Everything you need to know about arthritis in dogs

Your dog seems to be slowing down. But is it arthritis? And if so, can it be stopped? Is it possible to turn back the clock and improve your favorite friend's arthritis?

Yes! You can improve your dog's joint health naturally. Here, you'll learn about your dog's arthritis, it's joint cartilage, how cartilage is made and how it affects the mobility of the synovial (bendable) joints.

Finally, learn how diet, exercise, care, and natural supplements work to rebuild cartilage and win against joint pain.



What is Dog Arthritis?

Dog arthritis refers to diseases that cause joint pain due to damaged joints. The causes of the damage and the kind of damage vary with the type of arthritis. This article will focus on the primary type of arthritis that dogs get, namely osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis in pets occurs when the cartilage at the end of the bones in a joint become damaged or worn.

Joints have several elements working together in a system. The most prominent features are the bones that connect at a joint. The joint acts as a hinge between the bones. The ligaments hold the bones together and in alignment. These healthy connective tissues attach to each bone like super-strong rubber bands and hold the bones in place while allowing movement in specific directions.

When the femur bone and tibia bone in the picture below rub together, it is extremely painful. Fortunately, the bones have a cushion of cartilage between them. The bones rub against the cartilage and not each other, which protects the bones. Additionally, the cartilage is very smooth, allowing the bones to slide across with very little friction. It is also spongy, and acts as a shock absorber.

X-Ray of Dog Joint

Synovial fluid surrounds the cartilage, improving its slickness. This fluid acts as a lubricant and prevents wear and tear on the joint. The synovial fluid also transports nutrients to the cartilage. Cartilage does not have any blood vessels. So the only way nutrients get to the cartilage is through the synovial fluid. Synovial fluid is critical to the health of the cartilage and the joint as a whole.

Finally, the joint is surrounded by the synovial membrane that encapsulates the joint and keeps the synovial fluid in place. This type of joint is called a synovial joint and the cartilage is called synovial cartilage.

All the elements in the joint need to be in good shape for it to work properly. If there is damage to any piece, swelling and pain will typically occur. If the damage is severe, the joint may fail to work properly, and the dog may limp, or in the worst cases, be unable to walk. If the joint is not working properly or sustains an injury, damage to the cartilage will occur.

So you are aware, two of the most critical building blocks for healthy cartilage are glucosamine and chondroitin.  Because of the criticality of glucosamine and chondroitin to healthy cartilage, these amino sugars have been used as supplements to promote and restore healthy cartilage and joints.

Other Resources:

Four People Tell Their Stories of Sharing Osteoarthritis Pain & Relief With Their Dogs, The Arthritis Foundation (accessed 10/2018)
Glucosamine and Chondroitin, verywellhealth.com (accessed 10/2018)


How can I tell if my dog has arthritis? My dog is limping and in pain, does it have arthritis?

The best way to tell if your dog has arthritis or why he or she is limping and is in pain is to:
Take your dog to your veterinarian. Dogs limp for some very serious reasons:

  • Your dog might have a non-visible internal injury. An anterior cruciate ligament injury commonly referred to as an ACL tear can quickly become worse without treatment.
  • Your dog's kneecap may have come off track, which is known as a Luxating Patella. Some cartilage could have broken off within the joint and could be trapped within other cartilaginous elements of the joint.
  • Your dog could have a laceration on its paw and is limping to avoid the pain.

Canine arthritis is painful, but be aware that your dog's limping could be a symptom of damage that might need immediate treatment.  Don't try to self-diagnose your dog. Your veterinarian can determine the true cause of why your dog is in pain and limping.

What causes dog arthritis?

If your dog is older, osteoarthritis could be the cause of everyday regular wear and tear on the joints. Some other causes are:

  • injury to an area which could lead to the joint weakening.
  • a genetic disposition to osteoarthritis, such as hip dysplasia (very common in German Shepherd's hips).
  • too much stress on the joint, possibly from being overweight.

What will my veterinarian tell me about dog arthritis treatment?

If your Veterinarian has determined that your dog has Osteoarthritis, he or she may recommend the following:

  • A scheduled exercise regimen to help reduce weight
  • Changes in diet to help reduce weight and stress on the joint.
  • Depending on how bad of a case (usually determined by x-rays), your Vet may recommend surgery.
  • A dog arthritis medication, usually a NSAID (Non steroid anti-inflammatory drug) like Rymadyl, Zubrin or Carprofen.
  • A dog arthritis supplement like Osteo-Pet's glucosamine for dogs.

What are the Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs?

Sometimes, identifying the symptoms of arthritis in your dog is easy. Your dog doesn't walk, run or jump as they did before. Maybe your dog is a little more reluctant when jumping. Your dog may stop climbing stairs, running and may limp. He or she will struggle to stand up or sit down. At this stage, the dog seems lethargic and may have put on weight due to inactivity.

The Primary Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs

  • A lameness or stiffness, which can exhibit itself in a visible limp.
  • Joint pain: an examination of the joint exhibits pain, which your dog may vocalize with a bark, whine or whimper.
  • A slow gait, or difficulty in moving, running or jumping.
  • Lethargy or tiredness and a tendency to sleep more.
  • Muscle atrophy, which is a wasting away of muscles.
  • Spinal Issues resulting in an abnormal posture like a hunchback or lameness in the hind legs.
  • An enlargement, swelling or extra heat from the joint can indicate arthritis.

To spot arthritis early, look for situations when your dog is reluctant to jump. Often, it will have to be coaxed to jump and will start and stop several times before jumping. If the jump is one that is easy for your dog, but he or she is reluctant, then pain is a likely factor and arthritis is a possible cause.

Look for stiffness in your dog when it first gets up. Just as older humans feel stiff in the morning, so may your dog. Changes in how your dog stretches and loosens up before becoming active can be an indication of arthritis. Often, dogs will be able to run and play normally after stretching and warming up. However, as arthritis worsens, your dog will no longer use stretching to loosen up. The resulting pain will prevent normal activity.

One way a dog will cope with joint pain is to develop new ways of moving. Look for changes in your dog's gait. Dogs may switch from a normal running gait to a gait that resembles a bunny hop. Your dog will place both hind legs on the ground together which reduces the impact on each leg. This isn't a natural way for dogs to run. It's a sign your dog is in pain and trying to reduce it.

Finally, look for other changes in your dog. The pain from arthritis will often lead to attitude and temperament changes, weight gain, and a loss of interest in playing.

The Secondary Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs

  • A bad temper caused by pain from increased petting, handling or playing. Your dog will be nervous or aggressive.
  • Licking, biting and chewing of joints that are painful. It may show as inflamed skin and hair loss in the affected areas.
  • Difficulty in getting up, rising from either sleep or a laying position.
  • Urinating indoors because of the pain related with going outdoors.
  • Depression due to physical pain.

The symptoms of arthritis can develop suddenly or gradually over time. For some dogs, the symptoms are minor, but others develop a very severe form that is crippling. Most of the time, this type of arthritis is osteoarthritis. However, rheumatoid arthritis can affect your dog as well.

Although arthritis symptoms can be easy to spot, it doesn't always mean that it's arthritis. There are other medical conditions that can present the same symptoms, and your dog's joints may be okay. If you suspect your dog has arthritis, or you know your dog is in pain without knowing the cause, please go see your vet. The vet will look for clinical indications of arthritis and do a physical exam. He or she may x-ray your dog's leg joints.

Dog Joint Health: Pain, Osteoarthritis, and Other Joint Problems, WebMD (accessed 9/2017)
Canine Arthritis and Dog Aging, Dog Breed Facts (accessed 4/2012)

What are the Types of Dog Arthritis?

The types of dog arthritis are determined by the cause of the damage to the joint and the part of the joint that is damaged. In humans, there are over 100 different types of arthritis. Although dogs can experience many of the same forms of arthritis, there are a few common types of arthritis in dogs that owners are more likely to see.

Although any joint in a dog’s body can be affected by arthritis, the most commonly affected joints are the hips, elbows, lower back, knees and wrists.

Acute vs Degenerative Arthritis in Dogs

When most people think of arthritis, they picture joint pain gradually increasing as a dog gets older. This type of arthritis can be a sign of aging that gets progressively worse over time. This is a common form of dog arthritis, known as degenerative arthritis.

There is also acute arthritis in dogs. Acute arthritis appears very quickly, or instantly. Often, acute arthritis is the result of an injury. For example, a dog jumps off a deck and twists a knee or hip. The injury typically hurts the ligaments holding the bones together. They can be stretched or torn, and the result is immediate pain and swelling. Acute arthritis in dogs can also be caused by an infection, often the result of an injury or bite to the joint. In some cases, the infection may not directly damage the joint. Instead, the infection causes a buildup of synovial fluid, and the swelling stretches or tears the synovial membrane causing pain or permanent damage.

Degenerative arthritis in dogs develops slowly over time and involves the gradual wear and tear on a part of the joint. Deterioration can often progress undetected to the point of joint damage because cartilage has no nerve supply. At this point, the lubricating fluid has lost its ability to protect the bone surfaces.

Osteoarthritis, a very common form of arthritis in people, also affects dogs and is a degenerative type of arthritis. Osteoarthritis involves the gradual wearing down of the cartilage in the joint. As the cartilage wears, it stops providing the smooth surface for the bones and ultimately degrades the bones.

Hip dysplasia is another common form of degenerative arthritis in dogs. With hip dysplasia, the ligaments that hold the bones together stretch, allowing them to separate slightly. This separation causes the bones to impact the cartilage and each other, leading to a failure of the cartilage, development of bone spurs and other problems.

Degenerative arthritis has four primary causes:

  • Aging - as dogs age, they produce less glucosamine, an amino sugar critical to the building and maintaining of cartilage. As glucosamine levels drop, the dog’’s body ceases to have the materials required to maintain the cartilage, and it begins to degrade.
  • Active lifestyles - causes wear and tear on joints. The level of activity that is acceptable or excessive will vary by breed and within breeds.
  • Physical condition of the dog - Obesity and diets that lack essential nutrients will increase the likelihood of a dog developing degenerative arthritis.
  • Genetic predisposition toward joint problems - for these dogs, providing a healthy diet and lifestyle are not enough, and degenerative arthritis may be inevitable.

Regardless of the type of degenerative arthritis or the cause, the result is the same. The joint becomes extremely painful, and eventually, the mobility of the dog is limited.

The Role of Inflammation

Degenerative arthritis leads to cartilage and bone degeneration. In severe cases, the pain is due to the direct damage to the bones. Prior to this, the pain is often a result of inflammation. As the joint degrades, it will become inflamed and release harmful enzymes from the inflammatory cells. These cells can cause erosive destruction to joint tissue by damaging articular cartilage, synoviocytes (cells that produce synovial fluid), as well as chondrocytes (cartilage cells).

Inflammation also causes swelling which presses on nerves and causes pain. This makes it imperative to reduce swelling in order to eliminate pain.

Interestingly, there is research that indicates that joint pain due to inflammation will lead to the degradation of other joints2. This study, published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, found that the transmission of pain signals from an inflamed joint would cause an inflammation in joints along the nerve pathways. The research describes a bidirectional transmission of inflammation and pain. This would mean that a degenerative hip would cause degeneration in the adjacent knee and in the back. Based on this, dealing with arthritis pain is important not only to alleviate pain but also to prevent problems from developing in other joints.

Managing Canine Arthritis, AKC Canine Health Foundation, (accessed 11/2016)
Joint Cartilage Erosion in Dogs, PetMD, (accessed 10/2016)
Spinal interleukin‐1β in a mouse model of arthritis and joint pain, Arthritis & Rheumatism, (accessed 11/2016)

What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?

Arthritis in dogs and mammals is due to a combination of some or all of the following: acute activity, prolonged activity, the presence of an infection or a genetic tendency. This combination varies with the dog and the type of arthritis.

Acute activity can lead to arthritis. Severe forms of arthritis are the result of injuries to the dog. A primary example is a dog that sustains a significant fall. This could lead to strained or torn ligaments. This injury is a form of acute arthritis. To avoid further damage, restrain your dog from activities that can increase the level of injury.

Degenerative arthritis builds gradually. It can be a very slow process, taking several years. It's the gradual break down of cartilage and other elements of the joint. You can help prevent degenerative arthritis by exercising your dog daily. Also, make sure your dog is not overweight and limit activities that cause joint problems.

A natural aspect of aging is that cartilage wears down. As dogs get older, they cannot produce glucosamine as well as they could when they were younger. Glucosamine is an amino sugar essential for making cartilage. With insufficient glucosamine, your dog won't be able to maintain its cartilage properly.

Acute and degenerative arthritis are different but also related. Acute arthritis can lead to degenerative forms of arthritis. Dogs with dislocated joints, ligament strains and tears, and other injuries will usually develop degenerative arthritis later in life.

Infections within a joint can also cause arthritis. To reduce the risk of infection, make sure you quickly treat your dog's injuries. The most likely means for an infection to get into a joint is through a deep cut, such as a bite from another animal. Treat cuts and bites quickly to prevent more serious problems from developing later.

Sadly, some dogs are predisposed to arthritis due to genetic factors. With some purebred dogs, hip dysplasia is a very likely outcome. Screening the parents of the dog you are considering is a good first step. Once you have a dog, you can't change the genetic factors. All you can do is manage your dog's activities and diet to reduce the risk of arthritis.

Causes and Management of Arthritis and Other Joint Diseases in Dogs, Doctors Foster and Smith Pet Education (accessed 8/2011)
Arthritis in Dogs: Symptoms and Causes, WebMD (accessed 8/2011)

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