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Understanding Arthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Care | Pupford

January 31st, 2024

Filed under Dog Health, Health + Wellness

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Arthritis is not just a human ailment; our canine companions are susceptible to this condition as well. According to the Arthritis Foundation, 1 in 5 dogs suffer from arthritis.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover the causes and symptoms of arthritis, as well as how to prevent and manage arthritis to ensure you can provide the best care possible for your beloved pup.

Table of Contents:

  1. What is Arthritis in Dogs?
  2. Causes of Arthritis in Dogs
  3. Preventing Arthritis in Dogs
  4. Recognizing Arthritis in Dogs

Managing Arthritis in Dogs

What is Arthritis in Dogs?

Arthritis is the inflammation of joints leading to pain, swelling, stiffness, and restricted mobility. According to CARE, arthritis is the leading cause of chronic pain in dogs.

The most common form of arthritis in dogs is Osteoarthritis (OA), characterized by the degeneration of joint cartilage. Other forms of arthritis in dogs include rheumatoid arthritis, infectious arthritis, and juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

Osteoarthritis primarily affects the joints, where bones articulate. Joints consist of bone ends covered with cartilage - smooth protective tissue. In a healthy joint, this cartilage allows smooth movement and acts as a shock absorber.

In dogs suffering from OA, the cartilage starts to degenerate and wear away. The bones lose their cushioning leading to friction between them during movement. This friction causes inflammation and pain.

As the OA progresses, changes occur in the underlying bone. Bone spurs, also known as osteophytes, may form at the edges of the joint. These spurs can contribute to stiffness and exacerbate discomfort.

Causes of Arthritis in Dogs

Age-Related Factors

Aging is a natural factor contributing to arthritis in dogs. As dogs grow older, their joints experience wear and tear due to a lifetime of movement.

The cumulative impact of these daily activities on joint structures can lead to the degeneration of cartilage, particularly in weight-bearing joints like hips and knees.

While aging contributes to joint degeneration, not all senior dogs will develop arthritis. The interplay of genetics, lifestyle, and overall health influences whether age-related changes manifest as clinical arthritis.

a photo of senior German shepherd sitting in the grass


Genetic factors play a significant role in certain breeds’ susceptibility to arthritis. Breeds with a predisposition may carry specific genes that make them more prone to joint issues. Examples include Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers.

Beyond breed predispositions, some dogs inherit joint abnormalities that set the stage for arthritis. Conditions like hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia can lead to joint instability, accelerating the wear and tear on cartilage and increasing the risk of arthritis.


One of the most modifiable risk factors for arthritis in dogs is obesity. Excess body weight adds additional stress on joints, particularly weight-bearing ones like hips and knees. The mechanical strain from carrying excess weight accelerates cartilage breakdown and inflammation, which hastens the onset of osteoarthritis.

Obesity not only contributes to arthritis but also exacerbates its symptoms. Pain and discomfort associated with arthritis often lead to reduced activity, creating a vicious cycle where lack of exercise further contributes to weight gain. Breaking this cycle through weight management interventions is crucial for improving joint health.

Learn more about obesity in dogs as well as symptoms and treatments.

a photo of a pug who is slightly overweight

Joint Instability

Joint instability resulting from previous injuries or trauma can be a direct precursor to arthritis. Ligament tears, fractures, or dislocations can disrupt the normal functioning of joints, leading to abnormal wear on cartilage. Post-injury arthritis may manifest months or even years after the initial trauma.

Structural abnormalities, such as hip dysplasia, contribute to joint instability. In hip dysplasia, the hip joint doesn’t fit snugly into the hip socket, leading to increased friction and wear. This malformation, often hereditary, is a common cause of arthritis in the hope joints of affected dogs.

Preventing Arthritis in Dogs

While it is not always possible to prevent arthritis in dogs, we can do things to prolong the onset and ensure overall joint health.

Here are some proactive measures pup parents can take to reduce the risk of arthritis and promote a healthy, active lifestyle for their dogs.

Regular Veterinary Check-Ups

Regular veterinary check-ups are instrumental in the early detection of joint issues.

Veterinarians can assess joint health through physical examinations, joint palpation, and, if necessary, imaging studies. Early detection allows for prompt intervention, potentially preventing the progression of joint conditions to arthritis.

Establishing a routine for monitoring joint health is particularly crucial for breeds with known predispositions for arthritis. This ongoing vigilance includes observing gait, movement patterns, and any signs of discomfort or stiffness.

a senior dog being examined by a veterinarian

Balanced Nutrition

Nutrition plays a pivotal role in overall health, including joint health. High-quality dog food with joint-supportive ingredients such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids can contribute to joint integrity.

While treats are a daily part of many dog’s lives, moderation is key. Excessive high-calorie treats can contribute to weight gain. Instead opt for low-calorie treats, like our Freeze Dried Training Treats which are packed with nutrients!

Consult with your veterinarian to determine your specific dog’s nutritional needs.

Take a deep dive into canine nutrition in our Basic Puppy Nutrition Course - included with Academy!

Weight Management

As we said previously, obesity is a significant risk factor for arthritis in dogs.

Pup parents should prioritize maintaining their dogs at a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise. When needed, weight management plans can be developed with your veterinarian to ensure a gradual and sustainable approach.

Exercise is crucial for joint health and overall well-being, Regular, low-impact exercise helps maintain muscle strength, joint flexibility, and a healthy weight.

Exercise routines should be tailored to a dog’s age, breed, and individual needs. Activities like swimming, walking, and controlled play are beneficial for both weight management and joint health.

Recognizing Arthritis in Dogs

Dogs communicate pain through behavioral changes that may initially go unnoticed. Recognizing signs of discomfort, such as limping, favoring one leg, or holding a limb off the ground, is essential. Here are some things to look for that may be an indication of poor joint health or arthritis.


Arthritic dogs often experience stiffness, particularly after periods of rest. This stiffness may be more pronounced in the morning or after extended periods of inactivity. Observing how quickly a dog becomes mobile and flexible after waking or resting provides valuable insights into joint health.

Difficulty Rising or Lying Down

Impaired mobility, especially when rising from a lying position or sitting down, is a common indicator of arthritis. Dogs may exhibit hesitancy, struggle, or vocalize discomfort during these movements. Paying attention to any changes in these daily activities is crucial for the early detection of arthritis or other health issues.

a photo of senior golden retriever laying on tile floor

Behavioral Changes

Arthritis can influence a dog's behavior. Dogs in pain may become irritable, agitated, or exhibit signs of aggression. Changes in temperament, reluctance to be touched or groomed, and an overall decreased interest in activities they once enjoyed may signal underlying joint discomfort.

Reduced Activity and Reluctance to Exercise

A noticeable decrease in activity levels or reluctance to engage in physical activities can be indicative of arthritis. Dogs may become less playful, avoid activities that involve jumping or running, going up or down stairs, and exhibit a preference for more sedentary behaviors.

If you notice any of these symptoms, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian.

Managing Arthritis in Dogs

Managing arthritis in dogs involves a multifaceted approach, combining veterinary care, lifestyle modifications, and proactive interventions. By addressing pain, promoting joint health, and adapting the living environment, pup parents can improve their dog’s comfort and overall quality of life.

Veterinary Care

Veterinarians play a pivotal role in creating customized treatment plans based on the specific needs and severity of arthritis in individual dogs. These plans often include a combination of medications, physical therapy, and ongoing monitoring to ensure optimal management.

Pain Management with Medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed to manage pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Veterinarians carefully select medications based on a dog's health status, considering factors such as age, breed, and any pre-existing conditions. Regular veterinary check-ups are essential to assess the ongoing effectiveness of medication.

Exercise and Physical Therapy

Engaging in regular, low-impact exercises helps maintain joint flexibility and muscle strength without placing excessive strain on arthritic joints. Some recommended exercises include swimming and leash walks.

Physical therapy is a valuable component of arthritis management. Therapeutic exercises, massage, and stretching routines can improve joint mobility and reduce muscle tension.

Veterinarians or certified canine physical therapists may guide you through implementing these techniques effectively.

A Doberman engaged in physical therapy


Joint supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin are commonly recommended to support cartilage health. These supplements aim to slow the progression of arthritis and alleviate symptoms.

Pet owners should follow veterinary guidance on appropriate dosages and administration.

Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit arthritic dogs. Incorporating these fatty acids into the diet, either through supplements or specific food choices, may contribute to overall joint health.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Joint Supplements to learn more!

Lifestyle Modifications

Providing a comfortable living environment is essential for arthritic dogs. Orthopedic beds, soft bedding, and warm areas can alleviate joint pressure. Elevated food and water bowls reduce strain on the neck and spine, enhancing overall comfort.

Consider making home adaptations, such as ramps or short stairs, to assist dogs in accessing elevated surfaces without exerting excessive effort on their joints. Non-slip flooring minimizes the risk of slips and falls, particularly for dogs with compromised coordination.

Holistic Approaches to Arthritis Care

Alternative therapies, including acupuncture and massage, offer additional avenues for pain relief and improved well-being. These holistic approaches can complement traditional pain management treatments.

Understanding Arthritis in Dogs Recap

In conclusion, arthritis in dogs is a multifaceted condition that requires a comprehensive approach to care.

While arthritis can pose many challenges, by understanding the causes, recognizing symptoms, and implementing a combination of veterinary guidance, lifestyle adjustments, and holistic therapies, pet owners can play a pivotal role in improving their dog’s quality of life.

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