Arthritis in Dogs: Prevention, Early Signs, and Treatment

Posted by Joey DiFrancesco on

elderly gray dog outside with tongue open

Arthritis in dogs is one of the most common ailments that pet owners will face with our canine companions. According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, as many as a quarter of dogs will eventually have to deal with this progressive disease. 

Early diagnosis and proper treatment with medications, lifestyle changes, and even physical therapy can make a huge difference for your dog’s quality of life. This article will help you identify canine arthritis early so that you can offer your dog prompt and effective care to preserve their mobility and comfort for years to come. 

Causes of Arthritis in Dogs

There is a common misconception about arthritis in our furry friends: Arthritis is something that just comes with age. This myth is unfortunate because it makes it seem like this progressive joint disease is inevitable and completely out of our control. 

However, when people learn more about what actually causes this condition, they realize that they have more power than they may have previously realized in terms of setting their dog up to get more pain free enjoyment out of their golden years. 

While some cases of arthritis and/or osteoarthritis in dogs appear without a clear cause, the majority of cases actually result when specific stressed joints and ligaments become chronically inflamed. Often these areas have been made prone to arthritis through injury, poor joint health, other progressive inflammatory conditions such as Lyme disease or hip and elbow dysplasia, and chronic stress from obesity. 

Preventing Arthritis in Dogs

While certainly all cases are not preventable, we actually can take action to reduce the chances that our pooches develop this painful condition, particularly early on in life. Below are some tips to make sure you are doing what you can:

Know Your Breed

Large and giant breed dogs are the most at risk for developing arthritis. Owners of these breeds can best serve their pets by being informed about osteoarthritis in dogs and take preventative measures to preserve their quality of life as they age. 

That being said, smaller and even toy breeds can also develop this painful condition, particularly if they experience injury or are chronically overweight.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

One of the biggest impacts you can make in terms of your dog’s overall joint health is to make sure they are maintaining a healthy weight. According to a 2018 survey, as many as 56% of dogs in the U.S. were either overweight or obese. 

Extra weight on your dog means extra stress on all of the joints with every single step. The cumulative effect of this can have a major impact on your dog’s long term health, particularly when it comes to developing mobility and pain issues down the road due to canine arthritis. 

woman wearing sunglasses, purple shirt and black shorts running with big black and white dog wearing a muzzle

Keep Your Dog Fit

Regular exercise is just as important for our canine companions as it is for human health. While walking on a leash can have a positive impact on your dog’s overall fitness, usually it is not enough. 

Consider looking for opportunities for regular off-leash play such as going to the dog park, enjoying a hike, or taking your dog for a swim at the lake. These types of vigorous exercise will allow your friend to enjoy whole body movement, develop a strong physique, keep those joints lubricated and healthy, and prevent injuries from a lack of overall fitness. 

Feed a High Quality Diet

These days, pet owners have so many options to choose from when it comes to a healthy diet for their dogs. That being said, the options can be confusing. If you have not discussed your dog’s food with your vet, now may be the time. 

At your next vet visit, open up the conversation and get an informed perspective to learn more about how you can invest in your dog’s long term health with a high quality diet. 

Early Signs of Arthritis in Dogs

Early diagnosis and treatment is critical. In fact, if caught early, the progression of osteoarthritis and other forms of arthritis in dogs can be drastically slowed. This can translate into years of your companion being able to enjoy an active lifestyle. 

At the first sign of any of the below dog arthritis symptoms, be sure to schedule a vet visit to get an informed perspective on your dog’s joint health:

  • Decreased interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Increased lethargy 
  • Stiffness or lameness in one or more limbs
  • Pain or irritability when limbs are manipulated
  • Difficulty with stairs or getting onto furniture
  • Restlessness getting comfortable when lying down
  • Difficulty getting in position for bowel movements
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Changes in gait, such as the “bunny hop” gait
small brown and white beagle laying down curled up

Treating Arthritis in Dogs

At the first signs of canine arthritis, your vet may recommend a multipronged approach to treatment. The name of the game with the treatment of arthritis in dogs includes reducing inflammation, improving joint health, reducing weight, improving fitness, and addressing pain. 


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed veterinary medications for arthritis and osteoarthritis in dogs. However, veterinarians are required to discuss the significant risks involved with this class of drugs particularly for seniors, immunocompromised dogs, and when given over a long period of time. 

According to the FDA: “Some of the most common side effects of NSAIDs in animals reported to FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine are vomiting, decreased to no appetite, decreased activity level, and diarrhea. Other reported side effects in animals include stomach and intestinal ulcers, stomach and intestinal perforations (holes in the wall of the stomach or intestines), kidney failure, liver failure, and death.”

Make sure you ask your veterinarian about the risks associated with this class of drugs and be sure that you are also exploring other potentially safer alternative treatments, such as those listed below. 

Nutraceuticals and Natural Relief for Arthritis in Dogs

“Nutraceuticals” are natural products that may be able to help with ailments such as canine arthritis. Among the most common nutraceuticals used in the veterinary treatment of this ailment include glucosamine and chondroitin and Omega fatty acids which both support healthy joint function. Another natural product your vet may recommend is CBD oil, a holistic option to help relieve occasional joint stiffness and support healthy joints & bones.

hemp oil tinctures for pets

Low Impact Exercise

Making sure your dog stays fit is critical to slowing the progression of arthritis. However, for dogs who are already experiencing the symptoms of this condition, it may be time to change up the exercise routine to include more low impact exercise to protect joints from additional stress from high impact exercise such as jumping or running on hard surfaces. 

Examples of low impact exercise for dogs with arthritis may include:

  • Swimming
  • Longer walks on even and soft terrain
  • Walking on a treadmill
  • Dog Yoga

Physical Therapy and Alternative Healing Methods

Many people are not aware that alternative healing modalities such as physical therapy, massage, and even acupuncture can have a significant positive impact on the mobility, pain, and progression of arthritis in dogs. 

If your vet is not up to date on these alternative healing options, consider consulting with a holistic vet in your area. Armed with all of the same training as traditional vets, plus additional training in holistic healing methods, holistic vets can offer fresh perspective and give you treatment options that effectively help your arthritic dog without putting them at risk with invasive surgeries or potentially dangerous pharmaceutical drugs.



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