The Ultimate Guide to Arthritis in Dogs

If you’re like most pet owners, you love your furry friend dearly, and you want them to have a long and healthy life. One of the ways you can help your dog maintain their health is by ensuring that they have arthritis prevention in their diet. In this article, we’ll provide you with the best tips for preventing arthritis in dogs, as well as the most effective foods and supplements for treating it. We hope that this information will help you keep your dog healthy and happy throughout their lifetime!

Arthritis in dogs is a common and difficult disorder to manage…
During a routine exam of a six-year-old German Shepard prior to vaccinations, the client remarked that the dog seemed to be a little slower moving lately and was more careful about lying down and getting up. There were no obvious indicators of pain or limping… just a “careful” attitude on the dog’s part when changing positions. My evaluation of the dog’s limbs showed a reduced range of motion in the hips, the stifles (knees) were normal, and there was no evidence of back pain when I pushed and probed along the spine.

I considered early arthritis in dogs hip as a possible explanation for the subtle signs the owner had observed. We decided to sedate the dog and take some x-rays. What a surprise we had! This dog, only displaying the subtlest of signs of discomfort, had advanced degeneration of both hip joints (called coxofemoral osteoarthritis) and early bony changes of the lower spine. In contrast to this case other patients that radiographically show only minimal signs of arthritic degeneration in the joints often will display definite signs of discomfort, lameness and restricted mobility. The bottom line is this: Arthritis… joint inflammation and degeneration… is personal. Because there are so many variables associated with joint degenerative changes on both a microscopic and macroscopic level, each case must be evaluated individually; every dog responds uniquely to discomfort and pain.

Arthritis in dogs


Arthritis is a general term for abnormal changes in a joint. Arthritis can arise from joint tissue destruction subsequent to an infection, from congenital defects affecting structural architecture, and from stress and trauma to joint surfaces and supporting structures. Occasionally, disorders of the immune system will lead to joint tissue inflammation and degeneration. In commonly seen cases of hip dysplasia, arthritis is partly due to abnormal conformation and misaligned stress points of the coxofemoral joint. The cartilage is adversely impacted and wears away faster than it can regenerate. The bony layer beneath the cushioning cartilage can be exposed and becomes inflamed; the joint capsule surrounding the joint members becomes thickened, less elastic and highly sensitive. Blood vessels to and from the area of the joint dilate and the joint becomes swollen and inflamed. Elastic tissues of the joint stiffen, calcium deposits can build up and nerve endings send pain signals to the brain. Motion becomes more and more restricted due to the joint degeneration, and the discomfort and pain prompts the patient to reduce the use of the joint. Unfortunately, the reduced use further compounds the problems associated with arthritis because the patient then gains weight and continued disuse further limits joint mobility.


As a survival tactic animals have evolved into stoic creatures that rarely display outward signs of pain or discomfort. Fortunately for our domestic dogs, no less stoic than their wild ancestors, veterinarians today are much more “tuned in” to pain management than in the past. Veterinarians look for subtle signs in patients in order to discover early stages of arthritis since outright limping or vocalizing from pain may be the end stage of long-term joint degeneration. Dog owners really need to be aware of these subtle changes in their dog’s behavior. Typically what will be noticed first are an increased weight gain, sleeping more, less interest in playing, and a change in attitude or alertness. If your dog becomes less excited to greet you when you come home or vacillates about jumping up on the couch or becomes overly cautious when climbing stairs, be aware that these may be the first indicators of joint discomfort from arthritis.


Fortunately there are safe and effective medications available for dogs that are suffering from the debilitating effects of arthritis. One of the most prescribed medications is a product made by Pfizer Animal Health called RIMADYL® (Carprofen). Not long after RIMADYL became available in 1997 it quickly evolved to be the most prescribed medication worldwide for treatment of arthritic discomfort in dogs. Over ten million canine patients have been given nearly a billion doses of Rimadyl. J. Michael McFarland, DVM, DABVP, Director of the Sedation and Pain Management Team at Pfizer Animal Health’s Companion Animal Division, states, “Part of Rimadyl’s popularity arises from the fact that there has been an excellent ‘response to treatment’. In many cases the patient will respond with a better quality of life and improved function within a few days of treatment.”

As with any medication, safety is an issue. I asked McFarland about the safety of RIMADYL, especially since many of the dogs needing arthritis discomfort relief are older animals. McFarlane makes a good point when he says, ” Whenever any medication is used for long term therapy for ongoing conditions, such as diabetes, epilepsy, thyroid dysfunction or kidney disease, the veterinarian will need to do some ongoing testing. That’s why blood chemistry parameters are routinely checked whenever long-term drug therapy is administered in the treatment of diseases. Periodic blood tests should be evaluated when any NSAIDS are used in the treatment of osteoarthritic pain.” NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) is a class of anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin, that do not contain cortisone-like chemicals.

Another promising and effective discomfort relieving medication is called DERAMAXX from Novartis Animal Health.  On the market since August, 2002,  initial approval for Deramaxx was for postoperative pain in dogs and since it worked so well it has now been approved for use in alleviating the pain and inflammation of arthritis. Deramaxx is classified as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). 

Metacam (meloxicam) is a liquid NSAID that has been well accepted for arthritis management in dogs and is now available in the USA by prescription only from your veterinarian.  EtoGesic® (etodolac) has been used quite successfully in dogs for a number of years.  Other anti-arthritis medications are being studied and released for use in animals, much to the joy of dogs and their owners


Keeping excess body weigh to a minimum is a very important aspect of managing arthritis in dogs. Often, simply reducing the dog’s weight to a reasonable level will effect noticeable changes in the dog’s activity and mobility. Exercise is important to entice the dog to maintain and improve joint movement and flexibility. Soft, cushioned sleeping surfaces that keep the dog comfortable and warm may aid in lessening arthritic discomfort. A hardwood floor of a living room or doghouse will not serve the dog well in alleviating joint stiffness. Massage therapy should be considered, too.

In the past few years a number of products called nutraceuticals have had remarkable success in assisting dogs with various disorders, including arthritis. A nutraceutical is defined as a food or naturally occurring food supplement thought to have a beneficial effect on health. Nutraceuticals are not considered medications and can be obtained without a prescription. Among the most popular are chondroprotectives… substances that when eaten provide nutrients that are required for repair and maintenance of joint tissue. According to veterinarian Stacy Martin of Fort Dodge Animal Health, a leading manufacturer of anti-arthritis products such as the NSAID EtoGesic® (etodolac) Tablets for dogs, “Nutraceuticals with Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate have been proven to aid dogs with osteoarthritis. With so many choices of these products available it is very important to purchase a product that has been made by a manufacturer who maintains high manufacturing standards. All over-the-counter products may not have the same quantity or have the same quality of products listed on their ingredients. Oral nutraceuticals such as chondroprotectives repair and reduce cartilage breakdown in a joint,” Martin adds.

One of the most effective treatment approaches can be to use NSAIDs and chondroprotectives together. “There are many ways to help battle the pain and progression of osteoarthritis. Based on the type of osteoarthritis and the individual dog, management may  require only one or possibly many approaches. Some approaches include exercise programs, weight control, nutraceuticals and NSAID use. Often, the nutraceutical is not enough to ease your pet’s pain. An NSAID, such as EtoGesic, is often used in conjunction or alone in the management of pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.” As well, there is evidence that Omega Fatty Acids in the diet can help alleviate the inflammation and discomfort of arthritis.

Caution! Some medications that humans commonly take to subdue arthritic discomfort may be totally inappropriate for use in dogs. Acetaminophen, for example, has been associated with liver damage in dogs. And Ibuprophen has been reported to cause gastro-intestinal bleeding. Martin provides good advice when she says, “Your veterinarian will help you decide which course of action is best for your pet. It is very important not to try treating your pet with any type of product, nutraceutical or NSAID, without consulting your veterinarian. It is also important to use FDA approved products for animals rather than a product made for humans. Together with your veterinarian, you can devise a program for your dog to let him have a happier, more active life.”

Arthritis in dogs is a painful illness which can affect any. It usually leads to lameness and other health issues, so it’s important that you do everything in your power to keep your pet happy and healthy.
With proper care and management, arthritis can be managed successfully. In case the symptoms become severe, consult a vet immediately for pain relief or other treatment alternatives.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the first signs of arthritis in dogs?

difficulty rising and falling, stiffly walking, one or more legs are weak, reluctance to climb stairs, either up or down, Avoiding jumping up or down (onto/off of furniture or into/out of a car), swelling, painful, or stiff joints.

How fast does arthritis progress in dogs?

The symptoms of arthritis in dogs often start slowly and get worse over time. When a dog has arthritis, the symptoms frequently appear gradually and worsen with time. Dog owners might not notice the disease’s early stages when their canine companions are just somewhat uncomfortable.

What is end-stage arthritis in dogs?

A dog with arthritis could have trouble climbing stairs and leaping onto furniture. Your dog may become increasingly stiff throughout the day as the arthritis worsens, take choppy, short steps, and have difficulty getting up and down. It could become impossible to climb stairs. Arthritis in its last stages can make it impossible to stand at all.

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