Canine Osteoarthritis

Canine osteoarthritis
Approximately 1 in 4 adult dogs suffer from  canine osteoarthritis


What is canine osteoarthritis?

Arthritis in dogs (sometimes called canine osteoarthritis or OA), is a disease that affects your dog’s joints, and is the most common cause of chronic pain in dogs.1 It gets worse over time, making it harder for a dog to do normal everyday activities.

What causes osteoarthritis in dogs?

Canine OA does not just affect elderly, large breed dogs. In fact, OA often starts at a young age, and can affect dogs of all sizes.


Young Dogs 

Younger dogs are more likely to develop OA due to genetics, breed or body shape. The most common cause of OA is developmental joint disorders such as hip or elbow dysplasia. 


Dogs of any age

OA can develop in dogs of any age due to injury, which sometimes requires surgery. Being overweight can also put an abnormal stress on the joints.


Elderly dogs 

In older dogs, OA can be caused by age-related wear and tear of joints, or worsening of OA that developed earlier in life.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs?

The early signs of OA in dogs are often subtle and easy to miss. No matter how minor the changes may seem, they are too important to ignore because even the earliest changes could indicate that your dog is struggling with OA. The condition can get worse if left untreated. 

It's important to keep an eye on any changes because by the time the signs become more obvious - such as limping or avoiding normal behaviours - their condition has already progressed to a more severe stage. 

Early osteoarthritis

  • Changes in general behaviour
    Changes in general behaviour

    Your dog might do their usual activities more slowly, or seem unsure and look for assistance.

  • Walking
    Walking

    Your dog will still enjoy walking but may slow down or lag behind.

  • Jumping and climbing
    Jumping and climbing

    Jumping and climbing is more difficult, e.g. going up stairs or into the car. You may notice that your dog hesitates or is less sure-footed.

  • Sitting and lying down
    Sitting and lying down

    Your dog may sit or lie down more slowly or awkwardly, or hold their leg slightly out to the side.

As osteoarthritis progresses

  • Changes in general behaviour
    Changes in general behaviour

    Your dog avoids their normal behaviours, or even looks frightened or distressed.

  • Walking
    Walking

    Your dog may refuse to walk, or may tolerate only short walks with plenty of rests. Limping and stiffness may become very obvious.

  • Jumping and climbing
    Jumping and climbing

    Your dog may refuse to jump or climb.

  • Sitting and lying down
    Sitting and lying down

    Your dog’s movements will become less smooth and they may appear to ‘drop’ to floor.

How is canine osteoarthritis diagnosed?

Your vet may notice signs of OA in dogs during a routine consultation, or you might have asked your vet specifically about OA or changes in mobility.

When diagnosing OA, your vet will ask you about any changes in your dog’s behaviour and mobility, to understand the history of the condition.

They will perform a physical examination on your dog, feeling your dog’s joints and examining their range of movement. They will also look at your dog’s gait by walking with your dog, and may also observe them standing up and lying down, to see how they move.4

Sometimes, your vet may ask to do further imaging, e.g. an x-ray, to look for the causes of OA, extent of the condition, and to help form a management plan.4

How to help dogs with OA

How to help dogs with OA 

A diagnosis of OA in your dog might seem like an active future is at risk. But starting a good OA management plan early can control pain and help improve your dog’s mobility and strength.2,5 

An OA management plan is made up of multiple treatment options. The goal of treatment is to control pain and keep your dog active for longer, preventing loss of muscle strength and size, so they can enjoy a better quality of life. 

A treatment plan usually involves diet and exercise changes, as well as medicines which reduce any discomfort caused by OA. 

Medicines for OA help control pain; these are only available from your vet. They are very important in the management of OA as they reduce discomfort and help dogs to become more active and mobile. 

Your vet might also discuss additional options and will modify the plan over time, according to your dog’s needs.5 

If you’ve noticed a change in your dog’s behaviour or mobility:

  • Visit your vet for a consulation.

    Visit your vet for a consulation.

  • Ask your vet about possible treatment options as well as what you can do at home to help your dog's mobility.

    Ask your vet about possible treatment options as well as what you can do at home to help your dog's mobility.

  • Follow up as recommended by your vet.

    Follow up as recommended by your vet.

Use our Vet Finder tool to

Date of preparation: October 2021 EM-IE-21-0021

References: 

  1. Epstein ME. Today’s Vet Pract. 2013;20-23. 
  2. Lascelles, D. Intl Assoc for Study of Pain 2016 Fact Sheet No. 9. 
  3. Anderson KL, et al. Veterinary Science. 2020 Apr 28;7:220. 
  4. Pettitt, RA, and German AJ. Investigation and management of canine osteoarthritis. In Practice. 2017;37:1-8. 
  5. Cachon T, et al. Vet J. 2018;235:1-81. 

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