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Arthritis in dogs is one of the most common health problems diagnosed by veterinarians every year. Study data reveals that as many as 1 in 4 dogs in the United States suffer from some form of canine arthritis.

“Arthritis is a general term for joint inflammation that can be due to trauma, infection, congenital issues, structural problems, or autoimmune disease,” says Dr. Ashley Rossman, co-owner of Glen Oak Dog and Cat Hospital in Glenview, Ill. “Arthritis is more common as pets age. However, younger pets can have issues, as well.”

Early symptoms of arthritis in dogs can be difficult to spot, so it’s important to stay informed about the causes and what to look for, as early treatment can help your dog stay comfortable.

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Arthritis in dogs: Common causes

Arthritis is often the result of abnormal conformation or misaligned joints, says Rossman, which may be due to genetic predisposition or trauma. General aging is another cause of arthritis in dogs. As pets get older, the cartilage in their joints begins to deteriorate.

“Cartilage is adversely impacted and wears away,” says Rossman. “Normally the cartilage can act as a cushion; however, in these instances, dogs can experience significant pain when running, walking, or getting up from a lying or seated position.”

While all types of dogs can be affected by arthritis, larger dogs tend to suffer from arthritis more often than smaller breeds. “The Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Labrador Retriever, and German Shepherd are most commonly affected,” says Rossman.

Dogs that are overweight are also more likely to develop forms of arthritis due to the pressure added weight puts on their joints. “Being sedentary and/or overweight puts excess strain on joints and can lead to arthritis,” Rossman adds.

Dogs with a congenital condition called hip dysplasia may also develop severe forms of arthritis as they age.

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What are the symptoms of arthritis in dogs?

If your spunky, athletic, playful dog appears to be slowing down, arthritis may be the cause.

Signs a dog may be suffering from arthritis include:

  • Trouble going up and down stairs
  • Difficulty getting in and out of the car
  • Trouble completing long walks
  • A reluctance to play
  • Being slow to get up from a lying position
  • General lethargy
  • Sleeping more than usual

Additionally, dogs experiencing arthritis may limp or favor one leg, show body stiffness, or may not want to be touched in a specific area.

If you notice these signs and symptoms in your dog, make an appointment with your veterinarian. “Veterinarians diagnose arthritis with radiographs and patient history,” says Rossman, and can support you in determining what kind of treatment plan will help make your pet the most comfortable.

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Dog arthritis treatments

There is no cure for arthritis, but there are treatments,the most common being joint supplements and pain medications, says Rossman. Other treatment options are massage therapy, underwater treadmill therapy, physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments and laser therapy.

For pet parents looking for available arthritis treatments for dogs, there are some supplements that can help. Glucosamine and chondroitin are frequently used, but always consult your veterinarian before giving your dog supplements.

If your dog has been diagnosed with arthritis, there are a couple of other things that you can do to help keep them comfortable.

  • A high-quality dog bed, especially an orthopedic dog bed, can go a long way toward keeping your dog comfortable. Memory foam pads are sometimes recommended for the highest comfort, as they can be effective at eliminating pressure points while your dog sleeps.
  • When the cold winter months come around, consider moving your dog’s bed to a warmer location in your home, invest in a heated dog bed or turn up the heat in your dog’s usual hangout to keep the temperature more comfortable. A chilly and/or damp environment can make your dog’s arthritis flare up.
  • Your veterinarian may also recommend a weight-loss or exercise plan. “Staying active and at a healthy weight is the best thing a pet parent can do to help prevent arthritis,” says Rossman. Light exercise is usually best. Avoid vigorous play sessions that could increase your dog’s pain.
  • Swimming is a popular recommendation for dogs with arthritis, as it allows for muscle exercise without the joint impact strain of walking or running.

Although arthritis is a common diagnosis as your pet ages, a plan to keep your pet healthy and active, as well as veterinarian recommendations, can keep them feeling their best as long as possible.

Reviewed by Petco’s Animal Care, Education and Compliance (ACE) Team

Petco’s ACE team is a passionate group of experienced pet care experts dedicated to supporting the overall health & wellness of pets. The ACE team works to develop animal care operations and standards across the organization and promote proper animal care and education for Pet Care Center partners and pet parents, while also ensuring regulatory compliance.