Arthritis in Dogs: Aches and Pains of the Joints

Arthritis is a disease that causes inflammation, pain and stiffness of the joints. It can affect dogs just like it does humans and statistics show that one out of every five adult dogs that have chronic pain are afflicted with this debilitating disease.

Older dogs will eventually develop some sort of arthritis due to the normal wear and tear on the cartilage around the bones. However, it can affect dogs of any age depending on the type of arthritis and what caused it to occur.

There are two kinds of arthritis: degenerative and inflammatory.

Degenerative or Osteoarthritis: 

This type of arthritis is seen more in older dogs and is caused when the cartilage around the bones is destroyed. It can occur because of either normal stress on abnormal joints or abnormal stress on normal joints. One form of doggie degenerative arthritis is caused by hip dysplasia, which is a disease that causes malformed hip sockets that result in an afflicted dog having its back end go out when it over-exerts itself.

A dog might also have loose kneecaps, ruptured ligaments, over use of muscles, stretching or tearing ligaments, or some sort of injury to the joints. Some of these can be helped by surgical repair of the affected joint.
It can sometimes take years for this type of arthritis to get so bad that it affects a dog since cartilage has no nerves, so it isn’t felt right away. The dog may not feel it until the joint is so badly damaged that the lubricating fluid around it has thinned out and can no longer protect the bone around it.


This kind of arthritis can be caused by infection or by some sort of immune deficiency disease. It is characterized by multiple joints being affected, and other symptoms such as fever, anorexia, and all-over stiffness. It is usually caused by bacteria, tick-borne diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever or a fungal infection.

If it is the immune deficiency type, it may be hereditary. Although rheumatoid arthritis such as humans get is rare in dogs, they can still get it, plus other forms of immune-related arthritis. It is essentially caused by a weakness in the dog’s immune system that causes the animal’s body to attack its own joints. This type is seen less than the first type of arthritis.

Veterinarian Exam

A veterinarian has to be sure which of these types of arthritis a dog has because the treatments are very different. If the wrong type is diagnosed, the medication can actually cause some types of arthritis to worsen.

A vet will determine the type of arthritis through x-rays, palpitation of the joints, blood tests and joint fluid analysis. For instance, in the case of arthritis caused by an infection, the fluid around the joints will have bacteria and excessive white blood cells in it.

Symptoms of Arthritis

Some of the signs that your dog’s pain could be arthritis are:

  • Limping on one particular leg
  • Trouble sitting, standing or getting up from lying down.
  • Stiff or sore joints.
  • Doesn’t want to jump, run or climb stairs.
  • Doing less or doesn’t want to play or move much.
  • Pain when touched in certain parts of the body.
  • Lagging behind when you take him for a walk.

Treatment for Arthritis

Treatment for canine arthritis is similar to treatment for human arthritis and could involve:

  • Putting your dog on a healthy diet with the proper exercise to help him maintain a proper weight.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like aspirin.
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate or omega fatty acids
  • Rimadyl (carprofen) is used to treat pain and has little side effects. However, if your dog is on it long term, you must get his liver checked regularly, but it does a good job for most affected dogs.
  • Adequan (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan) is an injectable medication given twice a week for four weeks. It helps the pain, as well blocking destructive enzymes that cause the inflammation of the joints, stimulates the production of joint fluid and helps repair damaged cartilage.
  • Palaprin6 is a special buffered aspirin for dogs and is better for them than human aspirin, which sometimes causes stomach issues.
  • Cortisone shots.

However, you should never give your dog people medicines if your veterinarian hasn’t prescribed them, as you may give the wrong dosage and some human drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin) can be poisonous to dogs.

Diet, Exercise and Alternative Therapies

Dogs with arthritis may be put on a diet to get them to an appropriate weight since excess weight causes pressure on joints and can make arthritis worse. Your veterinarian may also prescribe periods of rest to allow the joint to heal.

Even though your first thought might be that exercise would make arthritis worse, it’s actually part of some forms of treatment because if a dog doesn’t use the affected joints, it will cause the muscles around it to deteriorate and there will be even more pain. Therefore, a managed exercise routine is necessary and your veterinarian can help you design one appropriate for your pet.

Other possible choices are treatments such as acupuncture, massage sessions and chiropractic sessions.

Other Considerations for Arthritis in Dogs: Aches and Pains of the Joints

If your dog has arthritis, you may want to ensure that your home has carpeting instead of hard wood floors, as carpeting is easier for the arthritic dog to walk on.  He will also do better with a soft bed to support his injured joints and there are actually special beds for arthritic dogs such as a memory foam, waterbed, or hammock bed. Heated beds also are good for dogs with arthritis and can provide pain relief.

If your dog is finding it harder to climb into the car or up onto other surfaces, you can buy special ramps or doggy stairs to use to assist him.

All in all, arthritis is a disease that attacks the joints and causes pain and stiffness. It usually happens in older dogs, but can affect dogs of any age depending on the type. If your pet has been diagnosed with arthritis, it can be treated so that he can be more comfortable and remain your faithful friend for years to come.


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