Arthritis in dogs is an inflammation of the tissues in their joints. Here, canine expert Pippa Mattinson explains what causes it, and how to reduce the risk of it becoming a problem for your pet. There’s also a list of symptoms to look out for, and a guide to how veterinarians diagnose and treat dogs who do become arthritic.
To help you navigate all that information, we’ve divided it into five sections:
- Causes of dog arthritis
- Dog arthritis symptoms
- Preventing dog arthritis
- Medicine for dog arthritis
- Caring for an arthritic dog
So whatever stage of the prevention, diagnosis, or treatment pathway your dog is on, we’re ready to support you to give them them best possible care.
What Is Canine Arthritis?
Arthritis is simply a term to describe inflammation of the joints. It can occur in any of the joints in your dog’s body, and is fairly common, especially in older pets. The hip joint takes quite a pounding in both dogs and people. It’s one of the body’s major muscles for movement. Arthritis occurs when the smooth cartilage within a joint becomes rougher, causing the bones to rub together. This can happen for a number of reasons.
Causes Of Arthritis In Dogs
As joints age, they are subject to a certain amount of wear and tear. This wear and tear in the joint is the most common cause of the pain and inflammation that we call arthritis. It can however be caused by other things in younger dogs, such as trauma from injury or problems with your dog’s immune system.
Preventing Dog Arthritis
Whilst old age is inevitable, there are some ways that you can prevent or delay the onset of arthritis in dogs. One of these ways is through weight control. Simply put, the more weight on a dog’s joints, the more difficult and stressful his arthritis is likely to be.
Body weight is a massive factor in arthritis. Slim Labradors are less likely to get arthritis than fat ones. This is something you can actively help with. Obesity in Labradors is a growing problem. And it’s one that we as owners have complete control over.
It may be difficult, but ignoring those begging, puppy dog eyes from time to time might be a good idea. By not giving in to their adorable stares, you could be seriously improving your Lab’s quality of life. Your dog may well be hungry, but that does not necessarily mean he needs to eat. Try and distract him with some activity. Also, try to ignore the fact that he is following you around with his dinner bowl in his mouth.
He’ll thank you for it later when he is still zipping about at fourteen years old, instead of crying in pain when he gets up in the morning.
Hip Dysplasia & Arthritis In Dogs
Labradors are one of the breeds who are unfortunately quite likely to suffer from hip dysplasia. You can reduce the chances of your puppy suffering from this disease by only buying a dog from parents with low hip scores. This does not entirely remove the risk however.
Conditions like hip dysplasia, where there is an existing deformity of the hip joint, puts the dog at increased risk of arthritis. It is therefore even more important that you care for him to help reduce the chance of it developing. One way to do this is by keeping his weight down and making sure he gets the right amount of exercise.
If your Labrador has hip dysplasia do consult your vet on the best way of caring for his hips, before he gets old and creaky.
Dog Foot Care
Another way to help your dog’s joints stay healthy is to keep his feet in a good condition. Clipping his toenails so that they don’t distort his normal walking and running gait will help to maintain his joint health.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
As your dog ages, it pays to be aware of the possible symptoms of arthritis. By doing so, you can give him the best possible care. This means taking him to the vet during the early stages, rather than waiting for him to become more uncomfortable.
The following can be signs of canine arthritis:
- Favoring other limbs
- Difficulty moving
- Stiffness of movement
- Swollen joint
- Hunched back
- Increased sleep
- Reluctance to be petted
- Reluctance to jump or climb stairs
- Difficulty standing up or laying down
Remember, if you see any of the above in your dog then pay a visit to the vet. Some symptoms shown can be signs of other issues, especially is displayed in younger dogs. It is better safe than sorry.
Diagnosing Arthritis in Dogs
Your vet will be able to let you know whether your dog is suffering from canine arthritis by examining him and taking x-rays. If you suspect your older dog is developing arthritis do have him checked over by the vet. Of course, there are other diseases and injuries that can cause lameness, stiffness and pain. It may be that your dog simply has a minor injury that needs a little rest.
If the veterinarian suspects there may be another cause behind the arthritis, they may also take a sample of joint fluid or carry out blood tests to rule these out as well. These blood tests are worth getting done in any case. They can provide valuable information to
the vet about which course of medication would best suit your dog.
Arthritis Medicine For Dogs
NSAIDS are drugs used to treat the inflammation and pain of arthritis in people and animals. But it is really important that you do not give your dog NSAIDS intended for people. Ibuprofen for example is a popular NSAID for treatment of humans and is toxic to dogs!
Arthritis medicine for dogs is specially formulated to relieve their pain without causing them further problems. Your vet will be able to prescribe effective painkillers to keep your old friend happy and active for as long as possible. They may also suggest nutraceuticals, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, in the hopes that they will improve cartilage repair.
Glucosamine For Dogs
Glucosamine is an amino sugar that was thought to promote the repair of joint cartilage. Some studies in people have produced conflicting results. However, the consensus in the veterinary literature is that glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate together will help reduce pain and swelling. They may also help repair damaged cartilage.
You can order dog glucosamine online and buy it in pet shops. (But make sure that you don’t use the human variety). Before you do, it’s important to ask vet whether this would be suitable for your dog.
What Can I Give My Dog For Pain?
When your dog is in pain or discomfort, it is perfectly natural to want to do everything in your power to help them. The best arthritis medicine for dogs is that which is prescribed by their own veterinarian. They will know what to give them to best reduce their pain and discomfort. Similarly, after some time you may feel as though your dog needs more medicine than what he’s been prescribed. Do not change the dose without consulting your vet.
Try to avoid untested remedies found online. These might cause your dog more problems than they will solve. It’s frustrating to see your dog suffering, not least when you can’t further medicate him. Fortunately, there are some things you can do at home to help him get more comfortable.
Dog Arthritis Treatment
If your dog has been diagnosed with arthritis, then your veterinarian will prescribe you appropriate medication to help them manage the pain. It might be worth consulting with your vet about canine physiotherapy. Doggie physio can be a great way to relieve some of the pain from aching joints and muscles. As well as that, you can do plenty of things to help them live a more comfortable life with you at home.
Orthopedic Dog Bed
There are some really great orthopedic dog beds for sale. Designed just for larger, older dogs who have joint problems. They usually have memory foam mattresses, and thick bases. To give your dog support and comfort whilst he rests. This therapeutic, deluxe dog bed is a great size for even the biggest Labrador to stretch out and get comfortable on.
Raised Dog Bowls
Raised dog bowls can make it easier for a Labrador with joint pain to enjoy his meal or drinks in comfort. They maintain the bowls at a height that can be reached without bending or stretching downwards, which puts pressure on their sore joints. Please remember that raised dog bowls are not however recommended for younger dogs or those who eat their meals very quickly, as they have been linked to cases of Bloat in dogs.
You may be unsure whether an elevated dog bowl would be an appropriate choice for your Labrador. If that is the case, then be sure to chat with your vet before you shop for one.
Finally, if you live up a flight of steps or have a high vehicle you need your Labrador to get in and out of, then you might like to consider a dog ramp. Most Labs are not of a size or weight that can be easily hefted around by a human. So, when they are in discomfort using a ramp can be a very effective solution.
You don’t have to worry about putting permanent structures around your home, or attaching unsightly features to your car. You can buy some great, convenient fold out ramps , which can be discreetly stored when not in use. Ideal for the Labrador who is having a tough time moving up and down, and could do with a helping hand.
Exercising A Dog With Arthritis
If your dog has arthritis they will find exercise harder work, but it is important that they stay active. Take shorter walks, with less uphill climbs, and give special attention to how your dog is acting. If he starts to limp more or slows down, then accommodate his pace. There’s no need to put any extra pressure on an already stiff dog, just do as much as he’s comfortable with.
One of the best ways for an arthritic dog to exercise is by swimming. This study found that swimming can improve the function of a dog’s arthritic joint. You might even find a local canine hydrotherapy pool that you can take him too for regular dips.
Important to note, the same study made it clear that the best way to treat arthritis in dogs is with medicine prescribed by a vet. The swimming pool can come later. Similarly, if you’re unsure about the amount of exercise you should do with your arthritic dog, make sure you consult with your vet or canine physiotherapist.
Does Your Dog Have Arthritis?
The only way to be sure that your dog has arthritis is to have him examined by a veterinarian. While it’s useful to be aware of the common symptoms of arthritis in dogs, it’s no substitute for a professional diagnosis. Again, don’t be tempted to try to ease your dog’s pain or stiffness with human medication. Stick to medicine prescribed by a vet.
It might be worth asking your vet if there are any massage techniques you could learn to use at home. Not that he needs one, but this is a great excuse for your pooch to get some well deserved rubs! Arthritis in dogs can be tough, but it can also be manageable. Have you got a stiff pooch at home? Let us know in the comments below.
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This article has been revised and updated in 2019.
- Yves Henrotin, Christelle Sanchez, Marc Balligand, 2005, Pharmaceutical and nutraceutical management of canine osteoarthritis: Present and future perspectives, The Veterinary Journal
- Christopher W. Frye, Justin W. Shmalberg, Joseph J. Wakshlag, 2016, Obesity, Exercise and Orthopedic Disease, Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice
- Richard D. Kealy et al, 2000, Evaluation of the effect of limited food consumption on radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis in dogs, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association
- Alan J. Lipowitz, Charles D. Newton, 1985, Degenerative Joint Disease and Traumatic Arthritis, Textbook of Small Animal Orthopaedics
- R. O. Sandersoln, 2009, Systematic review of the management of canine osteoarthritis,Veterinary Record
- Korakot Nganvongpanit et al, 2014, Effect of Swimming on Clinical Functional Parameters and Serum Biomarkers in Healthy and Osteoarthritic Dogs,Hindawi Publishing Corporation
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website