Have you noticed your dog showing signs of discomfort or pain, specifically in the joints? Your pet may have arthritis or osteoarthritis. This is even more of a risk if the animal is on the older side.

Let’s learn about dog arthritis and osteoarthritis, as well as dog arthritis and osteoarthritis symptoms.

What is Canine Osteoarthritis/Arthritis?

Like the same conditions in humans, canine osteoarthritis and arthritis are chronic and get worse the longer they go without treatment. Arthritis, and especially osteoarthritis, is found primarily in elderly dogs. Without treatment, it will get worse and worse.

We sometimes hear canine osteoarthritis called degenerative joint disease. With this condition, the joint cartilage degrades and slowly disappears. This is protective connective tissue, and when it wears down, bones grind against each other.

Also, the joints end up developing fluid inside them. There will also be new bone that grows around each affected joint.

Signs of Arthritis in Dogs

Of course, dogs can’t talk to us and let us know when they’re in pain. That’s why we have to observe our pets to see if there are any changes in behavior that may point to a problem. Below we’ll discuss several common dog arthritis symptoms.

Reluctance to Move

Too many pet owners assume that dogs always get lethargic as they age, but that’s dangerous. No matter how old your dog may be (in fact, especially if it’s elderly), a reluctance to move is something to worry about.

It may well mean your dog has osteoarthritis or arthritis. In fact, this is one of the most common symptoms of dog arthritis.


Have you noticed your dog limping or does one or more of his legs seem lame? Bring your dog to the vet to rule out an injury. If there hasn’t been any accident of some kind, your dog may have osteoarthritis or arthritis.

When arthritis is allowed to progress and has reached the spine, lameness becomes a real risk.

Yelping when Touched

Your dog yelping when you touch him is often one of the most noticeable symptoms of arthritis or osteoarthritis in dogs. In fact, if this happens, the condition may have progressed alarmingly.


In a lot of ways, our canine companions are just like us. You know you’ve been grouchy sometimes when you don’t feel well or are in pain. If your dog suddenly seems annoyed when you come near him or touch him, get him checked out for arthritis and osteoarthritis at the vet.

Changing Behavior

As well as irritability, changes in how the dog acts, such as constantly attending to one of his joints, can be a symptom of arthritis. For example, a dog with arthritis might constantly chew on one or more of his leg joints.

Licking, Chewing & Biting

Chewing and biting often accompany biting as a dog obsesses about painful parts of his body. If you let this go on too long, your canine companion could end up with skin inflammation and even hair loss. All of this can result in hot spots and infections.


Your pet will get tired from all the worrying about his arthritis or osteoarthritis pain. That’s why dogs with this condition will often end up sleeping all the time.

Muscle Atrophy

If your pet has had arthritis or osteoarthritis for a long time, his muscles may atrophy because he’s not moving around and exercising as much. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, deteriorating muscle is a common result of untreated arthritis in dogs.

Managing Arthritis in Dogs

If you suspect your pooch has arthritis or osteoarthritis, bring him to the veterinarian right away. This isn’t something you want to delay. With arthritis treatment always remember, the earlier, the better.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for arthritis and osteoarthritis in dogs. The name of the game is catching the condition early and putting together an appropriate treatment plan. Here are the common elements of arthritis or osteoarthritis management plans for canines.

Pain Management

Pain management is one of the pillars of arthritis management. For example, his veterinarian may prescribe NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to bring down the inflammation in the joints.

Ask your veterinarian about holistic approaches, too, such as aqua therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, and massage therapy. Certain supplements could help your dog as well. Examples include chondroitin, glucosamine, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Weight Management

Not sure if your pet is overweight? There are certain things to look for. If you notice any of these things on your dog, he might have a weight problem. Overweight pets with arthritis will have more strain and pain than pets with arthritis at a healthy weight.

Ask your veterinarian for advice on how to modify your canine companion’s diet to help them lose weight when necessary.

Exercise Management

Of course, an overweight dog is going to have more joint strain than one at a healthy weight. It can be challenging to help a dog with arthritis lose weight, because of the difficulties with exercising.

There are solutions to this, though, and you should give your dog controlled exercise. Examples include swimming and leash walking.

Home Comforts/Environment Changes

Vet Emergency or urgent care

Make sure your home offers canine comforts and modifications for your arthritic canine. Drafts can aggravate arthritis, so make sure the place your pet sleeps doesn’t have any. Warmth and padding are important.

Remember that arthritis can make traversing stairs difficult, and make any necessary accommodations.

Veterinary Treatments

While arthritis and osteoarthritis cannot be cured, they must be managed by a veterinarian. The right treatment and management make an enormous difference in your animal’s quality of life.

Only a veterinarian can know the right course of action. They will take into consideration a variety of factors, including disease progression, symptom severity, and age.

The main treatment types for arthritis and osteoarthritis include:

  • NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)
  • Disease Modifying Drugs for Osteoarthritis
  • Prescription Diets and Nutraceuticals
  • Physical Therapy
  • Surgery



Now you have a much better understanding of arthritis and osteoarthritis in dogs. If you suspect that your canine companion has this condition, you must seek advice from a veterinarian right away. If you don’t, your beloved pet’s quality of life will become unbearable.

Dr. Erin Downes VMD

Dr. Erin Downes graduated valedictorian from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1992. She and her husband, Dr. Jay Rowan are the owners of Paoli Vetcare | Main Line Vet & Animal Hospital.