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Arthritis in dogs - risk factors, signs, management and homecare

Arthritis in Dogs

It is estimated that 1 in 5 dogs suffer from arthritis.

Arthritis or osteoarthritis is the irreversible and progressive deterioration of joints that causes pain and a reduction in joint motion. It affects dogs of all ages but predominantly pets greater than 10 years of age. Winter months worsen the symptoms of arthritis.

Arthritis affects dogs of all sizes but large breed dogs are more commonly affected by arthritis than smaller.

Risk factors

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Intense activity as seen in athletic or working dogs
  • Trauma
  • Joint surgery
  • Excess body weight
  • Senior pets


  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty jumping or climbing stairs
  • Difficulty rising from lying down
  • Vocalisation
  • Lack of interest in exercise and games
  • Personality changes
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Osteoarthritis staging


Arthritis management is based on decreasing pain and clinical signs, slowing disease progression and improving the quality of life.

Keys to successful arthritis management involves:

  • Pain management
  • Controlled exercise
  • Weight control
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Joint stabilisation

Pain management

Veterinary medicines for pain control, neutraceuticals or joint protective drugs such as injectable polysulfated glycosaminoglycans (PSGAG) may be prescribed.

Pain control is important in managing the later stages of arthritis. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are prescribed based on the health and weight of the pet. They offer both anti-inflammatory effects and pain control. Pets that are prescribed this medication must be closely monitored for side effects such as vomiting or diarrhea, increased drinking or bleeding.

Other medications include disease-modifying agents such as PSGAG (Pentosan, Cartrophen injections), glucosamine, Tramadol or even alternative therapies such as Stem Cell Therapy.

Controlled exercise

A controlled exercise that decreases joint strain and builds muscles to support joints such as swimming or walking on flat surfaces can help improve mobility.

There are two forms of exercise that are important in the management of arthritis:

  • A low-impact, therapeutic exercise that keeps the joints in motion such as massage, swimming, stretching
  • Aerobic exercise to improve strength, fitness and maintain a healthy weight such as leash walking, swimming

Weight control

It has been estimated that 40% of dogs with arthritis are also overweight. This causes further stress on the weight-bearing joints. A strict weight optimisation plan can help reduce pain and improve mobility.

Nutritional supplements

Diet control such as foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil or flaxseed oil) or veterinary prescription diets that have the correct balance of Omega-3 fatty acids can be useful.

Joint stabilisation

Surgical options such as joint replacements, excision arthroplasty or arthrodesis may be required if pain cannot be controlled by conservative means.


Tips to help manage pets with arthritis:
  • A warm environment, as colder weather can worsen symptoms
  • Placement of your dog's bed away from cold draughts
  • Soft but firm bedding
  • Ramps onto the couch or bed so that it does not have to jump
  • Avoid stairs
  • Avoid slippery surfaces such as tiles
  • Regular exercise pogram tailored to your dog
  • Regular grooming
  • Do not overfeed food leftovers and treats
  • Maintain parasite control
  • Cut nails regularly as less activity means less opportunity to wear nails down
  • Avoid rough play

If you are concerned your dog may be in pain, make an appointment to see one of our vets for an arthritis check and to discuss diagnosis and possible management to help improve your dog's quality of life

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