVM)
Dr. Benjamin is a young, ambitious veterinarian, working in a busy regional vet station in Travnik. He is interested in animal virology and is locally engaged in animal rights. Benjamin also has a certificate in surgical support, anesthesia monitoring, canine welfare, and hospitalization. He has a mixed-breed dog he has found on the streets.

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