Dog: Arthritis

General information

Other common/scientific names: osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, arthrosis

Arthritis is defined as inflammation of a joint. Arthrosis is defined as degeneration of a joint. In the United States, we do not clinically distinguish between the two conditions. Rather we include both inflammatory and degenerative conditions as arthritis.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, one in five dogs is affected by arthritis. Many dogs with arthritis go undiagnosed and therefore untreated because owners do not realize their dog is showing signs of pain. Many times, owners assume the dog is less active because of aging. While arthritis cannot be cured, early treatment can slow its progression and improve a dog’s quality of life.

The normal synovial joint consists of two bones and a joint fibrous capsule holding the bones together. The ends of the bones are covered by articular cartilage which should have a smooth, slippery surface allowing the ends of the bones to glide across each other. Synovial fluid found in the joint, is a transparent, viscous fluid that protects the joint cartilage by reducing friction between the cartilage layers.

Abb. GGUI51NG: Schematic illustration of a joint.


Degenerative arthritis occurs when the articular cartilage starts to deteriorate. The deterioration of the cartilage causes it to lose the ability to glide smoothly, resulting in friction in the joint causing more pain and stiffness. As arthritis progresses, the cartilage can become so thin that the ends of the bone are grinding against each other. Causes of arthritis include:

  • An injury to a joint. An injury to a joint causes swelling and inflammation. The resulting inflammation can cause deterioration of the articular cartilage.
  • Excessive wear to the joint from working or performance dogs.
  • Poor conformation can lead to excessive wear to an area of cartilage.
  • Aging can cause thinning of articular cartilage.
  • Fractures involving joints can result in arthritis even after the fractures have healed.
  • Dogs which are overweight are more prone to arthritis due to excessive weight and force on their joints.
  • Orthopedic conditions such as hip dyplasia, elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, ostechondrosis and cranial cruciate ligament rupture can also cause arthritis.
Abb. GGUI9TG9: Schematic illustration of a normal joint on the left and a joint with arthritis on the right.

Cardinal symptom



Depending on which joint is affected with arthritis, dogs can show many signs of arthritis. These signs can be subtle at first and may start as decreased activity or less interest in play. Other signs include reluctance to jump, run or climb stairs. Lameness or limping may occur. Weight gain from inactivity along with difficulty sitting and standing are signs of arthritis. An abnormal or stiff gait may be noticed. Attitude and behavior changes may occur. In some cases, the affected joint may be swollen, warm to touch and painful.


A presumptive diagnosis of arthritis can be from the patient’s history, a complete physical examination and observing the dog walk, trot, sit and rise. A definitive diagnosis is obtained by radiographing the suspected joint or joints. Joints affected by arthritis will have radiographic changes of joint thinning, sclerosis of the bone ends, periosteal reaction, osteophytes (bone spurs) and change of the joint’s shape.

Abb. GG99E0NP
Abb. GG99E0NP: Radiograph of a normal elbow joint.
This radiograph illustrates a normal elbow joint with bones: A) Humerus B) Radius C) Ulna.
Abb. GG99G8CC
Abb. GG99G8CC: Radiograph of an elbow joint with arthritis.
This radiograph shows significant arthritic changes of joint thinning, sclerosis of the bone ends, osteophytes (bone spurs), periosteal reaction and change of the joint’s shape.


Treatment of arthritis is aimed at alleviating pain and inflammation and should be multimodal. Maintaining a healthy weight is the first step in managing arthritis. Dogs that lose weight experience less pain and are more active. While aggressive exercise should be avoided in arthritic dogs, increased activity and exercise promotes joint lubrication, reduces stiffness in joints and builds muscle tone. Supplements and nutraceuticals containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and Omega fatty acids have been shown to relieve symptoms of arthritis and promote joint health.

Surgical arthrodesis (joint fusing) is performed in cases of severe, unrelenting pain. This procedure involves removing the articular cartilage and placing an orthopedic plate across the affected joint to ankylose or fuse the joint. While this treatment can result in a stiff, immobile joint, the surgery can greatly reduce arthritic pain.

Once a dog has suffered chronic pain, a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) should be prescribed. There are several veterinary manufactured NSAIDs available to veterinarians. Since every dog responds differently, your veterinarian may prescribe different NSAIDs based on its response. Other treatment choices include joint injections, massage, physical therapy and acupuncture.


Prognosis can be good for mild to moderate arthritis providing the dog is treated early and managed accordingly. Severe arthritis can be debilitating and may have a guarded prognosis.

Abb. GFKTANZ6: Radiograph of a carpometacarpal (wrist) joint.
This post-operative radiograph shows the carpometacarpal joint after surgical arthrodesis or fusion.

Abb. GFKTCAVD: Radiograph of a shoulder joint.
This post-operative radiograph shows an arthritic shoulder joint after surgical arthrodesis or fusion.


Maintaining a normal, healthy weight in your dog can help prevent arthritis. Preventing your dog from jumping on and off furniture and in and out vehicles can reduce injury and wear to joints. Feeding a balanced, high quality dog food helps to maintain healthy joints.

It is important to contact your veterinarian at the first sign of lameness or limping. An early diagnosis and treatment can prevent the arthritis from becoming severe and debilitating.


Never administer human medication to your dog without first consulting your veterinarian. Other helpful tips for dogs with arthritis include raising the bowls to a standing position so the dog does not have to bend at the elbows and knees provides easier access to water and food. Providing soft, orthopedic bedding aids in cushioning sore joints. Providing traction with carpet and rugs for slick floors helps arthritic dogs stand and sit easier.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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The information offered by enpevet Ltd. is intended solely for information purposes and and does under no circumstances replace a personal consultation, examination or diagnosis through a veterinarian. Thus, the information serves as an addition to the dialogue between pet owner and veterinarian, but can never replace the visit to the veterinarian. enpevet® would like to ask all users, whose animals have health concerns, to see a veterinarian as required. If you have any questions regarding the health of your animal, we recommend that you turn to your trusted veterinarian , instead of starting, changing or breaking off treatments on your own. The content of enpevet® cannot and should not be used for making your own diagnoses or for the selection and application of treatment methods.