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Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that can have a huge impact on your dog's life. Today, our New Hope vets discuss what you should know about osteoarthritis in dogs, including the causes, signs, and treatment.

Canine Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis seen in dogs. It is a degenerative joint disorder that may lead to the permanent deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the movement of the joints. This painful condition is estimated to have affected at least a quarter of all dogs at some point in their life.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

The pain in your dog's joints caused by osteoarthritis can lead to several telltale signs. The major symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs are as follows:

  • Pain/stiffness
  • Lameness
  • Swollen joints
  • Refusal to jump, use stairs, or run
  • Reluctance to stand 
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of enthusiasm for walks or play
  • Unusual aggression, whining, or irritability
  • Licking at joints
  • Slow shuffling walk

Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Although this condition can develop in any breed of dog, it is most often seen in larger breeds such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labs, Rottweilers, and giant breeds of dogs. 

The actual cause of osteoarthritis is generally unknown, but this condition is often associated with underlying issues like injuries suffered from trauma, elbow dysplasia or hip dysplasia, cruciate injuries, dislocations, and more. 

There is also some evidence that obesity plays a role in the development of osteoarthritis in dogs. Excess weight may place unnecessary stress on your pup's joints, causing pain and degenerating the strength of your dog's joints over time.

Treatment to Help Manage Pain

In dogs, osteoarthritis can't be cured or reversed. Successful treatment of this condition is focused on reducing the pain it causes, managing its progression, and slowing the joint degeneration it causes to give your dog the most comfortable life possible as they grow older.

Often several treatments will be used together to achieve pain relief and more comfortable mobility.

Painkillers / Pain Meds

Painkillers such as anti-inflammatories are often prescribed as a long-term treatment for managing your dog’s joint pain and helping to reduce swelling. 


While it may seem a bit counterintuitive, exercise is very important for dogs suffering from osteoarthritis. It may be necessary to cut back on some of their exercise routines when your pup is first diagnosed, but staying mobile will help your dog to keep up their fitness, maintain their weight, and relieve their joint pain. 

Exercise will need to be tailored to your dog's overall health and the severity of osteoarthritis. Your vet will be sure to recommend the best level of exercise to help relieve your dog's osteoarthritis symptoms.


Managing your dog's diet will be a critical component of their treatment for osteoarthritis. Any increase in weight puts extra stress on your dog's joints, so keeping your pup's weight at a healthy level will help to minimize their pain.

Your vet may recommend putting your dog on a calorie-reduced diet if their exercise level has been reduced, or a diet supplemented with chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids as a way to combat symptoms. 

Physical Rehabilitation

Physical rehabilitation is the name for physiotherapy for dogs and can include several treatments that are designed to help reduce pain while strengthening and improving muscle tone, maintaining range of motion, and working to improve overall endurance.

Rehabilitative therapy for dogs with osteoarthritis will generally include one or more of the following treatments: laser therapy, regenerative therapy, underwater treadmill and/or pool therapy, massage, and therapeutic exercises. These treatments may also be combined with medications to help manage the inflammation caused by your dog's osteoarthritis.

Ask your vet if there is a qualified Canine Physical Rehabilitation practitioner in your area.


In some instances where the damage to your dog's joints is quite severe, your vet may recommend surgical treatment to help alleviate your dog's symptoms and the progression of their condition. Surgeries may be performed to remove bone fragments that may be aggravating the condition.

The Prognosis for Dogs With Osteoarthritis

With effective long-term pain management and a little additional care, your dog may be able to enjoy a long and happy life even with osteoarthritis. Speak to your vet to learn more about managing your pup's joint pain, and how you can help your dog to enjoy a happy life for many years to come.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

Is your dog showing signs of osteoarthritis? Contact our New Hope vets to have your pup diagnosed and treated.

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