Arthritis in Dogs

Arthritis is a condition where there is inflammation in the joints. This results in pain, stiffness and swelling. It is also known as degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis.

This condition affects not only humans but can also occur in dogs, cats, horses, cows, cockatoos, macaws and a number of other animals. The tricky thing is dogs are not able to communicate the pain they are feeling to their owners. Since this condition primarily occurs in older dogs owners often think the changes they see in their dog are simply the result of age and nothing can be done.

Types of Arthritis

Here are the major types of arthritis found in dogs:

Osteoarthritis or Degenerative Joint Disease or DJD

healthy dogThis is the most common type of arthritis found in dogs and generally occurs in older animals.

It is a permanent and progressive, long-term condition. The cartilage surrounding the joints deteriorates and the bones then rub against each other causing inflammation and pain. It is important to provide the dog with pain meds.

There is no known cause for primary DJD.

Secondary DJD can be caused by trauma, a birth defect, or excessive wear and tear on the joints.

Septic Arthritis

This type of arthritis happens when your dog is injured and the area becomes infected with bacteria. It is sometimes, though rarely, a fungal infection.

A dog with diabetes or a deficiency in their immune system is more susceptible to this disease. It is most common in male dogs ages four to eight.

A recent surgery can sometimes allow for the entry of an infection into the dogs body.

Along with the symptoms of pain and joint swelling, a dog with septic arthritis will run a fever, have a lack of appetite and the joints will often feel warm when touched.

If your vet suspects this form of arthritis in your dog he’ll order lab tests, including taking fluid from the joints. This will show the type of bacteria that’s causing the infection.

Antibiotics will be prescribed based on the results of the lab tests. Surgery may be required to completely flush the joint. The sooner the problem is treated the better. Don’t hesitate to take your dog to the vet if you suspect they have this condition.  Controlled exercise can help reduce the symptoms.

Immune Mediated Polyarthritis (IMPA)

burmese mountain dogWhen a dog has this type of arthritis it means his own immune system is attacking his joints.

Neurophils or white blood cells attack the joint or joints like they should normally attack bacteria.

There are two types of IMPA; erosive and non-erosive. In the erosive type the bones or joints are being destroyed. This is similar to rheumatoid arthritis in humans. Luckily, this is very rare in dogs. In non-erosive the joints and bones are not destroyed.

Causes of Arthritis

There are often no clear reasons for the onset of arthritis; but here some condition that increase the odds of a dog developing arthritis:

  • Old age
  • Injury to joint
  • Inflammatory disease
  • Poor nutrition
  • Improper care
  • Recent surgeries

Breeds most prone to arthritis

Though any breed of dog can develop arthritis; it seems to be most prevalent in larger animals. The following breeds are the most susceptible:

  • Great Danesgreat dane
  • St. Bernards
  • Rottweilers
  • Labradors
  • German Shepherds
  • Mastiffs
  • Dachshunds
  • Newfoundlands
  • Golden Retrievers


Sadly, arthritis is dogs come on gradually and symptoms are usually not noticed until a lot of damage has been done. But here are a few signs that your dog is suffering with arthritis:

  • Limping
  • Moving slower or having difficulty moving especially after sleeping
  • Changes in posture
  • Stiffness
  • Visible deformities of the joints
  • Extreme tiredness, sleeping more
  • Snapping when being picked up (due to it causing them pain)
  • Thinning legs due to losing muscle/muscle atrophy
  • Chewing and licking painful parts such as paws or legs

Medical treatments

The first thing your dog’s veterinarian will do is test your dog for any joint deformities or swelling in the joints. He’ll then test your dog’s range of motion.

In the case of DJD surgery can sometimes help reduce pain and slow the progression of the deterioration of the joint. This can include removing a joint, reconstructing a joint or removing “joint mice” which are fragments of cartilage or bones.

Another treatment for DJD is physical therapy. This can include swimming which allows muscle movement without stress on the joints. Other exercises are included and also massage for the muscles.

For pain, heat and cold packs are recommended.

Pain medications and anti-inflammatory medications are often prescribed, especially for older dogs, to help them deal with pain.

To help keep the disease from progressing; joint protecting agents are prescribed. These are called chondroprotective agents or CPA’s.

You should take your dog to the vet at least twice a year so they can monitor how the disease is progressing. Medications will need to be changed as the degeneration of the joint and cartilage worsens and as your dog losses muscles mass.

Your doctor can also recommend exercises that can help your dog stay mobile as long as possible.

Natural treatments

Many pet owners have found that natural remedies can help control their dog’s pain level from arthritis. Though not always as effective, they also run less risk of side-effects.

Some of these natural remedies include; fish oil, turmeric, and an esterified fatty acid complex. Foderbud is marketing a number of different types of dog food designed to help easy the pain on Arthritis in dogs and cats. They have found that a BARF diet often can help a dog live a better life with less pain.

Other Tips for Helping Your Dog

Provide a soft, foam mattress for your dog to sleep on. Make sure it is in a warm area of your home and not near any windows or drafts. Dogs, like people, suffer more with arthritis when they are cold.

You may need to provide a ramp so your dog can go outside without having to walk up and down stairs.

Keep a log of the symptoms your dog exhibits such as limping or appearing to be in pain. This can help your vet with a diagnosis.

There are many steps that can be taken to help improve arthritis pain in dogs. If you suspect your dog is suffering from arthritis it is imperative that you can take him to see a veterinarian.

Your vet can often prescribe treatments that can help reduce your dog’s pain level even if the condition not be reversed. Don’t let him suffer without seeking medical care.