What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a common condition in dogs which can cause pain, inflammation, reduced mobility and progressive joint deterioration. While it’s often associated with older dogs, this belief that it solely affects senior canines is far from accurate. We’ll explore the reality of arthritis in dogs, shedding light on its occurrence in younger dogs, the breeds at higher risk, and the signs to watch out for. We’ll also provide valuable tips on how you can reduce the risk of arthritis in your dog as well as how it can be managed, allowing you to support your dog’s joint health throughout their life.
Contrary to popular belief, arthritis often develops in dogs at a young age. Puppies are born with normal joints, but some may have an inherited risk of developing abnormally shaped and unstable joints, such as hip and elbow dysplasia, within their first few months of life. This instability leads to uneven weight distribution, cartilage damage, joint inflammation, and eventually, osteoarthritis. Surprisingly, routine screenings have revealed that 2 in 5 young dogs have arthritis1. Whilst a daunting fact, it's really common and there are lots of things you can do to minimise the risk, manage their symptoms, and support your dog’s joint health.
Here’s a helpful video showing signs to look out for
Breeds at greater risk
While all dog breeds are susceptible to arthritis, certain breeds are more prone to developing this condition. Some of these breeds include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, German Pointers, Bullmastiffs, Collies, and Springer Spaniels2. Understanding the risk associated with your dog’s breed can help you take proactive measures to reduce their risk of developing arthritis and support their joint health.
What are the signs of arthritis in dogs
Spotting the signs of arthritis is crucial for early intervention and treatment. Advanced cases are more evident, displaying symptoms such as lameness, stiffness, and difficulty with activities, younger dogs with early-stage arthritis the signs may be a little more subtle.
Have you noticed any stiffness or limping in your dog? Do they sit with their legs splayed?
Is your dog more irritable than normal? Do they react to being touched differently to before?
Is your dog avoiding certain activities? Refusing to walk or jump into the car?
Osteoarthritis starts in young dogs due to developmental orthopaedic disease
In the majority of dogs, developmental orthopaedic disease is the number one cause of arthritis. This includes abnormally shaped hip and elbow joints (hip and elbow dysplasia), dislocating kneecaps (patellar luxation) and knee ligament tears (cruciate ligament rupture). As both hip and elbow dysplasia develop during the first few months of life, the osteoarthritic process commonly begins in young dogs.
You can help diagnose your dog earlier
If your puppy or young dog has osteoarthritis or a joint condition that can cause it, early diagnosis is key to making a positive impact on the course of this progressive condition. If you spot any signs that suggest your dog may have early osteoarthritis, it can be very helpful to take a video of these signs as your dog might behave differently at the veterinary clinic.
How to best record your dog's, gait, posture or general mobility in a natural setting
Video courtesy of University of Lincoln Animal Behaviour Clinic/ Milly Jones https://animalbehaviourclinic.lincoln.ac.uk
When you see your vet, it's important to mention all of the signs that your dog is displaying. We realise this can sometimes be difficult to remember so we have created a simple check list that you can complete and show your vet during your appointment. Your vet will then carry out a thorough orthopaedic examination and may want to perform some additional tests such as X-rays or a joint fluid sample to confirm the diagnosis, or to assess the arthritic changes in their joints. Your vet may also advise taking a blood sample to check your dog’s liver and kidney function before they start medication.
Managing canine arthritis
Things you can do to be your dog’s best friend.
Being overweight can put extra strain on your dog’s joints so keeping their weight down is helpful. If your dog is overweight, ask your vet for help in planning a weight reduction programme. Bear in mind that if your dog has sore joints, you may not succeed in getting your dog to ‘walk off’ any excess food intake, so a reduction in food or changing to a low calorie food is usually necessary.
Provide the right kind of exercise
Regular, controlled, exercise is a real help as it helps prevent the joints from stiffening up and maintains mobility and muscle strength so your dog can remain active. Dogs with sore joints should avoid high intensity or high impact exercise such as chasing a ball in the park. Your vet can help you work out the most suitable exercise schedule for your individual dog.
Your vet may prescribe medication for your dog to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. There are many medicinal treatment options available including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which are effective at reducing joint inflammation and the pain your dog may suffer from to greatly improve their quality of life.
Consider joint support supplements
If your dog does have arthritis or is at a high risk of developing arthritis, then your vet may suggest you give them a joint supplement or feed them a joint specific diet to help support their joints.
Consider alternative therapies
Hydrotherapy is becoming more common for exercising dogs with arthritis. This involves purpose-built pools that allow safe, carefully controlled swimming. Swimming helps to build up muscle strength, which is useful for supporting joints. It is a low impact form of exercise, so it is unlikely to aggravate your dog’s joint pain. Your vet will know a centre where such a service is available.
Adaptations to the home
Simple changes in your home environment can enhance your dog’s mobility and overall well-being. For example, provide a low, memory form bed to ease joint stress, or install a ramp to help your dog access and exit the car easily, consider gates on stairs, and rugs on those slippery floor surfaces. While severe mobility issues may require more adjustments, even minor changes can significantly benefit all dogs by reducing strain on arthritic joints and slowing the worsening of the disease.
Regular home and veterinary monitoring is key for adjusting the management plan for your dog. If you notice any new or worsening gait or behaviour changes, make an appointment to re-visit your vet.
 Enomoto, M. et al. (2022). Scientific Presentation Abstracts 2022 ACVS Surgery Summit.
 Anderson KL, O’Neill DG, Brodbelt DC, et al. Prevalence, duration and risk factors for appendicular osteoarthritis in a UK dog population under primary veterinary care. Sci Rep. 2018;8:5641.