Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Roughly a quarter of all dogs will experience the degenerative joint condition known as osteoarthritis at some point in their life. While it is not curable, this condition can be managed. Here, our vets in Rochester share the causes, symptoms and treatment options for osteoarthritis in dogs.

Degenerative Joint Conditions: What is osteoarthritis in dogs?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in dogs and is a degenerative joint disorder that leads to a permanent deterioration of the cartilage that provides cushioning for the joints. This condition is known to affect up to 25% of all dogs at one point or another.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis can cause a number of painful symptoms for your pup. The main osteoarthritis in dogs symptoms include:

  • Pain, stillness and lameness
  • Swollen joints
  • Refusal to jump, use stairs or run
  • Reluctance to stand up 
  • Restlessness, can't get comfortable
  • Lack of enthusiasm for walks or play
  • Whining, irritability or aggression
  • Licking joints
  • Slow shuffling walk

What are the causes of osteoarthritis in dogs?

While osteoarthritis can develop in any breed of dog, it is most often diagnosed in larger breeds such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labs, and Rottweilers.

The actual cause of osteoarthritis is largely unknown but this condition is often associated with underlying issues such as an injury due to trauma, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cruciate injury, or dislocations of the shoulder or knee.

Obesity is also associated with osteoarthritis. Excess weight can put unnecessary stress on the dog's joints leading to pain, and degenerative joint issues over time.

What are the treatment options to help manage my dog's osteoarthritis symptoms?

Osteoarthritis in dogs cannot be reversed or cured. Successful treatment of this condition reduces the pain caused by the affected joints, helps to slow the ongoing degeneration of the affected joints and allows your dog to live more comfortably, and enjoy a good quality of life as they continue to age. Often a number of treatments will be used together to achieve pain relief and more comfortable mobility whether the osteoarthritis is in the dog's back legs, front legs or both.

Medication / Painkillers

Your vet may prescribe pain medication along with anti-inflammatory meds to help manage and ease your dog's symptoms.

Daily Exercise

Although it may seem counterintuitive exercise is essential for dogs with osteoarthritis. It may be necessary to cut back on exercise when your dog is first diagnosed with osteoarthritis however staying mobile will help your dog to maintain fitness, achieve a healthy weight, relieve joint pain and enjoy a good quality of life.

Your dog will have an exercise plan that is customized for the severity of their condition and the level of their abilities. Your vet will be sure to recommend the best level of exercise to help relieve osteoarthritis symptoms in dogs.

A Healthy Diet

Many dogs who are overweight struggle with the symptoms of osteoarthritis. The key to managing this will be a balanced diet (along with exercise). Increased weight puts increased stress on your dog's joints so keeping weight at a healthy level will help to minimize the pain caused by the condition.

Your vet may recommend putting your dog on a calorie-reduced diet if their exercise level has been reduced, or a diet supplemented with chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate and omega-3 fatty acids as a way to combat symptoms. 

Rehabilitative Therapies

Physical rehabilitation is the name for physiotherapy for dogs and can include a number of treatments that are designed to help reduce pain while strengthening and improving muscle tone, maintaining range of motion and working to improve overall endurance.

Physiotherapy for dogs with osteoarthritis may include one or more of the following treatments: therapeutic exercises, therapeutic ultrasound, cold laser therapy, regenerative therapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, underwater treadmill or pool therapy, and massage, combined with conventional treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications. 

Surgical Correction

In some cases when joint damage is particularly extensive your vet may recommend surgery to help alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of your dog's osteoarthritis. Surgery may be performed to remove bone fragments that are aggravating the condition or to replace the affected joints. 

What is the outlook for dogs living with osteoarthritis?

With effective long-term pain management and a little additional care, your dog may be able to enjoy a long and happy life even with osteoarthritis. Speak to your vet to learn more about managing your pup's joint pain, and how you can help your dog to enjoy a happy life for many years to come.

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.

Are you noticing the obvious signs of osteoarthritis? Contact our Rochester vets today to learn more about treatment for your dog's osteoarthritis.