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Does My Dog Have Arthritis?

Many of us with older dogs may start to see them slow down and have some problems with mobility. In many cases these mobility problems are due to arthritis.

Does Your Dog Have Arthritis?

Arthritis tends to be something of a catchall phrase for any kind of joint stiffness in dogs but there are actually two kinds of arthritis commonly seen. One is degenerative joint disease. This can include hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, osteochondritis dessicans (often found in a dog’s shoulder or elbows). Signs of these problems may start to show up at an early age in some dogs. Your dog may exhibit limping, crying out in pain when he walks, or other signs that something is wrong with his movement. In other cases your dog may not show any signs of these problems for years. They may not show up until your dog is quite old.

The other kind of arthritis that is typically seen is inflammatory arthritis. This form of arthritis is often related to infections caused by tick-bourne diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, fungal infections, or bacteria. There is also an immune-mediated joint disease that produces a form of arthritis. These inflammatory forms of arthritis call for careful diagnosis from your veterinarian in order to be treated properly.

You may suspect that your dog has a form of arthritis is he has trouble getting up and down; if he limps; if he walks more slowly than normal; if he cries out in pain when he walks or tries to get up or down; if he has trouble going up or down steps; if he has trouble playing for physical reasons; or if you notice a personality change in him.


The treatment for arthritis will depend on the cause and the severity. If your dog is elderly and he has some minor arthritis in his joints which lead him to move more slowly, then your veterinarian may prescribe a mild painkiller. On the other hand, if you have a young dog with osteochondrosis dessicans (OCD) in the shoulder and your dog is yelping in pain when she walks, your vet will probably recommend surgery to remove the calcium deposits that have built up on the joints which are causing the pain. In the case of luxating patellas, which can also cause arthritis pain, the treatment will depend on the severity of the problem. Some dogs can live with a mild case without any problem. In other cases surgery may be necessary.

For hip dysplasia which, again, can result in arthritis in later life, most dogs can live with mild to moderate dysplasia and simply take occasional painkillers. For severe hip dysplasia your veterinarian may advise anything from regular painkillers to hip replacement.

Moderate exercise is usually recommended for dogs with arthritis since exercise keeps your dog’s muscles toned. You should not allow your dog to become the canine equivalent of an invalid. You should also keep your dog at a healthy weight. Carrying excess weight will make the arthritis and its pain worse.

Pain Relief

The drug of choice to treat chronic arthritis is Deramaxx. This is a prescription medication obtained from your veterinarian. It is an NSAID or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. At one time Rimadyl was considered the go-to drug for arthritis in dogs but it has received a great deal of negative attention in recent years. It is still prescribed for some dogs but it should be used with caution. Another popular drug for treating arthritis in dogs in Adequan.

You should be aware that all of these drugs can carry serious side effects. Talk to your veterinarian about the risks associated with giving your dog NSAIDS such as Rimadyl or Deramaxx. Dogs should be tested for liver problems and other conditions before they begin taking these medications.

More than $130 million per year is spent on arthritis pain relief medications for dogs.


If your dog has mild arthritis you may be able to manage his pain with buffered aspirin for dogs. This product is sold at pet stores and online. It will not stop serious pain but it can manage mild pain.

Do not, under any circumstances, give your dog pain relievers for humans. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen and other products for humans can be very harmful to dogs, even resulting in death. Talk to your veterinarian before giving your dog any pain reliever made for humans.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Many dog owners believe that natural and herbal products such as glucosamine and chondroitin help their arthritic dogs feel better. Most studies on this subject are inconclusive but some dogs seem to have improved movement after taking these products. Other supplements commonly used for dogs with arthritis include fish oil capsules, which contains omega fatty acids; and shark cartilage. Green lip mussels are also said to help dogs with arthritis. All of these supplements are readily available from dog supply stores online or through dog supply catalogues.


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