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Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Osteoarthritis in dogs is a progressive, degenerative condition that becomes more severe over time. Although there is no cure for this painful condition, our Oceanside vets share advice on how symptoms can be managed to help your dog enjoy a good quality of life as they continue to age with osteoarthritis.

What is Osteoarthritis in Dogs?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in dogs and is a degenerative joint disorder that leads to a permanent deterioration of the cartilage that provides cushioning for the joints. This painful condition is estimated to impact about a quarter of all dogs throughout their lifetime.

Osteoarthritis in Dogs Symptoms

The painful joints caused by osteoarthritis can lead to several obvious signs that your dog may be suffering from osteoarthritis. The main symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs that you may notice include:

  • Restlessness, can't get comfortable
  • Lack of enthusiasm for walks or play
  • Whining, irritability, or aggression
  • Licking joints
  • Reluctance to stand up, jump, use stairs, or run
  • Pain, stillness, and lameness
  • Slow shuffling walk
  • Swollen joints

Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

While osteoarthritis can develop in any breed of dog, it is most often diagnosed in larger breeds such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labs, and Rottweilers.

The actual cause of osteoarthritis is largely unknown. Still, this condition is often associated with underlying issues such as an injury due to trauma, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cruciate injury, or dislocations in the shoulder or knee.

Obesity is also associated with osteoarthritis. Excess weight can put unnecessary stress on the dog's joints leading to pain, and degenerative joint issues over time.

Treatments to Help Dogs With Osteoarthritis Live More Comfortably

Unfortunately, osteoarthritis in dogs cannot be reversed or cured. Successful treatment of this condition reduces the pain caused by the affected joints, helps to slow the ongoing degeneration of the affected joints, and allows your dog to live more comfortably, and enjoy a good quality of life as they continue to age. Often, multiple treatments will be used together to achieve pain relief and more comfortable mobility.


Managing your dog's weight will be a key element in their osteoarthritis treatment. Increased weight puts increased stress on your dog's joints so keeping weight at a healthy level will help to minimize the pain caused by the condition.

Your vet may recommend putting your dog on a calorie-reduced diet if their exercise level has been reduced, or a diet supplemented with chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids as a way to combat symptoms.


Although it may seem counterintuitive, exercise is essential for dogs with osteoarthritis. It may be necessary to cut back on exercise when your dog is first diagnosed with osteoarthritis however staying mobile will help your dog to maintain fitness, achieve a healthy weight, relieve joint pain, and enjoy a good quality of life.

Exercise will need to be tailored to your dog's overall health and severity of osteoarthritis. Your vet will be sure to recommend the best level of exercise to help relieve your dog's osteoarthritis symptoms.

Pain Medication

Painkillers such as anti-inflammatories are often prescribed as a long-term treatment for managing your dog’s joint pain and helping to reduce swelling.

Physical Rehabilitation (Physio)

Physical rehabilitation is the name for physiotherapy for dogs and can include several treatments that are designed to help reduce pain. Physiotherapy can also help in strengthening and improving your dog's muscle tone, maintaining their range of motion, and working to improve their overall endurance.

Physiotherapy for dogs with osteoarthritis may include one or more of the following treatments:

  • Therapeutic exercises
  • Therapeutic ultrasound
  • Cold laser therapy
  • Regenerative therapy
  • Neuromuscular electrical stimulation
  • Underwater treadmill or pool therapy
  • Massage therapy

These measures of rehabilitation will be used in combination with conventional treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications.

Speak to your vet to find a qualified Canine Physical Rehabilitation practitioner in your area


In some cases when joint damage is particularly extensive your vet may recommend surgery to help alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of your dog's osteoarthritis. Surgery may be performed to remove bone fragments that are aggravating the condition or to replace the affected joints.

Prognosis for Dogs with Osteoarthritis

With effective long-term pain management and a little additional care, your dog may be able to enjoy a long and happy life even with osteoarthritis. Speak to your vet to learn more about managing your pup's joint pain, and how you can help your dog to enjoy a happy life for many years to come.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Contact our Oceanside today to learn more about treatment options if your dog has, or may have osteoarthritis.

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