1 March, 2018

Arthritis in Dogs: What Every Pet Parent Should Know

Arthritis in DogsMany pet owners are not as clued up on arthritis, especially arthritis in dogs, as they should be.

Arthritis is a disease which affects many dogs. Being in constant pain can get the better of anyone, but being prepared can make all the difference. Helping your arthritic dog manage this inflammatory disease is doable when you have a grasp of all it entails. You can grab the bull by the horns and come at it from all sides, giving your fur child a drastically enhanced quality of life.

Table of Contents

A Dog in Pain: What is Arthritis in Dogs?

In a nutshell, arthritis is an inflammatory disease which affects your dog’s joints.

There are different types of arthritis, most of which can’t be cured. If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, it will most likely require you to commit to long-term monitoring and treatment. Getting a grasp of canine arthritis may seem overwhelming, but understanding the disease is paramount.

The more pet owners know about it, the more they can build up their arsenal to fight it. Arthritis left untreated in a dog means nothing but severe, excruciating pain and a vastly deteriorating quality of life.

Understanding the Types of Canine Arthritis

There are essentially 3 main types of arthritis in dogs.

Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis is also known as Degenerative Joint Disease (or Degenerative Arthritis), and it is a chronic condition. The articular cartilage in the joints deteriorates, causing the painful inflammation. Sadly, osteoarthritis cannot be cured. It can (and should) however be managed.

It can occur in one or more of your dog’s joints and, as the name suggests, the impacted joint will continuously degenerate. Veterinarians will be able to help treat your dog’s symptoms, often with the help of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). They should also advise you on a pain management plan for your dog. But the condition will never “go away”.

There are many causes of osteoarthritis in dogs. If you think about the disease in simple terms, it is the wearing down of the cartilage in the joint. Anything that stresses the joint will increase the rate of degeneration. This can range from over-exercise or obesity to genetic abnormalities such as hip or elbow dysplasia and old age.

Septic Arthritis in Dogs

Septic Arthritis is caused in most cases by a bacterial infection in the fluid which surrounds the joint. It can in rare cases also be caused by a fungal infection.

The joint fluid will become septic when the bacteria (or fungus) makes its way to the joint from the outside world. Think of a really bad break in a bone, where the bone is exposed to the environment. Bacterial infection is always a risk factor for surgery, and Septic Arthritis is one such factor.

Septic Arthritis is the only type of arthritis that can, in the best-case scenario, be cured.

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It is however by no means easy to cure. Your veterinarian needs to establish the cause of infection and treat the dog accordingly. In most cases, the treatment will be a purely systemic (from the inside) approach with antibiotics or anti-fungal medication.

Septic Arthritis can lead to permanent damage to the joint or joints. It is not uncommon for a dog to develop Osteoarthritis in a joint as an aftermath of Septic Arthritis.

Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis in Dogs

As the name suggests, Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis (IMPA) occurs when the immune system attacks the joints, causing painful and debilitating inflammation in one or multiple joints. This is basically the canine version of the human Rheumatoid Arthritis.

When white blood cells around the joints release their antibodies, these antibodies bond with the tissue of the joint. Ideally, the antibodies should bond with antigens which are harmful to the body. Think harmful bacteria or cancer cells. But in the case of Immune-Mediated Arthritis, they can bond with perfectly healthy tissue.

The tissue-antibody complex makes its way to the synovial fluid (think elbow grease) and once it gets there, the elbow grease is like: “Woah there, you’re not supposed to be here!”. Words are exchanged, push comes to shove, and a fight breaks out.

The result: Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis.

There are two types of Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis (IMPA):

1. Erosive Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis in Dogs

Erosive Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis is incredibly rare. This form of arthritis can cause a lot of damage. It not only causes inflammation in the joints, but the immune system’s attack can result in the bone and cartilage of the joint being destroyed.

2. Non-Erosive Immune Mediated Polyarthritis in Dogs

Diagnosing a particular type of Non-Erosive Immune Mediated Polyarthritis is every veterinarian’s ultimate conundrum.

This form of arthritis has many manifestations and a long list of possible underlying causes. The types and causes can be related to a distant infection or chronic condition. In some cases, the condition will, in fact, be diagnosed as “Idiopathic Polyarthritis”, meaning that the type, as well as the cause, is completely unknown.

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Some types of Polyarthritis are linked to over-vaccination or an adverse response of the body to certain medication. It could be a simple auto-immune response, or be a result of chronic illnesses such as pyometra. It could be brought on by heartworm disease, bacterial or fungal infections, or a urinary tract infection.

It could be caused by just about anything.

The important thing about Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis, is to identify the symptoms so that you can take your dog to the veterinarian for assessment. 

Arthritic dogs respond very well to immunosuppressants or immunomodulators. The immunosuppressants suppress the immune system, and the immunomodulators change the immune systems response to the body’s attack on the joints.

Canine Arthritis in Different Parts of the Body

Spinal Arthritis in Dogs and Arthritis in Dog’s Back

Some types of arthritis, Polyarthritis in particular, can reach a dog’s spine and cause some serious pain and damage.

Lumbosacral Spondylosis is a type of arthritis which affects the lower part of a dog’s spine. It is most common in older dogs, and as with most other types of arthritis, it cannot be cured.

Arthritis in Dog’s Hips

The biggest (but not only) arthritis causing culprit in a dog’s hips is Hip dysplasia. The condition is caused by an abnormality in the hip socket of dogs. If this condition is not monitored and treated, it generally leads to Osteoarthritis in dogs.

Arthritis in Dog’s Back Legs

It often happens that people mistake hip or spinal arthritis for arthritis in the hind legs. When a dog has trouble standing, or when its hind legs collapse underneath it, the cause is often a problem with their hips or lower back.

Arthritis in Dog’s Knee

Knee problems in dogs can lead to arthritis in the same way that hip dysplasia can. There are certain medical conditions and issues, such as a luxating patella, that more often than not, end in osteoarthritis.

The Causes of Dog Arthritis

The list of possible cause of arthritis in dogs is a long one!

Possible Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

  • Obesity
  • Stress on the joints – Due to too much exercise, jumping onto or off high surfaces
  • Congenital defects – Such as hip or elbow dysplasia, and dislocating knees or shoulders
  • Septic Arthritis
  • Trauma to the joint
  • Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD)
  • Prolonged intake of steroids
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperlaxity (loose joints)

Possible Causes of Septic Arthritis in Dogs

  • Bacterial infection
  • Fungal infection
  • Compromised immune system
  • Abnormal immune system
  • Diabetes mellitus

Possible Causes of Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis in Dogs

  • Idiopathic disease (cause or origin is unknown)
  • Distant infection or inflammation – This could be anything from dermatitis to pneumonia
  • Chronic gastrointestinal conditions – Such as leaky gut, IBS or chronic diarrhea
  • Cell abnormalities – Tumors and cancers
  • Adverse reaction to medication
  • Over vaccination
  • Genetic, breed specific predisposition

The Process of Aging:  The Old Dog Arthritis

Arthritis is one of the many common ailments which pester dogs in their old age. It is so very unfair that golden oldies should suffer such pain in their old age. Especially considering their devotion, and the unwavering loyalty, love, and companionship they showed us for so many years.

Arthritis in Dogs—Dog Arthritis Symptoms!

Knowing the symptoms of arthritis can improve your chances of catching it early. Early detection can improve the prognosis of your dog’s disease and delay or at least slow down the process of deterioration.

9 Must Know Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs

  1. A stiff gait (which appears worse after exercise or when it’s cold)
  2. Lameness in limbs
  3. Obsessive licking on the joint area
  4. Reduced level of activity
  5. Reluctance or difficulty getting up, sitting or lying down (especially, to go potty)
  6. Apparent pain
  7. Loss of appetite
  8. Fever
  9. Swelling of the periarticular soft tissue surrounding the joint

The Importance of Joint Health for Dogs

Ensuring joint health in pets should be very high on the list of priorities of every pet parent.

In some cases, you simply don’t see it coming. In many cases, you should be prepared. There are many breeds who are genetically predisposed to developing joint problems or other medical conditions which can lead to arthritis.

Dog Hip Pain and General Dog Joint Pain

Arthritic joints are painful, and can’t simply walk up to the medicine cabinet and help themselves to anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers. It’s up to the pet parents ensure pain relief for their arthritic pet!

Best Treatment for Arthritis in Dogs

Talk to Your Vet About Arthritis Treatment for Dogs

You will need to discuss the best treatment plan with your veterinarian or holistic veterinarian. Be aware that as most types of arthritis are degenerative conditions, the treatment plan needs to be reassessed regularly because your dog’s condition will change over time.

Treatment for Severe Arthritis in Dogs

The treatment for severe arthritis in dogs will depend on the type of arthritis they are suffering from. The treatment will mostly entail pain relief and reduce the inflammation with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents or anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

What Meds Your Vet Might Recommend: Dog Arthritis Medicine

Here is a list of medications a veterinarian may prescribe for arthritic dogs:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Steroids
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Immunomodulators
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-fungal medication
  • Anti-viral medication
  • Pain medication

Laser Treatment for Arthritis in Dogs

Many people swear by laser treatment for aiding in arthritis treatment in their dogs. The laser projects heat to deeper tissues and stimulates blood circulation and cell regeneration. It is also said to reduce pain in arthritic joints.

Understanding What Each Ingredient Means in Dog Joint Supplements

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What Are Chondroprotective Agents?

Chondroprotective agents (CPAs) are an absolute must for dogs with arthritis. NSAIDs and other medications may deal with the pain and inflammation, but your dogs needs to take chondroprotective agents to help to slow down the destruction of the bone and cartilage in a joint.

CPAs such as chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine are chemical compounds found in tissues such as cartilage. They should be part of every arthritis treatment plan because they offer support to the wearing cartilage.

What is the Purpose of Glucosamine?

Glucosamine is an organic compound that is naturally found in cartilage. As your dog’s cartilage is destroyed by arthritis, giving them glucosamine as a supplement can slow that destructive process down.

What is the Purpose of Chondroitin?

Like glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate is a CPA which helps to slow down the degeneration of cartilage in a joint.

What is the Purpose of MSM?

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a supplement with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. It also contains sulphur, which is a crucial element in the production of glucosamine.

What Can I Give My Dog for Arthritis?

Arthritis Medicine for Dogs

You will need to manage the inflammation, the pain, and try to slow down the rate of degeneration in the cartilage and bones.

The problem with many of the medications prescribed to treat arthritis, is that your dog shouldn’t take them for long periods.

NSAIDs do wonders for inflammation and pain, but can cause some serious damage in the long run. Speak to your vet about what is safe and what is not. It may also be an option to rotate or alternate different treatment plans to give your dog a break from taking NSAIDs or pain medications for long periods of time.

Over the Counter Anti-Inflammatory for Dogs?

The only OTC NSAIDS you should give your dog are the ones given to you over the counter at your veterinarian’s practice!

The Best Joint Supplements for Dogs

Dog Joint Supplements

Dog joint supplements are great for ensuring your dog’s joints are getting the extra help and nutritional support they need. Choose a supplement which will fit in with the nutritional makeup of your dog’s diet as a whole.

Be sure to find one that works for your dog. Yes, the supplement should contain CPAs, but if the CPA is derived from green-lipped mussels and your dog is allergic to shellfish, you may have an even bigger problem than arthritis.

Let’s talk fatty acids. Fatty acids are great for dogs, but the Omega-6 and Omega-3 ratio needs to be balanced. You also don’t want to overload your dog with fatty acids, especially if they are getting them in their usual diet as well.

Vets Preferred Advanced Joint Support

Vets Preferred has an amazing range of joint support supplements for puppies, doggos, and dogs in their golden years. These are veterinary-grade products that are affordable and can massively improve joint health in dogs.

We PREFER this joint supplement because not only it’s signed off on an actual veterinarian, but doesn’t cost an arm and a leg! Oh, and helps your old lil’ pup make it through the day.

Nutramax Cosequin DS Plus with MSM Chewable Tablets

These Cosequin chewable tablets help many dogs have happier and more mobile lives. Cosequin contains additional minerals which support healthy joints.

Doggie Dailies Glucosamine for Dogs

Doggie Dailies are delicious treats! They not only contain vital CPAs, but also contain a few other ingredients which help reduce inflammation and pain.

Natural remedies for Arthritis in Dogs

Natural Pain Relief for Dogs

Finding a natural way of relieving your dog’s pain is priceless.

You just need to be 100% sure that the natural remedy is safe for your dog. There are many opinions as to the safety of natural remedies for dogs on the internet but they are not fact. In many cases, your vet might not even be able to tell you for sure whether something is safe because there is simply no research to support their answer.

Why is Turmeric Added to Dog Joint Supplements?

Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse. It can reduce inflammation naturally and is often given to dogs in the form of Golden Paste. This miracle paste is worth a try!

Dog Vitamins for Joints

Vitamin E is often given as a supplement to dogs suffering from arthritis.

Krill Oil and Omegas for Arthritis in Dogs?

Fish oil can do wonders for a dog’s general health. Not only does it give your dog a healthy skin and shiny coat, it can also reduce inflammation.

Whether you give your dog fish oil, krill oil or salmon oil, the added dose of Omega fatty acids which they contain can go a long way in helping your arthritic dog. As far as natural remedies and supplements go, Omegas are a must!

Essential Oil for Arthritis in Dogs

Helichrysum and Frankincense are two popular essential oils used to treat symptoms of arthritis in dogs. Just remember to read up on how to safely use essential oils on dogs!

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is an essential component in treating arthritis. It can help build muscle tone and loosen sore and stiff joints.

You may consider finding a physiotherapist or chiropractor for your dog. Regular massages will make a big difference to your dog’s stiff limbs.

Your dog may not be too enthused about moving, but exercise is important. Swimming is a great idea for arthritic dogs, because there is no impact on their joints.


Acupuncture is as successful in treating arthritis symptoms in dogs as it is in humans. Not all doggos will go for it though, so it is often only an option for calm, reasonable and more obedient dogs.

Cold and Heat Therapy for Pain Management

Cold and heat treatments are a wonderfully natural and non-invasive method of treating arthritis symptoms in dogs. It can drastically reduce pain and inflammation.

FAQs for Canine Arthritis and Dog Arthritis Treatment

Can arthritis meds for dogs completely cure my dog?

No. The only type of arthritis which can sometimes be cured is Septic Arthritis.

Dog arthritis pain relief over the counter, can I give my dog Advil for pain relief?

Many people give their dogs Rimadyl for pain, but you should always consult your veterinarian first!

How do I select the best dog joint supplements?

Safety first! You select the best supplements by researching them and being 100% sure they are safe for your dog. Also: Ask your veterinarian or holistic veterinarian!

How do I know if my dog is in pain – dog pain symptoms?

You should be able to see when your dog is in pain because they are “out of sorts”. Your dog may wince, limp, or have difficulty standing up or getting down.

Natural anti-inflammatory for dogs – do they work?

Absolutely! You just need to find one that is safe for your dog. You also need to be willing to switch to NSAIDS if your veterinarian doesn’t think the inflammation is being reduced with the natural anti-inflammatories.

The treatment plan you go with should always be the most effective one, and one chosen in the best interest of your dog.

Can arthritis in older dogs be treated?

It can be treated, it can be managed, but it cannot be cured.

Arthritis in dogs is sometimes part of the natural aging process, sometimes it hits you out of the blue. Pet owners should always see to it that their doggos are well cared for and relieved from pain.

Common Questions on Arthritis in Dogs

What is Idiopathic Polyarthritis?

What is the problem with many of the medications prescribed to treat arthritis?

What are popular essential oils to soothe a dog with arthritis?

What is the only type of arthritis that can be cured?

What is the biggest (but not only) arthritis causing culprit in a dog’s hips?