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  • Molly Weinfurter

Symptoms and Signs of Arthritis in Dogs

Updated: Jun 5

Arthritis in dogs is one of the most common health concerns for canines, and it can be very painful and uncomfortable for your pet. While the exact numbers vary based on what source you look at, Canine Arthritis Resources and Education (CARE) estimates that about one in three dogs suffer from joint pain. So, it’s important to keep an eye out for the symptoms and signs of arthritis in dogs to catch it early on and ease your dog’s joint pain as much as possible.

senior dog with arthritis

What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?

Arthritis refers to painful inflammation or stiffness in your canine’s joints. Dogs can suffer from a few types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and septic arthritis. There isn’t one clear cause of canine joint damage. Instead, it’s usually the result of lots of long-term activities and concerns.

Here are some aspects that could contribute to canine arthritis:

  • Abnormal joint formation

  • Unusual body structure

  • Obesity

  • Intense exercise

  • Past injuries and surgeries

  • Nutrition

  • Age-related conditions

Dogs with healthy feeding and exercise routines are less likely to develop joint problems. However, some dogs are born with deformities that strain their joints. So, arthritis isn’t preventable for every dog.

Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs

Dogs can’t tell us when something is wrong, so we need to pay attention to their behaviors to know when they need help. Below are some common signs of arthritis in dogs. If you notice these symptoms in your dog, you should talk to your vet.

dog with arthritis lying on side

Difficulties Walking

If your dog experiences any limping, stiffness, or lameness, they likely have arthritis or an injury affecting their joints. Dogs with joint pain will be reluctant to walk on that foot or even get up out of bed. So, if your dog is suddenly struggling to walk, that’s a cause for concern.

Reluctance to Exercise

Dogs with arthritis are more likely to avoid intense exercise, such as running, jumping, or climbing stairs. They may wag their tail as if they’re excited to go, but they probably won't budge when you try to encourage them to exercise. They want to have fun, but their joints are hurting them too much.

Loss of Muscle Mass

You may notice your dog looking thinner if they have joint problems. Certain areas of their body, such as their limbs and spine, may have less muscle mass because your dog is avoiding exercise. Overall, their body may be weaker than normal. This symptom of arthritis in dogs is common in their hind legs.

Frequent Groaning or Whining

Dogs with arthritis often experience pain when they’re getting up or lying down. As a result, your dog may whine or groan when they move their body. If they make sounds like that frequently when moving their joints, they’re likely telling you they’re in pain.

Avoiding Being Touched

To avoid more pain, dogs may dodge your touch even if they love attention. If they tremble or move away when you try to touch their leg or another body part, that could mean that area hurts too much. Dogs may also avoid being picked up for this reason.

Tired More Often

Dogs with joint pain are often lethargic, so they may act lazier than normal. If your dog is sleeping more often than usual or seems weak, they may have arthritis.

Licking or Chewing Certain Areas

Dogs lick themselves for a variety of reasons, but if the licking is focused on one area, such as their leg, they may be trying to relieve pain. Some dogs prefer to chew on sore areas instead.

Sudden Aggression

If your dog isn’t acting like themselves, such as lashing out at people or dogs they normally love, an underlying health concern is likely to blame. Accidentally touching your dog in a spot that hurts could cause them to react by snapping at you. Of course, dog aggression can develop for other reasons, but if your dog is acting out of character, it’s always a good idea to have your vet rule out major health concerns first.

Having Accidents

Some dogs may have accidents in the house if their joints are bothering them. With arthritis, it may be difficult for your dog to get into the proper position to pee or poop outside. So, they may avoid doing their business on walks and hold it until they can’t anymore, causing them to have an accident.

senior dog boxer face

Dog Arthritis Treatment Options

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for canine arthritis. Giving your dog a healthy lifestyle and routine can prevent it from happening, but even the healthiest dogs can get it for genetic reasons. So, once you realize your dog has arthritis, it’s important to find ways to manage it to keep them comfortable.

Weight Management

Keeping your dog a healthy weight is crucial for managing their joint pain. Obese dogs typically put more strain on their joints when they walk. So, make sure your dog is getting proper exercise (without overdoing it) and eating ideal meal portions. If you’re unsure how to help your dog lose weight, ask your vet for advice.

Improved Nutrition

Dog food designed for weight management could help your dog lose weight, benefitting their joints as a result. Some ingredients in dog food, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, can help support healthy joints, so make sure your dog’s food contains that. Your vet may be able to help you choose the best food for your dog’s needs.

Modified Exercise Schedule

You may need to adjust your dog’s exercise routine to cater to their aching joints. Dogs with arthritis should still get some exercise, but it should be in moderation. In most cases, several short walks throughout the day will be more beneficial than a long hike. Stick to flat terrain on walks whenever possible. Also, swimming is a great form of exercise for dogs that’s easy on their joints.

Ramps and Steps

If you let your dog on the furniture, you should get them a special ramp or stairs to help them get up and down easier without putting strain on their joints. My dog has steps leading up to my bed to help keep her joints healthy as she ages.

Small dog with bed stairs
Here's my dog with her stairs leading to the bed

Orthopedic Dog Bed

Buying special dog beds is a simple way to keep your arthritic dog comfortable. Some dog beds offer memory foam and orthopedic support, allowing the bed to mold around their body and comfort their joints. Elevated beds can also be beneficial because your dog’s joints won’t have to rest on the hard ground.

Supplements or Medications

Talk to your vet about potential supplements and medications your dog could take. There are lots of supplements out there made specifically for joints, so they usually contain glucosamine and chondroitin. Even though most supplements can be bought without a prescription, it’s still a good idea to consult your vet before adding them to your dog’s diet.

Medical Procedures

Surgery and other medical procedures are rarely recommended for dogs with arthritis. However, your vet may suggest them in certain situations. Some therapies could also be beneficial. If you’re unsure if your dog needs any medical work done for their joints, ask your vet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Dog Arthritis Be Cured?

No, there’s no cure for canine arthritis. However, it can be managed through changes in lifestyle, orthopedic pet products, and joint supplements.

Can Dog Arthritis Cause Muscle Spasms?

Dogs with arthritis may experience muscle spasms. Yet, muscle spasms can be caused by a variety of other conditions too, so it’s best to talk to your vet to determine the exact cause of your dog’s spasms.

Will a Heating Pad Help with Dog Arthritis?

Placing a heating pad on your dog’s joints may ease their pain. It’s safest to buy a heating pad made specifically for dogs and follow its instructions closely.

At What Age Does Dog Arthritis Usually Occur?

Dog arthritis can occur at any age, but it’s most common in dogs ages 8 or older. Senior dogs are the most likely to get this condition because the cartilage around their joints wears down over time. Thus, the older your dog gets, the more likely they’ll deal with joint pain.

When is Dog Arthritis Too Much?

This is ultimately the owner’s decision. However, if arthritis is severely affecting your dog’s quality of life, it may be time to make a hard decision. Consider their pain and ask yourself if they’re still able to find joy in their everyday activities.

senior golden retriever resting

Keep an Eye Out for Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs

Signs of arthritis in dogs can start subtle but become more obvious as the condition worsens. So, it’s best to catch these symptoms early on if possible. Pay attention to your dog’s behaviors, and if you notice anything unusual, mention it to your vet just to be safe.

Canine arthritis symptoms can’t be cured, but you can manage it to help your dog live a comfortable life. Even if your dog isn’t showing signs of arthritis, keep their routine, including diet and exercise, healthy to prevent joint problems in the future.


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