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Dog Arthritis

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Dog Arthritis - Hip DysplasiaThe word arthritis comes from the Greek word “Arthon” and is used to describe an inflammation of joints due to several causes, some being infection, metabolic, or genetically inherited causes. Many dogs, especially the heavier breeds and the elderly suffer from arthritis. Development disorders such as Hip Dysplasia can bring on early arthritis even in young dogs. Arthritis affects a dog’s joints like the spine, hips, knees, and elbows.

To understand arthritis, one must first understand just how a healthy joint works. A joint is a natural junction between two or more bones. The joints of the spine and the limbs allow the dog to move with ease, speed, precision, and efficiency. At the joint surface, the ends of the bones are covered by a thin layer of cartilage. Beneath the cartilage is a thin but dense layer of bone, and then beneath this lies bone that is less dense and is arranged like honeycomb. The area of bone at a joint surface is called sub-chondral bone and it provides strength and deformability (the ability to change shape without being damaged) when the joint is being compressed, such as when the dog places weight on the leg. The surfaces of the bones that comprise a joint are covered by a thin layer of specialised cartilage called Articular Cartilage. This cartilage protects the bones surface by distributing the load more evenly during movement and it enables the bone surfaces to glide smoothly and frictionless against one another.

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Joints also contain a small amount of fluid (synovial fluid) which lubricates the joint lining. The joint also needs to be stable as it moves and this is accomplished by short, strong ligaments that bridge and support the sides of the joint. These are called collateral ligaments. All this comprises a healthy joint and enables the dog to run around freely.

A picture of a healthy joint
A picture of a healthy joint

Types of Arthritis
  • Kneecap (dislocation)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Degenerative Joint Disease
  • Hip osteoarthritis (hip dysplasia)
  • Elbow osteoarthritis (elbow dysplasia)
  • Knee osteoarthritis (knee dysplasia)
  • Osteochondrosiss
  • Hypertrophic arthritis
  • Shoulder (degeneration)
  • Carpi and Stifle arthritis

Most common types of canine arthritis

Osteoarthritis is a chronic, slowly progressive condition that comes on as the dog’s cartilage breaks down. Bony structures then rub together causing inflammation and pain. It may develop secondary to hip dysplasia. Osteoarthritis of the hip joint is the major cause of lameness in dogs of all ages.

Degenerative Joint Disease is the breakdown of parts of the joint. Cartilage is usually affected first. Medical treatment of the disease has improved over the last few years, with more successful drugs and supplements becoming available on the growing dog health market.

Hip Dysplasia is a mal-formed ball and socket joint. Due to the ball not being correctly aligned in the socket, irritation and inflammation occur. Calcium builds up and the condition becomes chronic as the muscles and tissues surrounding the dog’s joint begin to be affected. Hip dysplasia is a progressive, developmental problem of young dogs manifested as chronic osteoarthritis and will potentially affect the dog’s quality of life. Although there is no cure, by adopting changes in lifestyle, weight, nutrition and activity the dog can live comfortably for many years. Large breeds of dogs and working dogs can suffer more as greater stress is placed on their hips. This is usually an inherited disease mostly due to poorly selected breeding by less scrupulous dog breeders.

A picture of a healthy joint
Picture showing a malformed and damaged joint

Symptoms of joint problems

Activity level

  • Reduction in a dog’s normal activity level, especially playfulness and zest for life.
  • Lying or resting more than usual.
  • Tiring easily or a reluctance to exercise for as long as usual when on dog walks.


  • 'Bunny-hopping' or skipping with the hind legs when a dog is running, bearing the weight on both hind legs at once rather than distributing between the two
  • Slow or stiff movement in the mornings, after resting or in cold weather.
  • Stiffness or lameness during or after a dog is exercised.
  • Reluctance to climb stairs or jumping in or out of the car.
  • Difficulty getting up from a prone position.


  • Yelping during exercise or when your dog jumps.
  • Pulling away and snapping or biting if the affected joint is touched.
  • Licking or chewing at the affected joint.
  • Change in temperament as in becoming depressed and 'bad-tempered'.
  • Seeking a warm or soft place to lie down.


  • Swollen joints that may feel warm to touch.
  • Loss of muscle bulk and tone also showing reduced muscle strength.

Causes of canine arthritis

  1. Congenital disorders such as Canine Wobblers Syndrome.
  2. Muscle, tendon or ligament disease.
  3. Inflammatory joint disease such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lyme’s disease.
  4. Any injury to a joint or limb fractures may result in arthritis.
  5. Poor or indiscriminate dog breeding practises.
  6. Age related arthritis.

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A dog that suffers with arthritis will be in moderate to severe pain. Although there is no guaranteed cure, much can be done to alleviate the condition. Most veterinarians agree that overweight dogs will improve by reducing weight. Dr John Haburjak, of the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana says “Simply through lifestyle changes, owners can help their pets keep arthritic hips going for years and surgical intervention may be delayed or not necessary at all.” The vet will recommend a nutritional diet that will suit the dog yet maintain it at the optimum weight.

Many owners of arthritic dogs think that exercise must be kept to a bare minimum or not at all. This is not necessarily so. Lack of exercise could cause the arthritic joint to stiffen and hinder movement even more. Correct exercise will maintain muscle strength and keep your dog both mentally and physically fit. Swimming is an excellent way for dogs to build healthy muscles whilst placing minimum stress on the joints. Exercise must be on a daily basis to keep the bones supple. Owners may consider hydrotherapy carried out by a qualified therapist, as a form of exercise. Arthritic dogs must never be encouraged to jump or chase around. Once again it is recommended that veterinary advice should be sought.

Massage will help to relax stiff muscles and encourage movement in the joints. Veterinary staff can teach the owner how to carry this out correctly to avoid causing pain. For large dog breeds and working dogs, elevating water and food bowls can make feeding and drinking easier. It may be necessary to build a ramp for the dog if there are steps leading from the property. Special folding ramps can be purchased to help dogs get in and out of the car. These can be folded and stored until needed.

Nutritional supplements have been proven to greatly improve an arthritic dog’s mobility. The main supplements used are:

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Glucosamine is a major component of cartilage and Chondroitin helps the formation of cartilage. Together they assist the cartilage forming cells to grow and repair. They are naturally occurring compounds so are considered extremely safe to use. Patience is needed as it takes approximately six weeks before any improvement shows. The dog will need to be on the supplement for the rest of its life. There are many branded products containing Glucosamine and Chrondroitin.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSN)

Amazing claims are made as to the properties of MSN as an inflammatory drug. It is said to slow the progression of arthritis and relieves pain. One of the best products on the market is Flexicose, which contains liquid Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSN complex. Humans use Flexicose to improve arthritis and other joint conditions.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

This supplement contains anti-oxidants like Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and they are the primary omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils. Not only does Omega-3 benefit and improve arthritis and joint disease but it also plays a role in improving cardiac health. Omega-3 suppresses inflammation associated with kidney disease as well as improving gastro intestinal and skin disorders. Controlled clinical studies have shown that DHA and EPA work to protect brain cells and thereby improves memory and age-related brain diseases. As humans we are fully aware of the benefits of using fish oils in our diets. Our dogs can benefit too. It is advised to buy the best quality products that you can afford as poor quality fish oils are less nutritional and much less easy to absorb into your dog’s dietary system.

Veterinary Secrets Revealed

Herbal supplements are also used in treating arthritic dogs. Herbs and plants have been used to promote healing and good health for centuries. The active ingredients found in herbs are similar to those found in modern medicines. Many of the drugs that we take for granted today stem from herbs and plants. For example, the Chinese Fir has been used for centuries as a treatment for relief from Asthma and Bronchitis. Scientists discovered that it contains Ephedrine, a substance used by doctors to treat asthma today. The bark of the White Willow has been used since ancient times to relieve pain and has led to the widely used drug, Aspirin.

The manufacture of the modern drugs of today has evolved from simple herbs and plants that have been used for generations. It is widely believed that because herbs are natural, they cannot do any harm to the dog’s system. This is not true as there are many plants and herbs that are exceedingly toxic to both humans and animals alike. It is universally know that smoking tobacco can be life threatening, and that passive or second hand smoking can also cause cancer in dogs. Yet tobacco comes from a plant as does Opium (the poppy) and Marijuana. Other plants such as the Privet, Ragwort, Foxglove and Hemlock all contain toxic substances. The power of the humble herb must not be taken for granted which is precisely why any herbal supplement used must be of the highest quality and manufactured by reputable companies. We highly recommend Dorwest Herbs for pet herbal remedies.

Veterinary prescribed medication takes the form of Carprofen (Rimadyll) and Zubrin (Tepoxalin). Carprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. It is a strong pain-killer too and it may have side effects which will be discussed with you by the vet. The drug can cause liver problems when used long term so the dog will be closely monitored to prevent problems occurring.

Zubrin may also be prescribed by the vet. Zubrin is a rapidly disintegrating tablet that controls the pain and inflammation associated with canine arthritis. It rapidly breaks down when in contact with the dog’s saliva so is easy to administer. Again, this drug may cause side effects such as rectal bleeding.


This information is for educating and informing the reader but is not intended as a professional medical guide. We are not veterinarians, we simply have a wealth of experience of symptoms through our extensive work with afflicted dogs and their owners. IF YOUR DOG IS IN PAIN, ALWAYS SEEK PROFESSIONAL ADVICE.

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