Diagnosing Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis in dogs is a degenerative joint disease that occurs when the cartilage in your dog's joints begins to deteriorate. As the condition worsens, your dog may experience damage to and degeneration of bone and other joint tissue. The condition can be managed with medication, weight loss, nutraceuticals and other therapies.

Understanding Canine Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is very common in dogs, especially older ones. Many elderly dogs who seem to have lost interest in activity and lack energy are in fact suffering from arthritis, which causes joint stiffness and pain.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint disease that occurs when the cartilage in your dog's joints begins to break down, allowing the bones to rub together. As a result, your dog experiences pain and inflammation in the joints, limited joint movement and joint stiffness. Arthritis may cause bone spurs to develop around your dog's joints, and it may lead to degeneration of other soft tissues in the joint.

Osteoarthritis Risk Factors

Old age is the primary cause of canine osteoarthritis, but other causes include:

  • Congenital disorders like hip dysplasia
  • High activity levels, such as those experienced by working dogs or athletic dogs, since they place large amounts of stress on the joints
  • Obesity, which also places undue stress on the joints
  • Old injuries
  • Metabolic disorders like diabetes

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Since arthritis is a degenerative disease, symptoms appear mild at first and gradually worsen with time. The initial symptoms of osteoarthritis might include joint stiffness, reduced range of motion and lower activity levels. As joint degeneration progresses, your dog may begin limping, and may no longer be able to climb up and down stairs or jump onto furniture. Your dog will have trouble standing and sitting or lying down, and he may display stiff, pained movements when squatting to relieve himself.

Osteoarthritis in dogs causes pain and inflammation in the joints. Your dog's joints may be visibly swollen, and will feel warm and tender to the touch. His joints may crack and pop when he moves. He may seek out cold surfaces when he lies down, because the cold eases the pain and inflammation in his joints.

Dogs with severe arthritis may lose muscle tone due to lack of movement. They may even whimper or howl in pain.

Diagnosing Canine Osteoarthritis

Your vet will diagnose canine osteoarthritis based on a physical examination. He'll look for inflammation and swelling in the joints, and he'll examine your dog's range of movement to see if the dog moves stiffly or with obvious pain. Your vet will want detailed information about your dog's symptoms, including how long they've lasted, how they may have worsened over time and how severe they are now.

Coping with Canine Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease, but a treatment strategy can help you manage your dog's pain and even restore some of his freedom of movement.

If obesity is a contributing factor in your dog's osteoarthritis, then a weight control program can improve his condition. Gentle, low impact exercises can help any dog with arthritis regain some joint movement and build muscle tone. Swimming is perfect for dogs with arthritis.

Your vet may choose to treat your dog's arthritis pain with anti-inflammatory drugs. Aspirin can relieve pain in mild cases of arthritis; otherwise, your vet might prescribe corticosteroids.

Nutraceuticals like glucosamine and chondroitin can help rebuild cartilage and lubricate joints to reduce pain and other symptoms of arthritis.