Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis in Dogs

As many as 1 in 5 dogs are thought to develop osteoarthritis during their lifetime. This painful condition is unfortunately degenerative and is therefore likely to get worse over time. It is more common amongst older dogs but can also affect younger animals too. The symptoms of osteoarthritis are not always as obvious as you might think.

What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

The symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs are not necessarily clear cut and some animals will display lots of symptoms whilst others will only show one or perhaps two signs.

You may notice that your dog is:

  • struggling with their mobility, particularly in regards to getting to their feet after lying or sitting down
  • particularly stiff in the mornings but this may gradually improve throughout the day
  • resting more than has previously been the case
  • struggling to climb stairs
  • unable to jump up onto the bed or sofa
  • limping
  • appearing stiff after exercising
  • reluctant to exercise at all
  • uncomfortable after walking, running and/or jumping

This is not an inevitable consequence of your pet getting older and can be prominent signs of a condition such as osteoarthritis. These type of indications may be more obvious if only one limb is affected by osteoarthritis. If the condition is more widespread than this and several limbs are impacted, it is more likely that your dog will move around more carefully than before or refrain from engaging in activities that cause discomfort such as jumping or climbing.

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Because dogs tend not to openly demonstrate discomfort and pain, you may notice changes in their behaviour such as lethargy, being more vocal than usual and reacting in an aggressive or defensive manner when touched in areas of the body that are affected by osteoarthritis. In some cases, this may be the most obvious sign that something is not right.

Speak to your vet if you notice that your dog is displaying behavioural changes as there can be underlying physical reasons for this, such as osteoarthritis.

Once you have a diagnosis of osteoarthritis……

Treatment and management:

Mild osteoarthritis can be managed without medication. Low-level, consistent daily exercise such as a 30-minute lead walk twice daily can be very beneficial with respect to keeping joints mobile and avoiding any off-lead running can help to prevent sore joints from becoming worse.

Special diets can also be prescribed by your vet after diagnosis, including those that are high in omega 3 fatty acids. These are believed to have benefits for dogs that are suffering from joint and cartilage problems.

The weight of your pet also has a significant impact on his or her joints:  it is much easier for an arthritic animal not to have to carry excess bodyweight on painful legs. As vets often recommend less exercise following a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, your dog may need to receive fewer calories to compensate and prevent the weight from piling on. Adding in vegetables to your dog’s food can bulk out the meal without significantly increasing the number of calories fed.

Joint supplements can aid mobility when provided on a regular basis; there are a wide variety available to choose from and what may suit one pet may not suit another, so it may be a case of trial and error before you find a supplement that benefits your dog.

Keeping your dog warm on walks during cold winter snaps by using a coat can also help keep aches and pains at bay.

Keeping claws clipped to a correct length; dogs with osteoarthritis will often adopt an abnormal gait to take pressure off their painful joints and as a result, nails can grow excessively and make the gait abnormality worse.

Hydrotherapy can also greatly help arthritic dogs with mobility. Speak to your veterinary surgeon to see if this would be an appropriate consideration for your pet and if so, to organise a referral for this.

Osteoarthritic dogs that cannot be kept comfortable and happy on exercise, diet and supplements alone, may be managed with treatment. Prescription medication that can help to improve your dog’s quality of life and make osteoarthritis symptoms more bearable include:

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Carprofen (Rimadyl, Canidryl, Dolagis, Rimifin), Meloxicam (Metacam, Meloxidyl, Loxicom), Previcox, Trocoxil.

Paracetamol-based medications such as Pardale

Opioids such as Tramadol

Medication that acts to reduce nerve pain such as Gabapentin

The Prognosis for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that can be expected to get worse over time.

Treatment can go some way towards helping your dog to enjoy a better quality of life while living with the symptoms and in some cases, it can slow down the rate of progression but unfortunately, there is no way to actually cure the condition.