Dog Arthritis: Identification and Treatment

One in five dogs will develop this painful, sometimes degenerative, condition of the joints. Dog arthritis occurs when your dog's joints wear down and bones rub together, causing pain, stiffness and swelling. Arthritis in dogs may be of genetic origin, as with dysplasia. Other causes may be infections (Lyme Disease and parvo) and immune disorders.


The first step in helping your dog is noticing symptoms of arthritis as early as possible. Generally, your dog may appear to be in pain and not feel well. Specific symptoms may include mood swings, decrease in energy levels and alertness, disinterest in play, increased sleeping, preference of one limb over others, and weight gain. Your dog may hesitate before climbing stairs or jumping and have difficulty in standing; your dog's joints may appear stiff and sore. Write down what you observe in a journal for future reference.

An evaluation by a veterinarian is called for if symptoms last more than two weeks. During an orthopedic exam, the vet will document signs of arthritis, like swelling of joints, areas hot to the touch, asymmetry of limbs, decreased range of motion, and joint noises. X-rays may identify joint dislocation or bony outgrowths, called osteophytes, which indicate degenerative joint disease. A joint tap to drain fluid for lab analysis may also be ordered, among other diagnostic tests.


Unfortunately, arthritis in dogs has no cure. Fortunately, a variety of treatment regimens may reduce symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. A healthy diet and plenty of exercise will maintain your dog's proper weight and reduces stiffness. (Choose low-impact exercise, like swimming.) For the relief of pain, your vet may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), as well as recommend over-the-counter medications and food products containing either glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, or Omega fatty acids. In some cases, your vet may administer injections directly into affected joints or remove especially painful joints during surgery.

It is difficult to see a beloved pet suffer with arthritis, but never rush to treat it on your own. Most importantly, forgo dispensing medications that are made for humans to your dog, without first consulting a veterinarian. Some medications, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, may be toxic to your dog. Morevoer, correct dosages are difficult for non-medical care-givers to gauge.

Though there is yet no cure for arthritis in dogs, proper medical care can significantly enhance the quality of life for your pet. At home, the benefits of tender loving care cannot be underestimated. You can provide ramps and elevated food bowls to accommodate your dog's limited mobility and a heated bed or sweater during cold weather, for example.