Arthritis In Dogs: Symptoms & Promising Treatment Options

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Dog laying down (caption: Arthritis In Dogs)Michelle noticed that her 10-year-old Lab, Bella, was avoiding stairs and opting for shorter walks. The vet confirmed it was arthritis, and Michelle could no longer deny her rapidly aging pet. Luckily, there were several lifestyle changes and treatment options to consider.

Just like humans, dogs are prone to developing arthritis as they get older. In fact, it affects one in five dogs, which makes it one of veterinarians’ most common diagnoses for chronic pain in our pets. What are the signs? And how do you treat this debilitating condition?

Article Overview

Types Of Arthritis In Dogs

Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of the joints in the leg or spine. This inflammation causes stiffness in the joints and soreness or flat-out pain for those affected. There are two main types of arthritis in dogs.


Osteoarthritis (OA), also referred to as degenerative joint disease, is typically caused by normal wear and tear. It’s a common problem in older dogs and can be as mild as hearing the click of a knee or as severe as a crippling of chronic hip dysplasia.

Large breeds such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers develop OA more frequently than smaller dogs. However, OA can affect any size or breed of dog, particularly if your dog is highly athletic or obese. The more dogs weigh, the greater the pressure on their joints.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to go into hyperdrive and mistakenly attack healthy tissue, progressively wearing away the cartilage and bone within joints. This disease occurs most often in small, toy or miniature breeds, typically beginning at 5 or 6-years-old, but it occasionally affects larger breeds.

Early Symptoms

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis share many of the same symptoms because both conditions involve the degeneration of joints.

  • Slow to get up
  • Favoring a limb
  • Hesitancy in actions they previously had no problem with (climbing steps, jumping up, running)
  • A decrease in activity or play
  • Lying down and/or sleeping more frequently
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (in rheumatoid arthritis)

It’s important to take note when you first see these signs and visit your veterinarian after two weeks of continued symptoms (or sooner if you think your dog is in too much pain).

Tip: Remember that dogs are animals, and it’s part of their instinct to not outwardly show pain or weakness that would reveal vulnerability to a predator in the wild. Since dogs don’t display the initial signs of soreness and discomfort, by the time we notice them having difficulty in their stride or ability to get up, arthritic changes in their joints may have progressed significantly.

Diagnosing Arthritis In Dogs

When you first take your dog to the veterinarian after seeing the symptoms of arthritis, your vet will examine your dog in a few ways to see what might be causing the trouble.

Be prepared to talk with your vet about all the symptoms you’ve observed in your dog’s behavior. This discussion may be the most important information your vet will use to make his diagnosis.

Other vet tests may include:

  • Examination of your pet’s legs to determine which limbs are suffering.
  • X-rays of the affected joint to help confirm (or rule out) the presence of arthritis as the cause of pain or decreased mobility.
  • Blood and urine samples to understand if an infection is the problem with the joint or if other medical issues are causing your dog discomfort.
  • A fluid sample from the affected area may also be necessary to analyze the issue in the joint.


There are a variety of ways to treat your dog’s arthritis including nutritional supplements, medications and holistic alternatives. Whichever you choose, it’s most important to discuss the options with your vet and agree on a plan. As with most pet health treatments, don’t take action without first consulting a vet.

Prescription Medications

Your vet most likely will prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to control signs of arthritis, including inflammation, swelling, stiffness and joint pain. Some common ones are Rimadyl, Metacam and Deramaxx. Although we may have human NSAIDs in our medicine cabinets, it’s important to use a vet-prescribed medication and dosage for your dog. Misuse of NSAIDs can have negative side effects on your dog such as bleeding, gastric ulcers, kidney or liver dysfunction and even death. Because of this, you should never give your dog NSAIDS meant for humans.

Nutritional Supplements

NaturVet Glucosamine-DS tabletsGlucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are the most commonly used supplements that help decrease joint inflammation and improve the body’s ability to repair and strengthen tissues.

Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound made of sugar and an amino acid involved in the body’s natural production of joint lubricants. It’s extracted from crab, lobster and shrimp shells. Learn more about glucosamine in dogs.

We recommend these NaturVet Glucosamine-DS tablets, which include 500mg of glucosamine per tablet.

Zesty Paws Multivitamin ChewsChondroitin sulfate is composed of omega fatty acids, vitamin E and selenium that work together to help repair damaged cartilage and can prevent future breakdown by keeping cartilage hydrated. Some studies show that combining glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate can improve the beneficial effects of both.

We recommend these Zesty Paws Multivitamin Chews, which include glucosamine, chondroitin and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). As an added bonus, this also contains all of the vitamins your dog should need to maintain a balanced diet when combined with a healthy dog food.

VetriScience GlycoFlex 3 Hip and Joint Support for DogsMSM is a chemical found in plants, animals, and humans that supplies sulfur to the system which scientists believe may create other chemicals in the body. MSM is used for chronic pain, arthritis and joint inflammation. A green-lipped mussel called Perna canaliculus is a sea cucumber can help minimize pain and provide nutrients that help maintain cartilage.

This VetriScience GlycoFlex 3 Hip and Joint Support supplement includes glucosamine, Perna canaliculus, MSM and other ingredients.

Holistic Alternatives

Most vets agree that movement (within your dog’s comfort zone) is good for joint health and stiffness. Often, a lack of daily exercise can actually cause joint stiffness and can also lead to weight gain. Remember to consult your vet about the exercise and eating habits that are best for your dog.

Alternative, holistic therapies for arthritis include massage, low-impact rehab, acupuncture, acupressure (see the video below), laser treatment, water therapy and chiropractic medicine. CBD oil, an all-natural alternative, may also help reduce inflammation and joint pain.

Want to learn more about acupressure for dogs? Check out this brief video for more info.

Tools To Help Your Arthritic Dog

As arthritis progresses, your dog will likely experience trouble getting around. These tools can help improve your dog’s daily mobility and quality of life.

Lonsuneer Dog BootsHave slippery floors in your home? Non-slip dog booties can help with stability on slick hardwood or tiled floors. The Lonsuneer Dog Boots come in 5 sizes and have an adjustable closure, so they don’t slip off of your dog’s paws. They also come in black, blue and red to fit your dog’s personal style. They’ll keep your dog’s paws cool and dry and help him maneuver through your home like normal.

Walkabout Back End HarnessIf your dog is suffering from crippling arthritis in his hips or rear legs, using a pelvic harness/sling is a great way to help your dog with mobility. The vet-recommended Walkabout Back End Harness fits comfortably around your dog’s abdomen and back legs and has a handle for you to lift up her back end. It comes in 7 sizes so you can find the best fit.

You may also want to consider one of these dog wheelchairs, but only in extreme situations. Your pet’s muscles will atrophy much quicker while using a wheelchair, so it is important to use one only when you have already tried other options unsuccessfully.

Easing Your Dog’s Chronic Pain

Although arthritis is common among dogs and can really cause them pain, the variety of effective treatments gives us all hope that they will be able to jump back up on the couch again, whether you want them there or not. As we mentioned above, CDB oil for dogs is an all-natural remedy that can help with your dog’s arthritic pain. It’s becoming a hugely popular treatment for a variety of conditions, including chronic pain, joint inflammation, anxiety, digestive issues and more. But, with all treatments for health conditions, check with your vet before starting to use CBD.

What have you found to be the best treatment for your arthritic dog?

About The Author:

Sally holds a BA in English from James Madison University and began her 25-year writing career as a grad student at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism & Mass Communications. She’s been a pet parent since college years (and spent her whole childhood with pets).

Now as a parent of two teenagers, she’s made sure to raise her daughters to learn how to love and care for pets (and other animals) in the most responsible and loving ways. As a result, she and her daughters now have 5 rescued dogs and cats who essentially rule their home! Sally has also volunteered over the years to help raise funds for various animal nonprofit organizations.

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October 19, 2019 2:55 pm

My 16 year one pug-Pomeranian has trouble walking around since 2 days ago☹️
When he tries to walk after like 5 steps he falls
He is really old but I love him
He was with us even before I was born

August 8, 2019 8:10 am

My boxer has back pain sometimes hard to get up and can tell he is hurting in his hips, so what can we do to keep him from his pain with out spinning a lot of money we can’t pay?

Sadie Cornelius
August 9, 2019 9:26 am
Reply to  Nojor

Nojor, sorry to hear about your boxer! You should maybe look into CBD Oil for your pup’s pain as it’s been known to help quite a bit for arthritis in dogs.

August 28, 2018 12:43 pm

My 8 year old beagle is showing acute pain in her right front leg, could this be an old injury acting up? She was attacked by ex-neighbor’s pit bull mix she recovered from the attack fine (the attack was three years ago). Except at the time when examined by her vet it was determined that the attack may have only been a bruising of the muscle in the upper leg and nothing more. Fast forward to now last night everything was good she walked as usual and seemed good. This morning we went to get ready to go out and she started yelping when rising to stand, after being mobile for a few minutes everything was as nothing happened then came back she rested then again the same issues. I gave her two baby aspirin to help.

Michelle Schenker
August 29, 2018 3:35 pm
Reply to  Ruth

Hi Ruth, Only your vet can determine the root cause of the issue after an examination of your dog. We hope she is feeling better soon though.

May 24, 2016 12:15 pm

Our 12 year old Airedale has arthritis, mostly in his back legs but also a little stiff in the front. We say that he only has Front Wheel Drive now (sometimes he forgets and still tries to go 4WD places 🙂 )The Adequan shots are great and I do think they help him because at the end of the month before his next shot we see a difference. We also do the Metacam every other day, it really makes him feel better but the blood tests show it’s hard on his liver…we tried to take him off of it completely but he went downhill, (not getting up as much, couldn’t do his short walks anymore) within a week so we put him back on it. It’s so hard to watch him getting old as he seemed like a 2 year old right up until his 10th birthday, everyone would ask if he was a pup.

May 23, 2016 12:15 pm

My 12 year old boxer has arthritis in both of her hind knees. It set in somewhat slowly and honestly is a normal problem that affects lots of older dogs. Old age is not a disease! It’s an unfortunate result of the cycle of life. We’ve been managing her arthritis and pain just fine for the time being, giving her joint supplements that are all natural and we also use the Ortocanis knee brace (one on each knee). The support it provides is moderate and the neoprene is flexible enough to allow her full range of movement. Our vet recommended we try it and see if we noticed any improvement which we most definitely did. It’s not listed on this article’s list but I think it should be for anyone dealing with a similar situation!

Maya Delmar
May 20, 2016 12:56 pm

I would love to try out acupuncture if it was something I could afford longterm. I’ve read a lot of great things about it for holistic treatment of joint problems in animals. For now to treat my arthritic dog we’ve been using a combination of all natural joint supplements with Devil’s Claw and Yucca as well as a dog knee brace. After looking a lot into it online, we went with the Ortocanis dog knee brace – this was post an ACL tear, and what I was really looking for was a brace to stabilize her knee during her recovery period (we opted for natural, conservative treatment instead of surgery). The brace was exactly what I was looking for because it was flexible enough to still allow mobility in the knee, but it gave her the stability and support I think she needed to keep the knee in position and my dog as comfortable as possible. Further down the road the area became arthritic, and I still use the Ortocanis knee brace for the same purpose – stabilize the knee, increase circulation, reduce her pain.

November 27, 2012 6:29 pm

Condroin for people may be used to help pets with these problems. You also have it in regular food for dogs, you just need to be persistent and it will give results. My 13 years old dog now can go upstairs with no problem.

May 3, 2012 7:35 am

Actually, I should tell you the whole story about what Roxy's exercise and movement did to her and how she eventually succumbed to old age.

The sad part of our story is that as poor Roxy got older, her body paid the price for all those years of hard running and relentless swimming.  It did not happen all at once of course, but we could tell that it was taking her a little longer to get moving when she would wake up from a sleep or sometimes she would have a tough time jumping up into the truck and getting out would be even tougher.  She could not quite run like she had used to and would even opt to stay on the boat for a little while longer before she would ultimately succumb to her instincts and dive face-first into the water. It was quite sad as well as inspiring at the same time to watch this little display repeated many times. 

Eventually, the arthritis started to really take hold and poor old Roxy did not move anywhere near as fast as she had used to.  Sometimes she would yelp a little shriek of pain when she would try to jump up on the couch, a right she had begrudgingly earned with the old man in the house, but did so anyway and loved the luxury.  She eventually went deaf to boot, and that was pretty much it for her. After she could no longer hear, it seemed that much of her zest for life just started oozing out of her. 

One of her favorite things to do, or maybe she just hated them that much, was to chase the Great Blue Herons that would sometimes land on our shoreline.  Ever since she was a pup, there was something about these big long-legged birds that just made her blood boil and she all but wake up from a dead sleep and go top speed down to the lake to chase one off.  I remember when she was about 12 or 13 (she lived to 14 on way borrowed time) I saw one come swooping down to the shoreline about 100 yards away and I just had to see her get one last shot at these heinous birds.  I woke her up and took her head in my hands and pointed it right at the big bird so that her old eyes could focus.  She did not let me down.  She started growling and scrambling to get down to the thing and she did eventually get there, but it took about 5 times as long as it used to, and the heron was long gone. 

It was hard to watch her get old like that, but I think any amount of arthritis would be worth it, if a person or an animal got to live a life as good as hers was.  No dog ever had it better. I suppose that if this had been today instead of years ago, she would have benefited from better canine medicine.

April 30, 2012 5:12 am

One of our Springers in particular that suffered from osteoarthritis was extremely energetic and athletic.  Her name was Roxy and she was absolutely crazy about the lake and the water.  When the lake was not frozen over, she would take any and every opportunity to run down to the water and walk up and down the entire two hundred yards of shoreline between our neighbor’s house and ours trying to catch fish.  She would wade in to about chest deep, eyes down into the water, and march the entire distance, occasionally snapping her whole face and head down into the water trying to snatch up the little sunfish and other pan fish that came into her area.  She would literally do this for hours on end and generally towards the end of the summer, a little moss would start growing on her back. 

When we would go out onto the lake in a boat or canoe, then she would really go nuts.  First, she would whine and cry to get on the boat and after we would get her on, she would go positively ballistic trying to get back into the water.  It got to be where we would have to lock her in the house every time we would want to go out on the lake.  That really did not work either though because she quickly figured out a way to press the door handle while clawing at it with her front paws until she was set free.  We would all hear the “BANG” of the screen door and look up the hill to see Roxy barreling down towards the shore line at absolutely top speed.  Once she’d hit the waterline, she was instantly into the water and swimming towards the boat, no matter how far away we were.  As ardent as she was wading on the shoreline, she was an even more determined swimmer in the open water.  Spaniels are not as well known as labs and some other water dog breeds, but this one did not know that.  She could swim for hours on end, harassing all of us on the boat, and then swimming towards the shoreline to go chase some ducks or squirrels or some fish.  She was absolutely in her element and having the time of her life.  Our neighbors did not always appreciate it, especially the ones that fed the ducks, which she was all but too happy to go chasing off for them, but there was no denying that dog her joy.  She simply would not have it.  She could not be contained, until she got sick later.

April 29, 2012 7:07 am

I found this to be a very insightful article and considering that I have been a dog owner all of my life, I know what it is like to see a beloved pet struggle with getting older and slowing down do to joint problems, be they osteoarthritis or DJD.  My family, since the time I was a small child, had Springer Spaniels as pets and hunting dogs. 

The breed, especially the females, are extremely loving and eager to please.  This is what makes them such good sporting dogs and pets to have around the family, including young children.  They are also blessed with an incredible amount of energy and growing up in a very rural area with lakes and forest all around us, one of the freedoms our dogs got to enjoy was never really having to be on a leash or kept inside a fenced area.  They were well trained and well taken care of, they knew how good they had it and never ever had any reason to run away.  In spite of this, they did travel great distances around our property and occasionally onto the property of our neighbors on the lake, up to five miles away.

July 9, 2010 4:18 pm

Is your dog suffering from muscle spasm or back and neck pain? Then stop worrying and try out tramadol. It is one of the best pain relievers.

shakilla Gopaul
August 24, 2019 6:42 pm
Reply to  Anonymous

What dose of tramadol?

September 29, 2019 9:53 pm

Not a good choice of pain meds to randomly give your dog, that’s a dose you would definitely have to get from a vet. I’m honestly not even sure if closely resembles ramadyl (for pets). Please do not give your pet Tramadol/ Ultram (brand name)