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What are the Causes and Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs?

Arthritis is a condition that affects dogs just as it affects humans. The only difference is that unlike us humans, our furry friends find it hard to communicate their discomfort to us. Pain behaviours are often misread as general behavioural changes. So, the condition often goes unnoticed until it has advanced to a much more severe stage.  

The solution? Keep an eye out for signs and catch them early. 

To help, we’ve listed some of the most common causes of arthritis in dogs, the signs and symptoms to look out for, and what you can do to help your pet.  

  • What causes arthritis in dogs?  
  • Arthritis signs and symptoms in dogs  
  • How to treat arthritis in dogs 
  • How to keep your dog’s joints healthy  
  • FAQs 
What causes arthritis in dogs? 

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in dogs. And while the real causes of osteoarthritis are still uncertain, some predisposition factors (like the ones listed below) are now clearly associated with the disease. 

Age: The protective cartilage between bones tends to wear off with age, which is why mobility troubles are more common in older dogs. 

Breed: Large breed dogs like German Shepherds, Labradors, Retrievers, Siberian Huskies and Rottweilers are more likely to be affected by arthritis than smaller dogs. 

Genetics: Research has shown that there is a strong relationship between joint disorders and certain genes involved in growth and musculoskeletal development. 

Injury: Dogs that have suffered from injuries like fractures or ligament tears are also more likely to develop osteoarthritis at a later stage. 

Hip dysplasia: This deformity of the joints is often hereditary and can lead to arthritis. 

Obesity: A high body weight means more load on the joints. 

Signs and symptoms of arthritis in dogs 

The initial signs of arthritis in dogs can be subtle, so it’s important to pay careful attention to any changes in behaviour. Here are the most common symptoms to watch out for:   

  • Reluctance to move or play  
  • Difficulty getting up and about  
  • Limping or lameness  
  • Irritability and other changes in behaviour  
  • Tiredness  
  • Increased licking and biting  
  • Sensitivity to touch  
  • Muscle wastage    

It's important to note that many of these signs could also be indicative of other conditions – that’s why it’s important to let your vet make the final assessment. 

Reluctance to move or play 

Getting the lead out or throwing a ball may not have the same effect on your dog as it once did. Or they may choose to walk beside you at a slow pace rather than run around when you take them outdoors. 

Difficulty getting up and about 

Dogs with arthritis may find it hard to get up, particularly after long periods of rest. You may notice that they don’t rush to greet you or guests at the door. Similarly, they may avoid climbing up staircases or even climbing up a sofa or bed.

Limping or lameness 

If you notice your dog limping or walking in an unusual manner (when limping involves more than one leg or ‘hopping’), this could be a sign of pain or stiffness. This may be especially obvious during cold weather, when aches and pains get worse. 

Increased licking and biting 

Dogs with arthritis may lick and bite certain areas of their bodies that hurt. It’s their way of trying to ease the pain. 

Sensitivity to touch 

Keep an eye out for signs of flinching or groaning when you pet your dog. Even the most affectionate dogs will seem reluctant to be petted when they’re in pain. 

Muscle wastage

When arthritis gets worse over time, dogs may begin to lose muscle. You may spot visible muscle wastage (e.g., one leg looking thinner than the other) if your dog is not using certain muscles as much. This means they will find it harder to get up after lying down for a while. So, they may spend more time resting on the floor or sleeping, which could cause gain weight. 

Irritability and other changes in behaviour 

Pain can cause changes in behaviour in dogs, just as it does in humans. They may act anxious, grumpy, irritable, or withdrawn, and may not want to go for a walk.

How to treat your dog’s arthritis 

The first step is to seek advice from your vet as soon as you notice any sign that suggests your dog is in pain. You want to do this before the pain becomes severe.  

The vet will create a treatment plan that’s best suited to your dog’s condition.  

Read: A Guide to Arthritis Treatment for Dogs

How to keep your dog’s joints healthy 

There are many simple steps you can take at home to keep your pet’s joints strong and healthy. These include regular exercise, weight management and dietary supplements that promote joint health. Talk to your vet about what the best options are for your pet.

  • How do vets check for arthritis in dogs?

    Vets usually carry out a physical examination to test for swelling or pain in the joints. They will also consider the history of your dog’s symptoms. Blood tests, X-rays or other scans may also be required.

  • What age do dogs show signs of arthritis?

    Arthritis can affect a dog at any age, but it typically develops in older dogs. Around 50% of diagnosed dogs tend to be between the ages 8 to 13 years. But that could also mean that the condition doesn't reveal itself until dogs get older.

  • What causes dog arthritis to flare up?

    Any strain to the joints can cause a flare-up. Cold weather and weight gain also put more pressure on the joints, which could trigger the symptoms of osteoarthritis.