Canine Osteoarthritis: Age Is Not A Disease

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Old Golden RetrieverWe have made great advances in veterinary medicine. New diagnostic tests and improved treatments have given veterinarians more power in their pursuit of preventing and treating illnesses in our pets. Improved client education and client willingness to provide better care for their animals has also given rise to more geriatric patients being seen at veterinary hospitals across the country. Age is not a disease but it predisposes our pets to more disease. Everyday I meet someone who tells me their dog has slowed down or has more trouble getting up and down in the last few years. There are numerous reasons for older animals to slow down with age and one of the most prevalent and common is canine arthritis or canine osteoarthritis.

What is Canine Osteoarthritis?

Canine Osteoarthritis is a noninflammatory degenerative joint disease. Arthritis can be characterized by the degeneration of cartilage, boney proliferation resulting in bone-on-bone contact within and/or around affected joints, and synovial membrane changes. Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) is a common problem in geriatric pets and in a clinical setting can be commonly interchanged with osteoarthritis. DJD can be as mild as hearing the click of a knee or as severe as a crippling case secondary to chronic hip dysplasia. We as owners and veterinarians are doing such a great job of keeping our animals healthy otherwise that it is not uncommon for pets to be euthanized due to the poor quality of life brought about by a severe case of crippling arthritis.

How Can I Tell if My Dog Has DJD?

How do you know your pet may be suffering from a case of degenerative joint disease? The most common client complaint I hear is the slowing down of their animal. Some dogs may not be able to execute the stairs as they once did or may have trouble when getting up from a lying position. Maneuvering on slick floors, hopping in and out of vehicles, or jumping up and down from furniture may be problem situations for affected animals. Most of these dogs are older dogs, but canine osteoarthritis is also a disease that may affect younger dogs as well depending on their individual circumstances.

What Are the Symptoms of Canine Osteoarthritis?

Old Retriever with Chocolate LabPredisposing factors may include older age, traumatic injuries, birth defects, or even post operative complications from orthopedic surgery. Symptoms may include stiff or rigid posturing and/or walking, reluctance to exercise, swollen joints, or nothing more than a clicking or popping sound coming from the affected joint or joints. The severity of the symptoms and how they affect the dog’s quality of life will often be the sole determining factor in how your veterinarian may elect to handle the problem. Many animals with chronic arthritis have loss of muscle mass and increased weakness due to the decreased use of the affected limb or limbs. Dogs with arthritis tend to warm out of the discomfort and stiff gait much as any person with a bad joint would as well.

What Do I Do if I Think My Dog Has Osteoarthritis?

The first thing to do if you notice your dog exhibiting any of these symptoms on a regular basis is to consult your local veterinarian. He or she will be able to determine if the symptoms you are seeing are in fact due to a case of joint disease or arthritis and not another underlying problem. In many instances making a diagnosis will require a thorough medical history, examination, radiographs, or even bloodwork. A diagnosis of degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis warrants further evaluation to determine the underlying cause of the problem, such as, hip dysplasia, patellar subluxation or any other predisposing condition.

The underlying problem may or may not be able to be corrected or need to be corrected depending on the individual situation and severity of the case. The primary goal of treatment is always to make the dog as comfortable as possible in the safest manner possible.

Is Surgery Necessary?

DJD is classically a nonsurgical orthopedic problem, but there are some surgical procedures such as arthrodesis and various joint stabilization techniques that your veterinarian may suggest if appropriate.

What Kind of Medications Are Necessary?

Medications are almost always going to be a part of the treatment plan. Medications that may be prescribed include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), joint supplements (glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate), and other medications aimed at pain control. These medications should be used as directed by your veterinarian as there can be severe side effects, including death, associated with their misuse.

Weight Loss Treatment for Canine Osteoarthritis

Another part of the treatment plan may include a weight loss plan for your dog. The extra weight carried by these dogs translates into extra force being applied to the already diseased joints resulting in further discomfort. I have personally seen a few of my patients come off of medication altogether or at least able to be managed on a minimal dosage of medication after an ideal weight has been achieved. Again, the goal of treatment is to help alleviate completely or partially the discomfort your dog is feeling secondary to the joint disease.

Canine Osteoarthritis – The Bottom Line

Canine Osteoarthritis

is a common disease encountered by many dogs young and old. It results in pain and discomfort that can potentially be crippling to the pet depending on the severity. Symptoms may include a stiff gait, reluctance to exercise, trouble getting up and down, muscle loss and weakness, and trouble executing steps or stairs. There are good treatment options to consider once a diagnosis of arthritis is made that may include surgery, medications, and a weight loss plan. Please consult your veterinarian if you think your dog may be exhibiting the signs of osteoarthritis.

You may just put a little pep back in his or her step 🙂

Current Treatments for Canine Osteoarthritis

Updated on August 17, 2012


Hydrotherapy is a newer alternative medicine approach to treating the discomfort that many dogs feel from arthritis. Hydrotherapy allows dogs to build up muscle mass without suffering pain and inflammation that can occur through traditional means of exercise. Many veterinary clinics and orthopedic centers have hydrotherapy tanks that feature a treadmill at the bottom of a tank. Dogs are placed in the tank using a walk up ramp, this ramp is pulled up and the tank is sealed and filled with warm water. The warmth of the water helps to alleviate pain and the level of the water helps to support the weight of the dog as the treadmill begins to move slowly. Hydrotherapy should always be overseen by a veterinarian or an orthopedic surgeon to ensure that no injury is caused by the hydrotherapy process.


Acupuncture is another non-traditional type of treatment for canine osteoarthritis. Holistic veterinarians or mixed practice veterinarian clinics practice acupuncture in the same way that doctors practice acupuncture on people. Small needles are inserted in to areas of inflammation and pain and left for a designated period of time, usually anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Many pet owners find that acupuncture works well for their arthritic pet. This option is frequently used for elderly pets or pets that are not suited to medications that could cause organ damage or sickness.


Adequan is an injectable medication that is used to support the cartilage in your dog’s joints. Most commonly this medication is injected in to the muscle of the affected joint where it helps to keep the cartilage intact and healthy so that the bones of the joint do not rub against each other causing pain. Adequan is a somewhat unique medication in the field of canine osteoarthritis and has so far proven to have remarkable results. Aside from occasional burning at the injection site there have been fewer side effects related to this drug than to other arthritis drugs. This is a prescription only medication and should not be administered without a veterinarian’s supervision.


Deramaxx is a commonly prescribed non-steroidal non narcotic anti-inflammatory. This drug falls in the coxib class and is used to reduce inflammation that accompanies canine osteoarthritis. Deramaxx is also used to control pain and inflammation that commonly accompany post operative periods and with injuries commonly associated with pain and inflammation such as torn ligaments. In some cases, as with most of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Deramaxx can cause a number of potentially serious or fatal side effects. These side effects, although rare have been known to occur in dogs of all ages and include: damage to the digestive system, damage to the kidneys, gastrointestinal ulcers, digestive upset such as vomiting or diarrhea or blood in the stool. If any of these side effects are noted the medication should be ceased and your veterinarian should be called. This is a prescription only medication and should not be administered without a veterinarian’s supervision.

Glucosamine Chondroitin

Glocosamine Chondroitin is a commonly prescribed joint supplement for dogs that have canine osteoarthritis. This supplement is often found in combination with a supplement called MSM which can also be beneficial for dogs experiencing joint pain. The purpose of Glucosamine Chondroitin is to lubricate the joints to allow for more fluid motion. Human beings also commonly ingest Glucosamine Chondroitin supplements to help with symptoms of arthritis although it is important only to feed your ailing dog a canine supplement to ensure that you are not overdosing your pet. Most joint supplements that contain glucosamine chondroitin are sold over the counter at pet stores nationwide and come with few side effects. The most commonly seen side effect from these types of supplement is diarrhea caused by richness of added ingredients in supplements.


Metacam is another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication that is used to treat both inflammation and pain in dogs. Additionally, this medication has shown to reduce fevers in ailing dogs. Metacam is a liquid medication and is not recommended for dogs aged 6 months or younger. Metacam should not be used in animals that have liver disease, kidney disease or heart disease and should not be used in late term pregnant animals. It is important to notify your veterinarian of any other medication your pet is on since Metacam can interact with other medications. Side effects that have been seen with this medication include: fatigue, bloody stools, weight gain, yellowing eyes, difficulty breathing, seizures, headaches, constipation and dizziness. These side effects do not occur with all dogs but owners should keep an eye out for warning signs. This is a prescription only medication and should not be administered without a veterinarian’s supervision.


Rimadyl Rimadyl is a 24 hour non-steroidal anti-inflammatory that is frequently used to treat pain and inflammation due to arthritis, orthopedic surgery or soft tissue surgery. Rimadyl is designed to inhibit cyclooxygenase COX-2, which generates prostaglandins involved in inflammation. This is the first NSAID to have been approved for canine use in the United States. Side effects with this medication are the same as side effects seem with Deramaxx and Metacam and any potential side effects should be noted and reported immediately to a veterinarian. This is a prescription only medication and should not be administered without a veterinarian’s supervision.


Previcox is yet another prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is used to control pain and inflammation that results from canine arthritis. This is a fast acting medication and is also designed to inhibit inhibits COX-2 which is responsible for pain and inflammation without damaging COX-1 which is believed to play a part in normal bodily functions. Previcox should not be combined with any other NSAID’s, aspirins or corticosteroids unless advised by a veterinarian. Side effects that have been seen with some dogs taking Previcox include: vomiting, diarrhea, black or tarry stools, seizures, lethargy, aggression, yellowing of the eyes, skin or gums, change in urination habits, change in drinking habits, change in skin and unexpected weight loss. If you notice any of these side effects contact your veterinarian immediately. This is a prescription only medication and should not be administered without a veterinarian’s supervision.

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The pet doc is a veterinarian who has consulted with our site for many years. While he is still practicing and licensed, he volunteers his time to help us educate you, our readers, and has asked to donate this time and contribution anonymously. HIs 10+ years of experience in the field is invaluable as he helps to answer our reader’s pet-related questions. And hopefully, you will find his insights and helpful tips as much as we do.

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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 (Admin)
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.
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.
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!

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.