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Arthritis In Dogs: Symptoms & Promising Treatment Options

by | Nov 5, 2021 | Blog

Michelle noticed that her 10-year-old Lab, Bella, was avoiding stairs and opting for shorter walks. The vet confirmed it was arthritis, and Michelle could no longer deny her rapidly aging pet. Luckily, there were several lifestyle changes and treatment options to consider.

Just like humans, dogs are prone to developing arthritis as they get older. In fact, it affects one in five dogs, which makes it one of the veterinarians’ most common diagnoses for chronic pain in our pets. What are the signs? And how do you treat this debilitating condition?

Types Of Arthritis In Dogs

Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of the joints in the leg or spine.

This inflammation causes stiffness in the joints and soreness or flat-out pain for those affected. There are two main types of arthritis in dogs.


Osteoarthritis (OA), also referred to as degenerative joint disease, is typically caused by normal wear and tear. It’s a common problem in older dogs and can be as mild as hearing the click of a knee or as severe as a crippling of chronic hip dysplasia.
Large breeds such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers develop OA more frequently than smaller dogs. However, OA can affect any size or breed of dog, particularly if your dog is highly athletic or obese. The more dogs weigh, the greater the pressure on their joints.


Rheumatoid Arthritis

 Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to go into hyperdrive and mistakenly attack healthy tissue, progressively wearing away the cartilage and bone within joints. This disease occurs most often in small, toy, or miniature breeds, typically beginning at five or six years old, but it occasionally affects larger breeds.


Early Symptoms

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis share many of the same symptoms because both conditions involve the degeneration of joints.


-Slow to get up

-Favoring a limb

-Hesitancy in actions they previously had no problem with (climbing steps, jumping up, running)

-A decrease in activity or play

-Lying down and/or sleeping more frequently

-Enlarged lymph nodes (in RA)


It’s important to take note when you first see these signs and visit your veterinarian after two weeks of continued symptoms (or sooner if you think your dog is in too much pain). 

Diagnosing Arthritis In Dogs

 When you first take your dog to the veterinarian after seeing the symptoms of arthritis, your vet will examine your dog in a few ways to see what might be causing the trouble.

Be prepared to talk with your vet about all the symptoms you’ve observed in your dog’s behavior. This discussion may be the most important information your vet will use to make his diagnosis.

Other vet tests may include:

  • Examination of your pet’s legs to determine which limbs are suffering.

  • X-rays of the affected joint to help confirm (or rule out) the presence of arthritis as the cause of pain or decreased mobility.

  • Blood and urine samples to understand if an infection is a problem with the joint or if other medical issues are causing your dog discomfort.

  • A fluid sample from the affected area may also be necessary to analyze the issue in the joint.



There are a variety of ways to treat your dog’s arthritis including nutritional supplements, medications, and holistic alternatives. Whichever you choose, it’s most important to discuss the options with your vet and agree on a plan. As with most pet health treatments, don’t take action without first consulting a vet.

Prescription Medications

Your vet most likely will prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to control signs of arthritis, including inflammation, swelling, stiffness, and joint pain. Some common ones are Rimadyl, Metacam, and Deramaxx. Although we may have human NSAIDs in our medicine cabinets, it’s important to use a vet-prescribed medication and dosage for your dog.


Nutritional Supplements

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are the most commonly used supplements that help decrease joint inflammation and improve the body’s ability to repair and strengthen tissues.


Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound made of sugar and an amino acid involved in the body’s natural production of joint lubricants. It’s extracted from crab, lobster, and shrimp shells. Learn more about glucosamine in dogs.


Chondroitin sulfate is composed of omega fatty acids, vitamin E, and selenium that work together to help repair damaged cartilage and can prevent future breakdown by keeping cartilage hydrated. Some studies show that combining glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate can improve the beneficial effects of both.


MSM is a chemical found in plants, animals, and humans that supplies sulfur to the system which scientists believe may create other chemicals in the body. MSM is used for chronic pain, arthritis, and joint inflammation. A green-lipped mussel called Perna canaliculus is a sea cucumber that can help minimize pain and provide nutrients that help maintain cartilage.


Holistic Alternatives

Most vets agree that movement (within your dog’s comfort zone) is good for joint health and stiffness. Often, a lack of daily exercise can actually cause joint stiffness and can also lead to weight gain. Remember to consult your vet about the exercise and eating habits that are best for your dog.

Alternative, holistic therapies for arthritis include massage, low-impact rehab, acupuncture, acupressure (see the video below), laser treatment, water therapy, and chiropractic medicine.


Tools To Help Your Arthritic Dog

 As arthritis progresses, your dog will likely experience trouble getting around. These tools can help improve your dog’s daily mobility and quality of life.

Have slippery floors in your home? Non-slip dog booties can help with stability on slick hardwood or tiled floors. The Lonsuneer Dog Boots come in five sizes and have an adjustable closure, so they don’t slip off of your dog’s paws. They also come in black, blue, and red to fit your dog’s personal style. They’ll keep your dog’s paws cool and dry and help him maneuver through your home like normal.


If your dog is suffering from crippling arthritis in his hips or rear legs, using a pelvic harness/sling is a great way to help your dog with mobility. The vet-recommended Walkabout Back End Harness fits comfortably around your dog’s abdomen and back legs and has a handle for you to lift up her back end. It comes in seven sizes so you can find the best fit.


You may also want to consider one of these dog wheelchairs, but only in extreme situations. Your pet’s muscles will atrophy much quicker while using a wheelchair, so it is important to use one only when you have already tried other options unsuccessfully.


Author Sally Jones

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