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Arthritis in Dogs: How to Recognize & Manage the Condition

Arthritis in Dogs: How to Recognize & Manage the Condition

Arthritis in dogs occurs due to abnormal changes in a joint. While this disorder is common, it can be difficult to detect if your canine friend only displays subtle signs. It may also be challenging to manage. Our Scottsdale vets share insights into symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of arthritis in dogs.

What is Arthritis in Dogs?

Arthritis refers to abnormal changes in a joint, which can arise from stress and trauma to joint surfaces and their supporting structures, joint tissue destruction after infection, and from congenital defects that impact structural architecture. 

The condition can co-occur with others such as hip dysplasia. While cartilage erodes and becomes inflamed, blood vessels dilate and joints and their elastic tissues swell, blood vessels to and from the joints dilate, worsening swelling. Calcium deposits can then build up and nerve endings begin to send pain signals to the brain. Unfortunately, joint degeneration leads to more restricted motion, which can trigger your pup to use the joint less. The cycle continues as reduced use leads to weight gain. Mobility is further limited with continued disuse. 

While arthritis can impact any joint in a dog's body, the most commonly affected joints are the wrists, knees, elbows, lower back and hips.

Osteoarthritis develops when the cartilage protecting the bones of the joint is destroyed. As a result, cushioning is lost, leading to friction between bones and decreased mobility in the affected joints. A less common type of arthritis is inflammatory joint disease, typically caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or tick-borne disease. Defects in a dog's immune system, which may be hereditary, can also cause the disease. 

Signs & Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs

Thanks to their survival instincts, our four-legged companions may not display clear, outward symptoms of pain or discomfort if their joints are bothering them. Veterinarians are trained to look for less obvious signs of early stage arthritis and develop solutions for pain management. Watch for these subtle indications:

  • Reduced interest in playing or reluctance to walk, run or climb stairs
  • Change in alertness or shift in attitude, irritability
  • Stiffness or lameness
  • Limping after rest
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeping more
  • Unusual urinating in the house
  • Less excitement when greeting their people
  • Being overly cautious when climbing inclines, such as stairs
  • Seeming unsure about jumping up to the bed or couch

Some of these symptoms may be spotted by owners or by your veterinarian, perhaps during a conversation when you bring your dog in for a routine exam. A dog may not limp or cry out due to pain unless they are in the late stages of long-term joint degeneration. 

Common Causes of Arthritis in Dogs 

Some factors can contribute to arthritis developing in a dog, including old injuries, aging, repeated trauma to joints, congenital joint disorders such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, increased stress in joints for working and athletic dogs due to activity levels, obesity, metabolic diseases including diabetes, and osteochondrosis. 

How Dogs are Diagnosed with Arthritis

Your vet will perform a physical exam to check joint areas for pain if arthritis is suspected to be causing your dog's symptoms.X-rays and blood tests may be ordered to rule out other diseases or illnesses such as bone cancer. Diagnostic tests will reveal how severely the arthritis has impacted your dog's joints and help guide treatment planning. 

How Arthritis is Treated in Dogs

Since each dog's health status and diagnosis differ from the next, there's no set-in-stone answer to how to manage arthritis in dogs. That said, it's important to know the condition can't be cured. However, the good news is there are treatment avenues to manage pain and help your dog ease back into everyday activities. While your pooch's daily lifestyle may look somewhat different, your four-legged friend can still live a happy, long life with suitable treatment.

Accessibility Aids 

From buying a soft pet bed to installing pet steps or ramps to help your four-legged friend get to their favorite spots in the house, adding carpeting and physically assisting your dog by carrying them upstairs or lifting them into your vehicle, there are some things you can do in your home to make getting around easier for your pet.

Exercise & Weight Loss 

Obese or overweight dogs will be especially sensitive to joint pain due to arthritis. Your vet may be able to recommend a safe weight loss program that covers diet and exercise customized to what your dog is able to tolerate. 

For dogs who are at a healthy weight, the goal may be to make exercise less uncomfortable and more fun. You might also need to adjust your dog's caloric intake and avoid giving extra treats and goodies.

Prescription Medication

Painkillers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are often prescribed as a long-term treatment to help manage your dog's joint pain and reduce swelling. Discuss potential side effects with your vet and what to do if they appear.

Natural Supplements

Natural supplements such as chondroitin and glucosamine, which help to rebuild cartilage and support joint health, may help canine arthritis. Always speak with your vet about any supplements before providing them to your dog.


If joint damage is especially severe, surgery may be recommended to help alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of your dog's arthritis. During the surgical procedure, affected joints may be replaced or bone fragments aggravating the condition removed.

Alternative Therapies

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect your dog might be suffering from arthritis or issues with their joints? Contact our Scottsdale vets to schedule an appointment. We may be able to help you find a solution.

Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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