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Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that can become more severe in dogs over time. While there's no cure for this painful, progressive condition, our Central Illinois vets can offer treatment options to help manage symptoms and let your dog enjoy a good quality of life as they age. 

Osteoarthritis & Your Dog

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in dogs. This degenerative joint disorder is a painful condition that leads to permanent deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the joints. It's estimated to impact about one-quarter of all dogs during their lifetime. 

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis can cause pain in a dog's joints, which can lead to numerous signs you may notice, including:

  • Lameness, stiffness and pain
  • Restlessness
  • Swollen joints
  • Reluctance to stand
  • Slow, shuffling walk
  • Licking at joints
  • Unusual whining, irritability or aggression 
  • Lack of enthusiasm for play or walks 

Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

While any breed of dog can suffer from this condition, it's most often seen in larger breeds such as Labs, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, German Shepherds and giant breeds. 

The actual cause of osteoarthritis is largely unknown. However, the condition is often related to underlying problems such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, dislocations of the knee or shoulder, a cruciate injury or an injury due to trauma. 

Obesity also appears to be a factor in dogs developing osteoarthritis, since excess weight can result in unnecessary stress on a dog's joints, which leads to pain and degenerative joint issues over time. 

Managing Pain with Treatments

Though osteoarthritis in dogs cannot be cured or reversed, there are successful treatment options to help reduce pain and slow ongoing degeneration of the joints that are affected. Your dog can also live a more comfortable, better quality of life as they age. 

A combination of treatments will often be used to relieve pain and make getting around more comfortable for your pet. 

Painkillers / Pain Meds

Painkillers such as anti-inflammatories are often prescribed as a long-term treatment for managing your dog’s joint pain and helping to reduce swelling. 


Although it may seem counterintuitive exercise is essential for dogs with osteoarthritis. It may be necessary to cut back on exercise when your dog is first diagnosed with osteoarthritis however staying mobile will help your dog to maintain fitness, achieve a healthy weight, relieve joint pain and enjoy a good quality of life.

Exercise will need to be tailored to your dog's overall health and severity of osteoarthritis. Your vet will be sure to recommend the best level of exercise to help relieve your dog's osteoarthritis symptoms.


Managing your dog's weight will be a key element of their treatment for osteoarthritis. Increased weight puts increased stress on your dog's joints so keeping weight at a healthy level will help to minimize the pain caused by the condition.

Your vet may recommend putting your dog on a calorie-reduced diet if their exercise level has been reduced, or a diet supplemented with chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate and omega-3 fatty acids as a way to combat symptoms. 

Physical Rehabilitation (Physio for Dogs)

Physical rehabilitation is the name for physiotherapy for dogs and can include a number of treatments that are designed to help reduce pain while strengthening and improving muscle tone, maintaining range of motion and working to improve overall endurance.

Physiotherapy for dogs with osteoarthritis may include one or more of the following treatments: therapeutic exercises, therapeutic ultrasound, cold laser therapy, regenerative therapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, underwater treadmill or pool therapy, and massage, combined with conventional treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications. 


In some cases when joint damage is severe your vet may recommend surgery to help alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of your dog's osteoarthritis. Surgery may be performed to remove bone fragments that are aggravating the condition or to replace the affected joints. 

Prognosis for Dogs with Osteoarthritis

With effective long-term pain management and a little additional care, your dog may be able to enjoy a long and happy life even with osteoarthritis. Speak to your vet to learn more about managing your pup's joint pain, and how you can help your dog to enjoy a happy life for many years to come.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog displaying symptoms of osteoarthritis? Contact our Central Illinois vets today. We can diagnose this or other health issues and help your canine companion live comfortably in their senior years.

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