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canine health problems
Senior golden retriever lying on the ground

📷 by pmarkham

The essentials

  • Arthritis is known to affect 1 in 5 canines — Though veterinarians estimate that number is actually even higher.
  • When left untreated, arthritis in dogs can become extremely debilitating — It can also lead to limited mobility.
  • Look for these common signs of arthritis — Lethargy; difficulty with or disinterest in climbing, jumping or running; changes in appetite; weight gain; depression, and other behavioral changes.
  • Your vet will likely perform an X-ray to diagnose arthritis — They’ll offer both medical and non-medical treatment management plans.
  • There are ways to make life more comfortable and safe for Fido — Consider installing ramps or steps at home, investing in an orthopedic bed, and adding joint supplements to its diet.

What causes arthritis in dogs?

A dog can develop arthritis at any age as the joint cartilage in freely moving joints degenerates over time1. This degeneration can be caused by abnormal development in the joints; early life joint trauma and repeated trauma; infections; immune system irregularities or even genetic factors.

What happens to a dog’s body when they have arthritis?

When a dog is living with arthritis, the joint cartilage in its freely moving joints begins to thin, leading to fluid buildup as well as bony outgrowth formations1 around the joint. The deteriorating cartilage is coupled with inflammation and oftentimes pain, ultimately affecting how well the joints function.

Arthritis can worsen with time, but with early diagnosis and by following your vet’s recommendations, many dogs can live comfortably with a normal life expectancy2.

Are certain breeds at higher risk of developing arthritis?

Although larger dog breeds experience more arthritis than smaller breeds, the condition can affect any breed showcasing common signs of arthritis listed below. Studies have shown that german shepherds, labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers commonly experience joint problems like hip dysplasia.

Symptoms of arthritis in dogs

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of arthritis1 in dogs include:

  • Impaired activity
  • Disinterest in activity such as running, climbing, or jumping
  • Lethargy
  • Weight gain
  • Behavioral changes2 such as signs of discomfort or aggression
  • Joint swelling (in elbows and knees)
  • Thickening or scarring of the joint membrane
  • Wasting away of muscle

How is arthritis diagnosed?

Your vet will examine your dog’s history and conduct a physical exam for the affected joints to assess for signs of arthritis, including joint swelling. It’s likely they will also use an imaging modality2, such as X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to better examine ligaments and bone structural changes.

What does treatment management look like?

Once diagnosed with arthritis, your vet may recommend a variety of approaches to treatment management to help your dog feel better and progress.

  • Pain management medications. Pain control may involve the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. carprofen or ketoprofen) and in some cases, adjunctive pain medications2 (i.e. amantadine or tramadol) can be administered for dogs that cannot tolerate the aforementioned NSAIDs. Another vet-recommended medication for pain in dogs that cannot tolerate NSAIDs is Adequan.
  • Weight management. Considered the most critical component2 of arthritis treatment, weight management may include making adjustments to diet and exercise and better understanding your dog’s ideal body weight—and how to get there.
  • Modified exercise. It’s important to limit high-impact activities as they are likely to cause inflammation and pain. Instead, try sticking to a low-impact, therapeutic exercise like leash walking2 to help promote joint stability.
  • Surgery. Sometimes, surgery is the best choice2 for your dog’s health. Your vet may suggest a procedure to aid a ligament rupture or to remove painful joint components.
  • Physical rehabilitation. In some cases, your vet may recommend specific animal rehabilitation2 such as aqua therapy or even acupuncture. Physical therapy can help your dog regain or improve deteriorated joint function, increase muscle mass, and improve endurance.

👉 Ask your vet about CBD as a natural way to manage your dog’s pain.

What can you do to help prevent arthritis in your dog?

How to make your home safe and comfortable for Fido

Cover slippery floors indoors — If you have hardwood or laminate floors—and it’s certainly common among pet owners3 — you’ll want to make sure you prep your space to ensure your dog doesn’t slip or injure itself. Make sure any rugs are secured with non-slip backing and keep your floors clean and dry. Pet owners may want to consider adding carpeting to certain rooms to prevent slipping.

Get a comfortable pet bed — A supportive dog bed not only helps your dog sleep better; it helps cushion your dog’s body and provides relief from arthritis as well as other joint issues. Consider a memory foam or orthopedic bed that contains special interlocking fill materials for extra support.

Raise food bowls off the floor — Modifying your dog’s feeding station so that their water and food bowls are raised off the floor to about shoulder height can help with joint pain. This is because eating from a raised platform allows a neutral spine and the chance to shift their weight back on the pelvic limbs, which is actually a great exercise for dogs with pelvic limb arthritis.

Install ramps or steps in your home — Installing a platform, pedestal, or steps—and teaching your pup how to properly use them—can help them avoid slipping and ultimately both prevent injury and preserve joints3.

👉 Here’s our vet’s 5 favorite doggie ramps for your car and home. 

Gate off dangerous areas such as stairs — Consider adding baby gates to prevent your dog’s access to stairs4 and added potential for injury, especially when no one is around to assist in  an emergency.

Maintain your dog’s nails — To reduce added strain on the joints4 and help increase traction, keep your dog’s nails nice and short. Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips are also great for preventing your senior dog from slipping on smooth surfaces, such as hardwood floors.

Supporting your dog’s joint health

Feed your dog a high-quality diet — A high-quality diet is always important when caring for a pup and when working to prevent health conditions such as arthritis, but it’s especially necessary to reassess your dog’s nutrients if you are managing the condition. You’ll want to choose food based on your dog’s age and breed and opt for a diet with appropriate levels of calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus5, all of which need to remain balanced to ensure healthy joints and growth. If you would like to feed your dog a homemade diet, consult with your vet or a veterinary nutrition specialist first.

Aid joint health with supplements Joint supplements with ingredients like glucosamine or chondroitin can help your dog deal with arthritis pain, because they help stimulate cartilage production. A couple we love: Native Pet’s Hip and Joint Supplement and Natural Dog Company Hip & Joint.

👉 Note that supplements aren’t always recommended5 for growing large breed puppies; always consult your vet before use.

Help your dog stay at a healthy weight — To prevent arthritis in your dog or manage the condition, it’s imperative that you understand your dog’s ideal weight for their breed and age. Avoid free feeding5 as it increases your dog’s risk of obesity, which can set them up for arthritis and other health conditions. Instead, set up a meal schedule and try to stick to it. Never begin a weight loss program for your dog without consulting your vet.

Add omega-3s into your dog’s diet — Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential nutrients for dogs. In fact, using omega-3s in the form of a salmon oil joint supplement can help decrease inflammation and improve your dog’s comfort and mobility. Just make sure you’re not overdoing it; one teaspoon of liquid salmon oil contains about 40 calories!

Our favorite joint supplement for dogs

The vet-approved Native Pet Hip and Joint Supplement for Dogs are packed with all-natural, organic ingredients such as green-lipped mussel, a natural polyphenol blend, and chicken bone broth. They’re great for both arthritis prevention and relief. Reviewers have lauded the effects of the supplements, some saying they’ve really helped senior dogs with hip problems and joint stiffness.

Frequently asked questions

How common is arthritis in dogs?

Statistics say arthritis affects about 20% of dogs, but veterinarians believe the number is much higher.

Does massaging help arthritis in dogs?

With the guidance of a rehabilitation therapist, massage can have several benefits for your dog’s arthritis and well-being. Long, slow, and gentle strokes can help increase your dog’s blood flow, decrease muscle stiffness and help them reduce stress or anxiety during their healing. Keep an eye on whether your dog enjoys massage; if the process seems too painful, speak to your vet.

How do you treat arthritis in dogs?

Once diagnosed with arthritis, your vet may recommend a variety of approaches to treatment management to help your dog feel better and progress. Treatment may include pain management via medication, weight management, modified exercise, rehabilitation, or surgery.

What is the life expectancy of a dog with arthritis?

Arthritis can worsen with time, but with early diagnosis and by following your vet’s recommendations, many dogs can live comfortably with a normal life expectancy2.

What is the best treatment for arthritis in dogs?

Considered the most critical component2 of arthritis treatment, weight management may include making adjustments to diet and exercise and better understanding your dog’s ideal body weight—and how to get there. However, it’s important to consult your veterinarian before beginning any diet. Your vet will also be able to offer the ideal treatment plan for your dog’s age, breed, and health condition.

What ingredients can help support joint health in dogs?

There are three key ingredients to look out for when considering joint supplements: omega-3s, glucosamine, and chondroitin. Using omega-3s in the form of a salmon oil joint supplement can help decrease inflammation and improve your dog’s comfort and mobility. Glucosamine, an amino sugar, helps keep cartilage healthy and reduces inflammation. The compound chondroitin also keeps cartilage safe by fighting off harmful enzymes.