Arthritis in Dogs – The 5 Most Frequently Asked Questions on Canine Osteoarthritis

Question 1. What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a gradually progressive disorder of joints. It affects man, domestic animals and wild mammals. It has even been recorded in prehistoric vertebrates. It is a complex condition and producing a precise definition is challenging. Briefly, osteoarthritis is currently viewed as:

‘A condition of joints where there is loss of normal cartilage, thickening and inflammation of the joint structures and remodeling of the underlying bone.’

Question 2. What Happens in the Joint?

Arthritis in dogs is not an ‘all or nothing’ disease. It is a gradual process with a number of genetic and external risk factors. Once it begins, osteoarthritis can progress significantly before it causes pain and lameness. It can be a very slow process and the early phases of cartilage deterioration will go unnoticed. This is a phase we refer to as ‘sub-clinical’ i.e. there are no clinical signs. As osteoarthritis develops and progresses, the affected joint will become:

  1. Stiffer
  2. Thickened
  3. Progressively more painful

Usually, the joint changes are quite advanced by the time your dog’s joint becomes painful.

Question 3: What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?

Osteoarthritis is usually classified as being either Idiopathic (no cause identified) or Secondary (a major causative factor identified e.g. malformation of the joint, previous trauma). Arthritis in dogs is usually triggered by another joint problem such as Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia, Osteochondrosis or trauma to the joint. A dysplasia is an abnormal development of a joint which usually leads to concentration of weight bearing stresses in certain regions of the joint rather than them being spread out over the whole joint surface. This overloads the articular cartilage and underlying bone which can cause cracks to develop in the cartilage and small fractures in the underlying or ‘subchondral’ bone. The damage done can initiate osteoarthritis. Once the process is in motion we eventually find ourselves in a downward spiral that progresses at a variable rate. So there are a number of potential trigger factors for arthritis in dogs but once it has been triggered it appears to be a self-perpetuating process. In other words, once a patient has it, they have it!

Question 4: Can arthritis in dogs be cured?

Currently, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, and this is a big ‘however’, there are many things we can do to manage the condition. For the most part your dog can expect to maintain an active, comfortable but moderated lifestyle. We discuss treatment protocols in other article on this site and in the Arthritis Video Series. You can also download my treatment guide, ‘The 6 Point Action Plan’, from this website.

Osteoarthritis is a complex disease that scientists and researchers are starting to unravel. Once viewed as a hopeless one-way street, we now understand more about the disease process in arthritis and possible targets for moderating the condition are emerging.

Question 5: How do I know if my Dog Has Arthritis?

The major clues that your dog may have arthritis are the symptoms and signs. Basically there are 3 things you may notice:

  1. Stiffness and lameness usually most apparent immediately after rest
  2. Thickening of a joint which you may be able to feel
  3. Crepitus or grating when you move your dog’s joints

Although these signs are TYPICAL of osteoarthritis, they are not SPECIFIC and can be present in other conditions. Some of these conditions require completely different

management so it is very important to get a diagnosis from a veterinary professional.

For further discussion and free video advice on arthritis treatment in dogs visit