Caring for a dog with arthritis.

Canine osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and joint problems in dogs. It affects mostly older dogs, but depending on the cause, some young dogs can suffer from the problem as well.

Regardless of the underlying cause, osteoarthritis causes changes to the structure of a normal joint. In particular, in osteoarthritis in dogs, there is:

  • Wearing down and cracking of cartilage.
  • Thickening and stiffening of the joint capsule.
  • Hardening and grinding down of the bone beneath the cartilage.
  • New irregular bone growth around the joint.
  • Thinning of joint fluid.

Osteoarthritis usually progresses slowly in various stages. First there is joint inflammation which leads to structural damage of the joint. This worsens the inflammation causing the joint to be damaged further. Since the joint cartilage has a limited ability to heal, osteoarthritis is uncurable and, if not managed and controlled properly, the condition will continue to spiral downward.

The key to controlling and managing canine osteoarthritis is to catch it early, so that further damage to the joint is prevented or slowed down. It is therefore important for dog parents to recognize the telltale signs of osteoarthritis so that treatment can be given promptly.

Signs and Symptoms of Canine Osteoarthritis

The classic sign of osteoarthritis in dogs is pain. Dogs cannot talk, so how can we know if our dogs are in pain? Use these telltale signs of joint pain as a guide:


If your dog has pain in his joint, he is reluctant to put pressure on the affected leg. In a dog with a lame front leg, the head goes up when the painful limb hits the ground. This "head nod" is a type of gait abnormality associated with a sore front limb. A dog with a lame hind limb may have a horizontal "hip sway" or a vertical "hip hike". These gait abnormalities are ways of the dog to lessen the pain he feels while walking. A dog who "bunny hops" (using both hind limbs together in a hopping manner) may be a sign that both hind limbs are affected.

Difficulty Getting Up

Another common sign of pain associated with osteoarthritis is difficulty rising because osteoarthritis causes joint stiffness and weakening of muscles. Rising from a lying position requires a lot of muscle strength and that explains why an osteoarthritic dog has difficulty getting up.

Exercise Intolerance

Some dogs with arthritis may not show lameness but may be unwilling or unable to exercise as long or as hard as they used to. They may also be relunctant to climb stairs. Some dog parents may mistake this as a sign of aging, but the possibility of osteoarthritis should not be overlooked.

Constant Licking

Dogs tend to lick their wounds and sore spots incessantly. Therefore, if your dog starts licking his leg, especially around the joint area, it may indicate that he is suffering from a painful joint.

Behavioral Changes

A dog with chronic pain caused by osteoarthritis may show a change in his behavior. For example, he may become more grouchy or aggressive even towards his family members. He may lose his playfulness, or may just want to lie in a quiet place to rest.

Appetite Loss

Another sign that shows a dog may be in pain is reluctance or refusal to eat. As a result, the dog may become lethargic, weak, and over a period of time, may also become depressed.

In addition to having chronic joint pain, dogs with arthritis also show signs of limb dysfunction. This means that the dog cannot move normally or the movement is limited. For example, there is decreased joint range of motion such as the inability to bend or extend a joint fully. Limb dysfunction can also be caused by muscle weakness or atrophy. Because the dog uses the painful limb less, muscle mass in that limb will eventually be lost.

To learn more about treatment options for canine osteoarthritis, please visit Dog Arthritis Treatment.

Learn more about common dog illnesses and symptoms, as well as their treatment and home remedies: Dog Illnesses N

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If you have a dog nearing old age, the best thing you can do is watch for the common symptoms associated with arthritis. Common symptoms include a reluctance to walk, jump, or play, limping, a sudden reaction to you touching a sore joint (snaps at you or yelps with pain), favoring one leg over another, difficulty getting up and an increasing stiffness in the morning.
If your companion is showing signs of arthritis there are many things you can do to make her feel more comfortable.
First of all, is she carrying a few extra pounds? If so, help her lower her weight through diet and mild exercise. Those extra pounds are causing her great discomfort.
Where does she sleep? If she sleeps with you in your bed, place a footstool at the side of the bed so she doesn't have to jump to get up there. If she sleeps on the floor, consider buying her an orthopedic dog bed. They distribute the dog's weight evenly and reduce the pressure points on the dog's joints.
Make it easy for her to get water. Place several bowls of water around your home; particularly if you live in a large home so she doesn't have to walk too far to get a drink. If her arthritis is painful enough she'll fore-go the water her body needs to avoid the pain of walking.
Speaking of water bowls, place her water and food bowls at her height so she doesn't have to bend her neck to the ground to eat and drink. This eliminates the stress on her back and neck muscles.
Keep her warm. Just like people, dogs with arthritis feel the pain more in cold, damp climates. Put a sweater or a jacket on her when she goes outside to reduce the chill on her joints.
If she's having a very difficult time standing up, consider getting a lift for her. They are designed specifically for dogs so they are comfortable for her and easy for you to use.
If you have a breed that swims, swimming is an excellent exercise for her. Just like people, dogs feel less pressure on their joints while exercising in water. However, if you have a breed that cannot swim - like a bulldog - or a dog that does not enjoy the water, do not put them in water...even with a life jacket. It will cause more stress than the benefit of the water.
Andi Anderson shares her stories on dogs and dog ownership at
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