Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, & Management

Osteoarthritis, also referred to as OA and degenerative joint disease (DJD), is by definition the progressive and permanent deterioration of the cartilage surrounding the body’s joints.

While arthritis is a general medical term describing inflammation of the joints, osteoarthritis is the terminology used when referring to a form of chronic joint inflammation directly caused by the deterioration of joint cartilage. Statistically speaking, geriatric dogs are at the highest risk for the disease.

Due to the introduction of a variety of new treatments and supplements, medical treatment of osteoarthritis has vastly improved over the past few years. Unfortunately, because osteoarthritis and other forms of degenerative bone diseases such as hip dysplasia are primarily genetic or inherited conditions, there are no preventative measures you can take to protect your four-legged friend.

However, by monitoring your dog’s diet and exercise regimen and incorporating supplements with anti-inflammatory qualities into his daily routine, you may be able to ensure his quality of life and lessen the severity of his symptoms. By taking a proactive part in your dog’s osteoarthritis care, you can help decrease the progression of the disease while managing his overall level of comfort.

Osteoarthritis in dogs

Signs & Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Although osteoarthritis (OA) is fairly common in dogs, it is nonetheless distressing for both you and your beloved pet. Depending on the severity of your pooch’s condition, symptoms may be barely detectable to debilitating. Therefore, it’s important to pay close attention to your dog’s overall health, especially as he ages.

If you notice the following signs and symptoms associated with osteoarthritis, you may want to consult with your veterinarian for a complete physical and treatment regimen:

  • A noticeable decrease in activity
  • Stiffness, limping, or favoring a limb
  • Inability to rise or get up with ease, particularly after sleep or resting
  • Reluctance to walk, jump, play, climb stairs etc.
  • Shows signs of pain or soreness (winces when touched; irritability; fatigue, etc.)
  • Partial or complete lameness/inability to walk
  • Lagging behind on walks
  • Whimpering or yelping in pain
  • Acting aggressive or withdrawn
  • Displaying other changes in behavior or disposition

Largely dependent upon your dog’s specific breed, joint disease may occur in the earlier or latter stages of his/her lifespan. Larger breeds are more susceptible to different forms of skeletal disease than smaller dogs.

Inherited conditions such as hip dysplasia are commonly seen in German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Staffordshire Terriers, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, Old English Sheepdogs, Rottweilers, and Saint Bernards. Smaller breeds who suffer from hip dysplasia include Pugs and French Bulldogs.

Osteoarthritis in dogs

Managing Canine Osteoarthritis

With the advent of advanced medical developments over the last several decades, treatment for dog osteoarthritis has improved a great deal. However, because such conditions are inherited, there is no prevention or cure available.

Although there have been a number of products (including supplements and drugs) to ease your dog’s symptoms and slow the progression of the disease, there isn’t any way to reverse the physical changes, such as looseness found in joints, bone/cartilage loss or deterioration, and other related symptoms.

Therefore, the primary goal when administering osteoarthritic care to your dog is to focus on pain management: once clinical signs have been diagnosed, you and your veterinarian may discuss a variety of options to make your dog as comfortable as possible.

Since surgeries are cost-prohibitive for most people, medical management is usually the only realistic path for pet owners. Whether your pet’s a young pup displaying early OA symptoms or a geriatric pooch suffering from chronic osteoarthritis, it’s important to develop a medical management routine specifically suited to your dog’s needs and condition.

Because medical management is a multifaceted approach, it’s best to consult with your vet to determine a course of action. Typically, he or she will most likely use a combination of modalities to treat your pet, including the following:

Osteoarthritis in dogs

Following A Diet & Weight Management Plan

Following your veterinarian’s guidance, formulating a weight management routine is essential to the health of any dog with osteoarthritis, particularly for those who are clinically obese. With statistics reporting 50% of pets in the U.S. as overweight, it’s crucial to address your dog’s eating habits and establish a diet that ensures your pooch’s optimal weight and health.

The less weight your dog carries, the less stress he’ll be putting on his delicate skeletal system. By helping your dog lose the necessary pounds (and subsequently maintaining his ideal weight), you can maintain his quality of life while reducing the pain and discomfort associated with dog osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis in dogs

Creating an Exercise Routine

One of the next important steps in any canine osteoarthritis healthcare plan is establishing a daily exercise routine for your dog. Depending on the severity of your dog’s condition, his age and overall health, your vet should be able to make physical activity suggestions suitable for your pooch.

A general rule of thumb includes low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, and going up and down stairs. It’s important to be mindful of overly-rigorous activities, which may put undue stress on your dog’s joints.

Your dog will receive the most benefits from a daily routine – regular exercise can actually improve his muscle tone and range of motion while preventing lapses in mobility. You may wish to consult a CCRP (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner) for assistance when designating a suitable exercise plan for your pooch.

Osteoarthritis in dogs

Providing A Warm Environment & Comfortable Sleep Area

Just as humans’ arthritis symptoms flare up in cases of extreme cold or damp, dogs also experience similar discomfort. Keeping that in mind, creating a warm and comfortable home environment can ease your pet’s discomfort and alleviate his osteoarthritis symptoms on those chilly and miserable days.

In addition to raising the temperature of your house or apartment during the colder months, you may also wish to provide your furry friend with a sweater. Covering him with his own soft blanket when resting or sleeping can also soothe his aching joints.

Another helpful suggestion: find a dog bed that’s suited to his size and sleeping habits – the proper support and comfy bedding can ensure a restful and restorative night’s sleep for your fur baby. There are a number of options, including orthopedic foam-style mattresses that provide extra cushioning, as well as dome-shaped canvas styles for distributing weight and relieving pressure points