Degenerative diseases

My Dog's Joints are Stiff - Canine Arthritis

María Besteiros
By María Besteiros, Expert veterinary assistant and canine/feline hairdresser.. May 29, 2019
My Dog's Joints are Stiff - Canine Arthritis

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One of the most important aspects of a dog's life is going for walks. They are naturally inclined to run outside and play, so anything which makes this difficult for a dog can be painful in more ways than one. If you are out on a walk and you see that your dog's joints are stiff, it is understandable you will be worried. While there are various reasons why this may be the case, arthritis in dogs is one of the most common. This is especially the case with older dogs, but it can happen at different stages of their lives.

AnimalWised discusses the causes of arthritis and stiffness in dogs, as well as looking at certain treatment and management options. If you do suspect canine arthritis, you should take your dog to the vet immediately for diagnosis and to rule out any other health problems.

You may also be interested in: Arthritis in Dogs


  1. What is arthritis in dogs?
  2. Causes of arthritis in dogs
  3. Symptoms of arthritis in dogs
  4. Treatment of arthritis in dogs
  5. Can arthritis in dogs be cured?
  6. How long can a dog live with arthritis?
  7. How to alleviate arthritic pain in dogs
  8. Home remedies for dogs with arthritis

What is arthritis in dogs?

Arthritis is a degenerative and progressive disease of the joints. The reason it is more common in older dogs is because it is due to a wearing down of the cartilage which covers and protects the dog's joints. Additionally, abnormal bone growth can occur which makes the surface of the joint irregular and can even lead to fragmentation. Such damage can be seen on x-rays.

As the joints are articulated, the day-to-day movement of the dog can lead to the surfaces of joints rubbing together and becoming further damaged. Not only does this lead to serious degeneration, but it can be very painful for the dog. Logically, it also decreases mobility.

Arthritis is a general term for the above process and condition. However, there are some specific types which are categorized as:

  • Osteoarthritis: by far the most common type of arthritis, this is degeneration of the joints has various causes. It is something which can be caused by general wear and tear, but a previous injury or even malformation of the bones can lead to osteoarthritis.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: often confused with osteoarthritis, this is an autoimmune disorder which causes stiffness in the joints, but also affects other parts of the body. The condition is believed to be a combination of environmental factors and genetic inheritance. This condition also causes inflammation in other parts of the body, often most problematically around the heart.
  • Septic arthritis: this is due to a bacterial or viral infection which affects the joints and causes swelling. The stiffness in the dog's legs are usually located in one joint, but the onset is fast and can spread. The infection usually enters via the blood, hence it is septic arthritis.

There are many more types of arthritis in dogs, but the three above are the main categories.

My Dog's Joints are Stiff - Canine Arthritis - What is arthritis in dogs?

Causes of arthritis in dogs

While we have some idea of the causes of arthritis in dogs, it is not yet fully understood by the veterinary community. We do know that the cause will depend on the type, the majority of them being a result of aging or trauma. Osteoarthritis can appear on any joint in the body, but it most commonly affects the extremities. it is possible for it to occur on places like the spine which are very painful.

It is possible to distinguish between a primary and secondary arthritis condition. Primary arthritis is a consequence of ageing and secondary arthritis is due to trauma, malformation or dysplasia as triggering factors. Obesity can also damage the joints and there are systemic diseases which result in generation and eventual lameness. In primary arthritis, more than one joint is usually affected. For secondary arthritis, the damage appears to be more localized. A veterinarian will be able to confirm diagnosis with x-rays.

When we observe arthritis in young dogs, it is usually due to a secondary type. This could be an injury or infection. Genetics may play a part, but it is not easy to determine.

Symptoms of arthritis in dogs

The symptoms of arthritis will depend on which joints have been affected and also how far the condition has progressed. In dogs, arthritis most commonly manifests in the hips, knees and shoulders. The main observation will be that you see your dog's joints are stiff. This is something which will start gradually. Arthritis may already have been present, but the dog hasn't yet exhibited symptoms.

It usually starts with a dog having difficulty standing up or walking. They may be a little stiff at the beginning, but once they get going the stiffness goes away. Eventually, the degeneration will progress to the point when they are stiff all the time. As arthritis is an inflammation of the joint, the extra pressure can cause a lot of pain. Dogs are generally brave animals, so they will often try to walk the pain off, even when it hurts. We may even hear clicking or snapping sounds due to the bones moving over damaged joints.

Early detection and management is very important, so if you see your dog's joints are stiff, you will need to rake them to the vet. Some dogs which have been ignored since the onset of arthritis may develop pain to the point it affects their behavior in other ways. They may even become aggressive or generally stressed.

It is important to note that stiffness or difficulty walking may be related to other conditions. To learn more, you can take a look at this article on why a dog trembles when they walk.

My Dog's Joints are Stiff - Canine Arthritis - Symptoms of arthritis in dogs

Treatment of arthritis in dogs

Joint degeneration is irreversible, but early detection can help us delay its progress as much as possible. For medical treatment of osteoarthritis in dogs, chondroprotectors stand out as some of the most useful due to their ability to protect cartilage.

In some cases, other drugs are used to help reduce the swelling which, in turn, can reduce stiffness. These include anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs or corticosteroids. The major problem about these drugs is they often have side effects. One of the most serious is the formation of gastrointestinal ulcers which, due to the risk of internal hemorrhaging, can be fatal. This is why it is so important for the vet to control dosage and for us not to mis-administer medication. Gastric protectors may be used to reduce the possible side effects.

Occasionally, for osteoarthritis, surgical intervention may be used. Since the disease is irreversible, this is only really to reduce pain and slow progression. This makes it essentially a palliative treatment to help improve the dog's quality of life.

For rheumatoid arthritis, lifestyle changes are an important factor. Since the disease is an autoimmune disorder, building up the dog's immunity is imperative. There are drugs which can be used to help do this, but they have similar side effects to NSAIDs and steroids. The latter two are also likely to be used in conjunction to reduce inflammation. For septic arthritis, the infection will need to be treated, likely with antibiotics. Since the onset can be rapid, early intervention is particularly important.

Management of arthritis is so important since it can't be cured. This means we will have to be particularly careful with movement and exercise. Essentially, vigorous exercise should be reduce, but exercise should not be completely cut out. This will be just as problematic as it can lead to atrophy. Having shorter and less energetic trips, but more often, is advisable.

Diet is also important, especially as obesity is a risk factor for arthritis. Restrict calories if they are already obese and eat food with omega-3 fatty acids to help strengthen cartilage.

Can arthritis in dogs be cured?

Arthritis is, unfortunately, an irreversible and progressive degenerative disease. There is no cure, although we can try to control its progress as much as possible. Being associated with aging, prevention is mainly focused on maintaining a good quality of overall health with adequate nutrition and the right exercise.

Although the problem cannot be reversed, it can be treated. The dog can still maintain a good quality of life, even if it does take a little more care as their guardians.

How long can a dog live with arthritis?

Osteoarthritis is not a fatal disease, so it should not have an effect on the life expectancy of the dog. Canines do not die from osteoarthritis, but it is important to factor in the effects it has on the dog's quality of life. Since chronic pain is a common symptom of severe arthritis in dogs, we need to be especially careful.

Similarly, we need to be considerate of degenerative diseases such as arthritis. While treatment can make the dog's quality of life bearable, but of the pain becomes too much, we may want to consider euthanasia. We cannot give a date when this will happen. It will depend on the quality of care and the individual dog.

As rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, we need to be extra careful with infections and anything which might attack the body's cells. Also, since it can cause inflammation in the heart, we need to be very careful not to put any extra strain on vital organs. For septic arthritis, the major problem is the infection which is causing it. This needs to be treated before it spreads.

My Dog's Joints are Stiff - Canine Arthritis - How long can a dog live with arthritis?

How to alleviate arthritic pain in dogs

In addition to pharmacological treatment of arthritis in dogs, supplementary treatments such as physiotherapy. It is important to note that this will not cure arthritis, but it can be a helpful part of its management. It may be helpful in controlling pain and improving mobility. However, it is vital that a professional carry out this type of therapy. If you do not know what you are doing, you may end up causing further damage to the stiff joints.

One of the advantages of physiotherapy is a reduction in side effects, but they can only alleviate pain so much. If the dog is in chronic pain, they will need medication. Hydrotherapy might also be a useful supplementary treatment. The water keeps the dog afloat and takes some of the strain off the joints while still allowing them to move and keep them limber. It also reduces the shock of putting their feet on the ground which will eventually become painful.

Home remedies for dogs with arthritis

As for home remedies or treatment, we need to adapt the home for our dog's new circumstance. If we have previously kept their bed or living area upstairs, then we will need to move their things downstairs. Going up and down stairs can put considerable pain on already stressed and stiff joints. If there are some places they need to access which have steps (such as the front porch) a ramp or similar device will be useful.

The floor of the house is not the only location factor we need to consider. Arthritic pain can be exacerbated by climate, so we need to keep their bed and living area away from cold places or those with drafts. In general, keeping the dog dry, warm and comfortable is helpful in relieving pain. This could extend to using jackets or other dog clothes for when they are outside in cold weather. After bathing dogs, it is extra important to keep them dry and warm. Softer blankets and cushions are important to avoid putting more strain on inflamed and stiff joints.

If we see the dog is particularly stiff in a certain joint, we can apply some heat to it to help alleviate some pain. A warm compress can help, although be careful not to put anything on it which can burn them. In combination with mild exercise and an appropriate diet, these measures should help us to ensure the dog is as pain free as possible, even as the disease progresses.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog's Joints are Stiff - Canine Arthritis, we recommend you visit our Degenerative diseases category.

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My Dog's Joints are Stiff - Canine Arthritis