What Does Arthritis In Dogs Look Like?

His poor, achy joints 💢

dog with arthritis

Whether your dog was just diagnosed with arthritis or your vet has warned you about it in the past, you’re probably wondering what it actually means for your pup.

When a dog has arthritis, the cartilage between his bones are damaged, which can cause inflammation and other painful symptoms. While there’s no cure for arthritis, you can manage the symptoms with medication, therapy, supplements and some lifestyle adjustments.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian with Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in California, who laid out everything you need to know about arthritis in dogs, including signs, treatment and prevention.

What’s arthritis in dogs?

Just like in humans, arthritis in dogs is a slow, progressive disease that targets your pup’s joints.

When your dog has arthritis, it messes with the cartilage that’s supposed to keep your dog’s bones from directly rubbing or bumping against each other.

“The smooth cartilage (articular cartilage) which covers the ends of bones and allows the bones to smoothly bend back and forth is damaged,” Dr. Cruz told The Dodo. “Over time, the bones can come into direct contact.”

The result is instability, inflammation and pain for your pup.

“There are various forms of arthritis, which is the degeneration of the normal function of a joint,” Dr. Cruz said.

The different forms of arthritis your dog could experience include:

  • Septic arthritis: when bacteria or another agent infects the joint and causes inflammation
  • Immune-mediated arthritis: when your dog has an abnormal immune response that affects his joints

Arthritis can also be a result of other conditions, like torn ligaments, cancer or gradual degeneration.

Signs of arthritis in dogs

If your dog has arthritis, he might be showing signs like:

  • Lameness
  • Stiffness
  • Limping
  • Rising slowly
  • Reluctance towards going on walks
  • Reluctance towards running, jumping or playing
  • Sensitivity (or even aggressiveness) when the affected area is touched
  • Weight gain (due to reluctance towards exercise)
  • Loss of muscle mass in affected limb

Arthritis is known to affect older dogs, but it can also affect younger dogs, too.

In a lot of cases, you might not even notice arthritis symptoms in younger dogs because they’re often stronger and can better tolerate the disease.

That’s why routine vet exams are so important.

“A dog needs a good general examination by a veterinarian on a yearly basis,” Dr. Cruz said. “For a pet older than 7, at least two times per year. Pets demonstrating any signs that may be associated with OA (osteoarthritis) [should go] more often.”

Dog arthritis treatment

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for arthritis in dogs. So, dog arthritis treatment is more about managing the disease and its symptoms to make your pup as comfortable as possible.

“Lose weight if appropriate, take prescribed medication as indicated by your veterinarian, have follow-up examinations as needed,” Dr. Cruz said.

Dr. Cruz’s go-to medications for arthritis include Rimadyl, Meloxicam and Galliprant. (Since these are prescription medications, you need to consult with your vet first to find out if any of these options are the right ones for your dog.)

According to Dr. Cruz, you should also look into multimodal approaches (aka combining different treatments) — just make sure you always consult your vet first.

These approaches can include things like:

  • Cold laser therapy
  • Stem cell therapy
  • Chondroprotective injections (like Adequan)
  • Rehabilitation

Dr. Cruz also recommends lifestyle adjustments, like investing in ramps or stairs to help your pup get up on the furniture or into a car, or a harness that’ll help you lift him up.

You should also look into things like:

How to prevent arthritis in dogs

There’s no surefire way to make sure your dog never gets arthritis. But if you can prevent your pup from becoming overweight, that’ll really help.

“Nothing can be done to prevent accidents or genetics, but one of the major exacerbating issues with all OA is obesity,” Dr. Cruz said. “Keeping your pet at a healthy weight from the time that it is a puppy is essential.”

But even if your dog isn’t arthritis-free forever, at least you know everything you need to know about the disease.

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