Arthritis in Dogs – The First Question You Must Ask Your Vet!

What is the first question you absolutely definitely must ask when your dog is diagnosed with arthritis?  Well keep reading because I am going to tell you.

Strictly speaking arthritis means ‘inflammation of a joint’. Inflammation is a basic way the body reacts to infection, irritation or trauma and we generally see redness, swelling, warmth and pain. So ‘arthritis’ is actually not a very specific term and there are a number of quite different problems that will cause inflammation of a joint.

When discussing arthritis in dogs, the potential for further confusion arises because we tend to use the term ‘arthritis’ to refer to a particular type of arthritis called osteoarthritis (“OA”). This is sometimes called rheumatism, osteoarthrosis or degenerative joint disease (DJD).

In osteoarthritis in dogs there is gradual deterioration and loss of the smooth cartilage surface of the joints. The soft tissues around the joint can become inflamed and the joint gets thicker and stiffer. This form of arthritis in dogs often develops slowly and can be well advanced before the joint becomes sore.

Osteoarthritis is the form of arthritis typically associated with getting older and with wear and tear. However, many developmental conditions of growing dogs such as Elbow Dysplasia and Hip Dysplasia cause osteoarthritis to develop in a joint at a very young age.  What’s also interesting is that many older people and dogs will show little or no sign of arthritis, even if they have been very active and their joints have worked hard. So it is not just an age thing; that’s clearly a bit too simplistic. There are other factors at work.

Another important form of arthritis in dogs is rheumatoid arthritis.  This is a very different condition to osteoarthritis and it involves a malfunction in the immune system. Parts of the joints are targeted as being foreign and the immune system attacks them.  Rheumatoid is a polyarthritis meaning that multiple joints are involved, usually at the same time. So it tends to be a much more generalized condition whereas osteoarthritis often affects just one or two joints. Rheumatoid and rheumatoid-like conditions often come on very suddenly and the joint inflammation (swelling, tenderness, heat) is usually much more severe than that seen in osteoarthritis. Although some joint inflammation is present in osteoarthritis, it is usually much less intense than that seen in rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthritis in dogs can also be caused by a bacterial infection of a joint. This is called septic arthritis and can be very destructive because the inflammation is so intense. It is treated as an emergency, and irrigation of the joint is performed under anaesthesia to wash out the bacteria and debris. This is combined with intensive antibiotic medication.

So in summary arthritis means joint inflammation. It is a very general term although it is usually used to refer to osteoarthritis.  Arthritis is easier to say!!   However, there are other less common forms of arthritis in dogs that are treated very differently. And so, if arthritis is diagnosed in your dog the first question you absolutely, definitely must ask is ‘what type of arthritis is it?’

Now that you understand this key fact about arthritis in dogs, you are ready to learn more about its diagnosis and treatment in the Arthritis in Dogs video series at