Arthritis is a progressive and painful Degenerative Joint Disease that is typified by a breakdown of the joint’s cartilage. It is usually a result of wear and tear and instability of the joints. Although other factors such as injury, genetic makeup, infection, immune disease and cancer can also affect the progression. 

What is arthritis? 

Arthritis occurs when the cartilage lining of the joint deteriorates and the joint wears down. The synovial fluid loses its lubricating properties, the movement of the bones becomes harder and less smooth, leading to discomfort and reduced mobility.

The lining can wear down due to disease, poor structure (hip dysplasia), conformation or excessive weight gain. 

One or more joints anywhere in your pets body can be affected. The most common joints are hips, knees, shoulders and elbows. 

What are the symptoms?

There are many signs that may indicate your dog is suffering from arthritis, even though most dogs are very stoic creatures and tend to mask signs of pain. Signs may include one or more of the following:

  • Reluctance to walk, climb stairs, jump or play
  • Limping/lameness
  • Lagging behind on walks
  • Pain or stiffness when getting up or down
  • Yelping when touched
  • A change in personality (aggression when normally good-natured)
  • Licking of the affected joints

These signs become more obvious as arthritis progresses, and the pain worsens. As a result of the changes that have occurred in the affected joint/s, arthritis in dogs is not a condition that can be cured. However, the pain and discomfort can be effectively controlled and managed.

My dog is not old, why does he have arthritis?

Arthritis can develop due to a number of different factors. Age is a leading cause as most pets will suffer to some degree from joint problems as they get older.

But age is not the only factor when it comes to arthritis. Other factors can include:

Breed:  Large breeds can be more susceptible to joint problems.

Weight:  Extra unnecessary weight places undue stress on joints.

Injuries:  Trauma from an accident and/or wear and tear in everyday active life can cause a joint to deteriorate.

Other disorders:  Such as Hip or Elbow dysplasia, can lead to further joint problems.

My dog has arthritis, how can I make my dogs life easier?

Comfortable bedding

Ensure your dog has a thick, warm and comfortable bed to sleep in, particularly in winter. Place your dog’s bed out of any drafts and minimise stairs/steps your dog may need to climb.

Veterinary treatments

Various veterinary treatments are available to manage osteoarthritis in pets. The best option will depend on a number of different factors involving your dog: such as age, severity of signs, progression of the disease process and whether they have any other health problems. Importantly all arthritis patients should be accurately diagnosed before starting a treatment plan.  

Arthritis cannot be cured.  The key to controlling the pain associated with arthritis is managing the inflammation within the joints.  The added benefit to this is that with proper management, progression can be slowed.

To manage the inflammation within the joints we focus on a multipoint plan:

Weight control

Weight control is extremely important when managing the symptoms and minimising the progression of arthritis. Excess weight will put additional pressure on already affected joints. Calorie restricted diets and gentle exercise to maintain ideal (low end of normal) body weight are essential for animals with arthritis.  We also recommend this for animals who are predisposed or at risk of arthritis.

Gentle and appropriate exercise

Walking and swimming are the best forms of exercise for dogs with arthritis. The appropriate duration of exercise depends on the individual pet. Regular short bouts of exercise are better than occasional large bouts.

Omega-3 rich diet

Omega 3 fatty acids help block the inflammation around joints that causes pain. They also suppress the activity of an enzyme that causes cartilage damage, thus slowing the progression of arthritis. Omega 3 is found in certain veterinary diets at appropriate doses for managing arthritis.

Joint cartilage protective medications

There are many veterinary products that increase joint fluid production & increase blood supply to joint surfaces.  The use of injections containing pentosan polysulfate has been proven to slow the progression of arthritis and help control the pain associated with the disease.

Neutraceuticals such as Green Lipped Mussel

Neutraceuticals such as Green Lipped Mussel have also shown good results in assisting dogs with arthritis. These products contain chondroitin and or glucosamine which are the ‘building blocks’ of cartilage. Supplying inflamed joints with these ‘building blocks’ allows for constant production of healthy joint cartilage which in turn assists the joints to reduce inflammation and thus reduce pain.


Acupuncture can be administered by specially trained veterinarians. This can often provide excellent results for arthritic patients, and is free from side effects and drugs.

Prescription Joint Diet

There are many prescription joint diets for both dogs and cats that have been shown to assist in alleviating the discomfort and improving the workings of diseased joints. Some of these diets also combine joint support with weight loss. Please see your local Greencross Vet for more information.

Anti-inflammatory medications

Anti-inflammatory medications can also be used to help control the pain associated with arthritis and are often used at the forefront of arthritic patients. They are best used to control acute pain and as an adjunct for management of chronic pain. Anti-inflammatories will not slow the progression of the disease, and are best used in combination with other modes of treatment.

There are a number of effective treatment options available for arthritis and it need not be a debilitating disease of old age.   If you suspect your pet may be suffering from joint stiffness or pain, speak to your veterinarian about starting an arthritis management program that best suits your pets’ needs.

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