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Osteoarthritis In Dogs – Symptoms & Treatment

Osteoarthritis In Dogs

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a congenital, non-inflammatory, progressive, degenerative disease of the synovial joints (common joints including knees, shoulders, elbows, and hips). The incidence has not been established exactly, but it affects approximately 25 percent of dogs and it is irreversible.

Also referred to as degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis— this is a disease of the entire joint organ but it is most often associated with progressive loss of the articular cartilage surfaces of the joints.

Dogs of all ages can develop Osteoarthritis; however, it is often ignored in younger dogs. OA is more prevalent in seniors, working dogs, athletic and large breeds. Puppies suffering from hip or elbow dysplasia will develop OA at a young age.

Primary osteoarthritis is described as largely idiopathic, as it is not caused by any existing disease and it is usually associated with aging and obesity. Secondary osteoarthritis s believed to be the most common form in dogs where injuries or underlying disease processes play a role in the development of osteoarthritis.

Symptoms Of Osteoarthritis

  • Pain, stiffness, and lameness (The most obvious symptoms of OA).
  • More noticeable when the dog is at rest, and the symptoms may start to ‘warm out’ or ease – as the dog moves around.
  • Clicking sound when walking.
  • Restlessness, or seemingly uncomfortable.
  • Limping / Abnormal Gait.
  • Swollen Joints.
  • Licking their joints.
  • Reluctance to move or refusing to use stairs or jump.
  • Lack of enthusiasm for walks.
  • A noticeable change in behaviors, such as increased irritability or whining, or aggression.

Treatment Options For Osteoarthritis

It is important to understand that for the treatment of OA in dogs the focus is management rather than cure. Success in treatment means minimizing pain while maximizing your dog's comfort and function.

Proactive Vs Retroactive Management:

Proactive Osteoarthritis Management includes:

  • Bone Growth Optimization: Limiting food consumption and avoiding calcium supplementation.
  • Protection of Cartilage with Glycosaminoglycan Polysulfates: Many studies have shown that this will protect the cartilage of dogs with hip dysplasia.
  • Maintaining Healthy Weight: Noticeably decreases the rate of OA progression in dogs.

Retroactive Osteoarthritis Management includes:

  • Pain Management:
  1. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  2. Nutritional supplementation- omega-3 fatty acids and undenatured collagen.
  3. Electrophysical modalities, such as cold therapy for superficial joint pain.
  4. Anti-inflammatories.
  5. Amantadine - Brand names - Gocovri, Osmolex ER, Symmetrel and Endantadine.
  • Therapeutic Exercise: Dogs exercising or playing more is associated with a lower lameness score (on par with the benefits of NSAIDs).
  • Chondroprotectants - Glucosamine and chondroitin drugs facilitate by restraining enzymes that contribute to cartilage breakdown.
  • Arthroscopic surgery and joint replacement are two of the options.
  • Arthrodesis (fusion of a joint) - This is often performed for the tarsus (ankle) or carpus (wrist).
  • Excision arthroplasty is performed in the hip for the removal of the painful ball part of the joint.

Home Remedies For Osteoarthritis

  • Diet - Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid (50-220 mg/kg ) can help decrease inflammation.
  • Hydrotherapy (or aquatic therapy) - is a type of physical therapy utilizing the buoyancy of water where dogs perform certain exercises in water and it helps to maintain muscle mass.
  • Physical Therapy - May include massage, ultrasound therapy, electric stimulation, and application of heat and cold to help relieve pain in the joints.

Prevention Of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis etiology is poorly understood. Prevention is not possible for OA as the causes in dogs is varied. Treatment and survival rates vary depending on the grade and stage of the OA.

Specific causes are not yet known. However, Hereditary is a factor in some breeds and it is better to evaluate the affected dogs before breeding or at least before getting a dog from a susceptible lineage and get the health checks done.

Affected Breeds Of Osteoarthritis

Large Dog Breeds, Giant Dog Breeds, Dachshund, German Shepherd, Great Dane, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, Golden Retriever, Middle Age Dogs, Senior Dogs

Additional Facts For Osteoarthritis

  1. Risk Factors:
  • Lifestyle Factors: Obesity, Posture, Overuse of joints, etc.
  • Older Age
  • Joint Injuries
  • Genetics
  • Bone Deformities: Defective cartilage or malformed joints.
  • Certain Metabolic Diseases: Hemochromatosis, Diabetes, etc.
  1. Types:

Primary Osteoarthritis: Arthritis that occurs on its own. Mostly idiopathic as they occur due to degenerative changes to the cartilage and joint without a known cause.

Secondary Osteoarthritis: This occurs due to an injury or pre-existing conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, etc.

  1. Morbidity:

Many studies suggest that more than 50% of diagnosed dogs are older ones (from 8 -13 years).

Canine OA seems to be more prevalent in dogs with joint subluxation. OA is also prevalent in the shoulder joint.

Shoulder OA prevalence at eight years of age is 85 percent in overweight dogs and 60 percent in slender dogs.

Cranial cruciate ligament injuries OA prevalence is 4 percent.

Patellar luxation caused OA prevalence is 1 percent.

  1. Stages:

Preclinical (STAGE 0 - 1):

  • Stages 0 and 1 are the pre - osteoarthritic stage, meaning the dogs are clinically normal.
  • Stage 0 dogs = without any risk factors and clinically normal.
  • Stage 1 dogs = No clinical signs of OA but there is a possibility due to the presence of one or more risk factors, e.g. joint injury, breed disposition, intense activity, and/or joint trauma or radiographic signs of dysplasia.

Mild Osteoarthritis (STAGE 2):

  • The mobility of dogs is starting to get affected during games and activities.
  • There may be changes in static bodyweight distribution, subtle stiffness in gait, lameness, and asymmetry.

Moderate Osteoarthritis (STAGE 3):

  • Noticeable defect in limb loading, a shift in static bodyweight distribution, and stiffness in gait.
  • Reduced usage of the affected limb.
  • Consistent irregularities in daily activities (such as walking) can be seen.

Severe Osteoarthritis (STAGE 4):

  • Restlessness when standing and may be reluctant to move or stand.
  • Other signs include pain, lameness, abnormal limb loading, and weight shift.
  1. Mortality:

There is no evidence of OA alone affecting the life span. There are few studies that state dogs with OA have a higher mortality rate than dogs without osteoarthritis ( both are of the same age).

  1. Diagnosis:
  • X-Rays
  • MRI and CT scan
  • Arthroscopy
  • Collection and analysis of joint fluid (synovial)
  1. Prognosis:

Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease that requires continuous treatments. The prognosis for OA is guarded. As the existing condition is not life-threatening, rigorous treatment is usually not necessary. However, relapse is possible following medical treatment in affected dogs. Proper hygiene and home care are the best defenses against future recurrences.

If your dog undergoes surgery, your vet will give you specific post-surgical instructions. The majority of the dogs will completely recover within six months of the surgery.

When To See A Vet

Contact your vet right away, if you notice any of the following:

  • Pain, Stiffness, and Lameness
  • Limping / Abnormal Gait
  • Swollen Joints

Food Suggestions For Osteoarthritis

Foods to avoid for arthritic dogs:

  • Grains: Rice, Wheat, Soy, etc.
  • Corn
  • Commercial diet (kibble and/or canned food).
  • Avoid fatty proteins(go for lean proteins).
  • Treats, Table Scraps, Added Salts, Sugars, and Artificial Additives.

Foods to feed:

  • Leafy Greens: Spinach, Lettuce, Kale, Green Beans.
  • Fiber-filled Veggies: Pumpkin, Sweet Potato, Acorn Squash.
  • Fatty Fish: Salmon, Tuna, Sardines, Mackerel, etc.
  • Lean Protein: Chicken, Turkey.
  • Omega-3 Oils:Fish oil, Green-lipped mussel oil.
  • Antioxidant-packed Fruits: Cherries, Blueberries, Peeled Apple, Cantaloupe.
  • Vitamin-rich Veggies: Cauliflower, Broccoli, etc.
  • Herbs and Spices: Fresh Ginger Root, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Parsley, etc.


As with any type of arthritis, earlier diagnosis and proper treatments give more successful outcomes.

Arthritis needs life-long management as it is a long-term condition. Arthritis is a progressive condition and there is no known cure, but if well managed, most pets can live comfortable lives for many years.

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