Arthritis in Dogs

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As Jack & Maggie get older, we are on the lookout for signs of arthritis in their joints. We don’t know if they were active in their previous lives, but for the last few years with us, they both get a lot of exercise in the form of walking, running and additional strengthening exercises. But even so, I worry about arthritis.
All of our dogs have developed arthritis, some more severe than others. Becca had it the worst with paws twice the size of a normal Labradors paws due to the arthritis. She also had sensitive pads and walking on rough surfaces was very uncomfortable for her.

What causes arthritis ?

As with humans, canine arthritis (or osteoarthritis) is a degenerative joint disease caused by the breakdown of the protective cartilage that covers the joints. Once the cartilage wears away, the bone on bone friction creates inflammation. Many different factors may contribute to the opportunity for arthritis to develop including:

  • Trauma to the joint through prior injuries, breaks or sprains to the bone or ligaments
  • An inherited condition, such as elbow or hip dysplasia
  • Obesity
  • Aging and natural erosion


What are the symptoms of arthritis?

Arthritis will most often manifest itself in limping or an abnormal gait. Dogs can be very stoic and experts at hiding weakness, so you must be observant and diligent in monitoring their activity. Your dog may also react when you massage or hold the affected limb. Becca would never let us touch her front paws – the ones most affected. She would immediately flinch away because they were so sensitive.
You may also notice difficulty in getting up or lying down. This may indicate pain in the spine or neck. Your dog may also find it difficult to get into the car or up and down from the sofa.
Constant or obsessive licking of a joint or paws may also be a signal of pain. We discussed licking behavior a few weeks ago. Becca frequently licked at her paws to help soothe herself and although I hate to admit it, I see Jack starting to do the same.


How do you treat arthritis?

If you are fortunate, you may be able to manage your dog’s arthritis with some simple adjustments.

  1. A healthy diet and proper weight. The more overweight your dog is, the more difficulty they will have with arthritis and carrying around that extra weight.
  2. Try nutritional supplements such as fish oil or glucosamine/chondroitin to decrease inflammation.
  3. Keep exercising, but use low impact exercises like swimming and walking.
  4. Depending on the severity, pain-killers and other prescription anti-inflammatory medications. (NOTE: Never give your pet human medication without your vet’s approval).
  5. Becca and Sally (who developed arthritis as a result of elbow dysplasia) were also treated with acupuncture, electrotherapy, physical therapy and water therapy. All of these rehabilitation treatments were extremely beneficial and certainly worth the time and money.

    Other adjustments you can make in order to help your dog be more comfortable:

    • Be sure they have a warm, dry place to sleep with softer bedding. Many dog beds are now made with orthopedic foam which certainly will help the pressure points that can develop.
    • Raise their water and food bowls so they aren’t straining to reach them.
    • Provide gentle massage to the affected areas and groom them if the dog can no longer reach.
    • Think about stairs or a ramp to facilitate access to the car, sofa or bed.

    Additional Readings:
    Exercise and the Treatment of Arthritis in Pets
    Benefits of Strength Training for Your Dog
    Dealing with Arthritis, Joint and Back Pain in your Older Dog
    Dog Joint Health: Pain, Osteoarthritis, and Other Joint Problems
    Causes and Management of Arthritis & Other Joint Diseases in Dogs

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  1. Great advice! Unfortunately, we’ve been down this road a bunch of times. Now, it is with Rono who was diagnosed with elbow dysplasia as a puppy (he’s had 2 surgeries and may be having a CUE surgery in the near future because all his elbow cartilage is gone). In addition to all the things that you mentioned, we give him monthly Adequan injections (injectable glucosamine), and we feed him a therapeutic dose of omega-3 fatty acids. I recently found a paper that gives the range of effective doses. Warning – They are BIG! Rono eats 12 fish oil pills per day (each one has 720mg of Omega 2’s). It’s the equivalent to eating the Hill’s J/D diet. If you’re ever interested, I can look for the paper about the effective doses of Omega 3’s for canine arthritis. We now give Omega-3’s to our young dog as well to try to ward off future arthritis.

    I love your informative posts, and I hope that you don’t mind me chiming in with my experiences!
    KB recently posted…Wordless Wednesday – Glorious sunsetMy Profile

    • No, please feel free – we love folks adding their personal experiences. Our Sally had elbow dysplasia too and had surgery on it (plus two ACL surgeries). What is CUE? Sally’s surgery was years ago ( circa 2000) and pretty invasive. We also used Adequan with her – it really seemed to help – we used it with Becca too. I would be interested in seeing that report if you can track it down. That certainly is a big dose. I’m pleasantly surprised that neither Jack or Maggie seem to have terribly arthritis or joint problems. Labs are so susceptible to them.
      mkob recently posted…Arthritis in DogsMy Profile

  2. Katie does lick her paws and we didn’t know why but I bet it is because of her arthritis pain. Oddly, now that it is cold and snowy out, she is doing much better. We always thought heat was the key to feeling better, but for Katie we think it is the real dry air. She has gotten very slow, but she wants to walk and her gait has improved. She has also stopped dragging her back paw about 90% of the time to which we credit Revitamal which is all she is taking now and it seems to really help her out. Awesome post!
    Emma recently posted…Extraordinary Holiday #Giveaway!My Profile

    • I agree – I think the cool dry air helps. I”m glad Katie is doing better…getting old sucks…for all of us!
      mkob recently posted…Arthritis in DogsMy Profile

  3. Good advice. Thunder was a bit stiff after our hunt last weekend. We started him on a supplement several months ago that is supposed to help dogs recover more quickly from exercise and I think it really helped. By the next morning he was ready to go again. I do think I need to get him a better bed for up at the cabin. We have a hard floor over a crawl space and I think it is a bit too hard and too cold in the winter.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Thursday Barks And Bytes–Testing RecallMy Profile

    • Good idea – a good supporting mattress is important for them too.
      mkob recently posted…Arthritis in DogsMy Profile

  4. It is great advice. I currently am trying a new to the market supplement for Sampson and am seeing incredible results with it and will be reviewing it on the blog after the holidays. Acupuncture was also amazing for helping get over the hump with his ACL surgery and I’m considering it for Delilah’s liver as well.
    Jodi recently posted…Oh the Weather Outside is FrightfulMy Profile

    • Anxious to hear about the supplement.
      mkob recently posted…Arthritis in DogsMy Profile

  5. Thank you for a great post. It’s hard to see our seniors be in pain and come down with arthritis. I am really blessed that Nellie at 10 doesn’t show signs of arthritis and she should, when she was 1.5yrs old she jumped off our house when it was being built and broke a piece of her hip off as well as dislocating it. We had to have the piece removed and the hip sutured around the pelvis while it healed in place. It doesn’t bother her one bit. Sometimes you can forgo pain relievers with the fish oils and glucosamines . And I also am glad you put in there not to use human pain relievers, they can harm dogs and if you give them something and then you go to the vet you have to wait to give your dog a NSAID for up to a week to get the effects of the human medication out of the system before giving a NSAID. Just best to wait until you can take them to the vet and get the correct medication.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Pampering Your Pet’s and A Thank YouMy Profile

    • Poor Nellie…you are lucky she hasn’t developed arthritis – its the activity that has helped I bet…and all the swimming.
      mkob recently posted…Arthritis in DogsMy Profile

  6. Great article. We’re just starting to see some signs of arthritis with Haley. She had a stretched ACL a few years ago and that may be why we’re starting to see some symptoms. Keeping her at an ideal weight and fish oil supplements have really helped. She’s still extremely active and plays hard, so sometimes I struggle with how much (or hard) she should play. Exercise is good for arthritis, but I’m trying to find that balance between keeping her in great shape and making sure she doesn’t overdo it or reinjure herself. Good information, sharing!
    Elaine recently posted…Why Do My Dog’s Paws Smell Like Corn Chips?My Profile

    • It’s tough to keep an active dog from being active. Just watch how they act after the play – do they seem sore? If so, then rest and even ice if they allow it.
      mkob recently posted…Arthritis in DogsMy Profile

  7. We’ve been so pleased with how well Sheba has been doing since her diagnosis. Supplements and keeping her weight down really seem to do the trick. Even with the cold weather she hasn’t worsened, though I do see her licking her paws so I know it does bother her some. She was even running the other day, for no reason….just running around the yard. I can’t remember the last time I ever saw her do that.
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  8. Thanks for all of this information, Slim! I guess most common dysplasias for my breed is in the hips, due to our elongated back structure. Great set of recommendations. Really appreciate this article!
    Gilligan recently posted…Parks and Bites – A Wet One!My Profile

    • Glad to help Gilly – yes for you, keeping those back legs and hips strong is so important.
      mkob recently posted…Arthritis in DogsMy Profile

  9. I didn’t know fish oil helps with joint issues until this summer. I was asking Ace’s vet about a glucosamine supplement and he said fish oil is often just as good, assuming it’s a high-quality fish oil. Now I give him both fish oil and glucosamine and some of his arthritis symptoms have decreased.
    Lindsay recently posted…Do you let your dog play in the house?My Profile

    • Glad to hear it. Jack and Maggie get both too.
      mkob recently posted…Arthritis in DogsMy Profile

  10. Great aggregation of all the key points. I’m trying to do as much prophylactic care as possible in hopes of avoiding/delaying arthritis issues down the line.

    • Good thinking. And with your active dogs, it’s so important.
      mkob recently posted…Arthritis in DogsMy Profile

  11. I’m glad to see that you recommend continuing exercise, even if less vigorous. My husband is an architect and he’s seen studies where seniors who build age-in-place homes without stairs decline faster than people who live in their existing homes with stairs and other barriers.

    The people want to prepare for the time when they may find stairs too hard to manage but the lack of activity causes the very decline they’re afraid of.

    I don’t see any reason I would be different for dogs, do you?
    Pamela recently posted…Why Do Some Dogs Get Under Our Skin?My Profile

    • Exactly – it’s not. They should absolutely keep active.
      mkob recently posted…Arthritis in DogsMy Profile

  12. My previous dog, Shadow, had spine issues and hip dysplaysia so I was pretty familiar with many of the things you mentioned above. When I adopted Blueberry, I felt sure that she would have healthy hips – imagine my surprise when her first vet visit days after I adopted her showed that she had dysplasia as well as a funky knee. The knee pops and has the potential to cause more issues if B does anything really rigorous. It’s why I cringe when I see her leap from things she has no business leaping from. That’s what the stairs are for!

    Activity is so important as you mentioned – I have arthritis myself, so B and I keep each other in shape. 🙂
    Blueberry’s human recently posted…I couldn’t resistMy Profile

    • That’s the way it should be…you keep the dog active and the keep you active!
      mkob recently posted…Arthritis in DogsMy Profile

  13. All of my dogs respond well to MSM. For a full-sized Labrador, I start at 8000 mg daily, in 2 doses of 4000 mg (1000 mg per 10 lb of dog). Each week I taper it down by 2 pills – 3000 mg twice daily, and continue tapering until signs of pain are gone. It has been used in pain clinics out West for decades for humans, and it was DMSO in horses. All natural, zero side effects – Many books on it and I read, “The Miracle of MSM.” Good luck to all!

  14. We’re fortunate enough to have a natural joint supplement and pain reliever for our dogs. Arthritis sucks, because it’s not always easy to tell they’re in pain. I learned a lot by working with the manufacturers of our joint supplement. Now I see the slight signs and I don’t skimp on their supplement and they’re very comfortable. I’ll keep an eye on the as they grow older and their body’s ability to produce glucosamine decreases.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…An Update | Daily Supplements I Add to Our Dogs FoodMy Profile

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