Arthritis in Dogs 101

Senior Dog

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a complex condition involving inflammation and degeneration of one or more joints.

OA is diagnosed through a combination of a thorough physical examination, a palpation (feeling with the fingers to localize pain and determine its intensity), and additional diagnostics including x-rays or other imaging technology.

What causes OA?

There is no single cause of OA. Many factors influence its initiation and development including:

  • Body conformation (how a dog is built)
  • Body condition/weight (overweight and obesity are highly correlated with OA)
  • Abnormal joint development
  • Injury history (fracture, ligament damage, muscle injury, joint infection, damage/erosion of cartilage)
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Nutritional history

In fact, most dogs with OA experience a combination of these factors as their OA develops and progresses.

What are the signs of OA?

Dogs can exhibit many different signs when they have OA, and they do not necessarily demonstrate all the same signs all of the time. The most common signs dog owners may notice include:

  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Walking stiffly
  • Lameness in one or more legs
  • Reluctance to go up and/or down stairs
  • Reluctance to jump up or down
  • Stiff, swollen, or sore joints
  • Reluctance to be touched on some parts of the body

Can OA be treated?

Unfortunately, there is no “magic fix” for treating OA. In fact, once OA is in place, we are not so much treating it as managing it because OA cannot be cured.

OA is a very complex disease, so we get the best results from combining multiple treatments. Typical multimodal management of arthritis generally includes the following:


Normalizing body condition is critical, so your veterinarian may prescribe a specific diet to accomplish this goal. There is now prescription diets that can support the joints while helping to normalize body weight and condition. It is important to stick strictly to the prescribed nutritional program.


A nutritional supplement may be recommended to help manage your dog’s symptoms such as 4CYTE for dogs.

These are natural products not medications, but have great research behind them showing benefits for dogs suffering with joint problems such as OA and can be used long-term with minimal to no side-effects.

Cartrophen Injections

Cartrophen Vet is a revolutionary advance in the treatment for arthritis in dogs, it is an injection given by your vet in a similar way to a vaccine with four weekly doses. It has many sites of action within the underlying processes of the arthritis disease which helps maintain joint health, including preserving joint cartilage. It is therefore classified as a disease modifying osteoarthritis drug (DMOAD)

Pain medications

Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are often used against the pain of OA. Your veterinarian will determine if your dog is a good candidate for this class of medication.

Occasionally, a corticosteroid anti-inflammatory drug will be prescribed instead of a NSAID. The two classes of medication CANNOT be used together.

Gabapentin is a pain medication that addresses chronic pain differently from NSAIDs or corticosteroids, and complements those medications. It provides a way to address the chronic nature of OA pain, and is especially helpful when the patient is older and not able to take a NSAID.


Medical acupuncture can provide excellent pain relief for many dogs with OA. One of our Veterinarian’s is currently offering Acupuncture a she completes her post-graduate studies in this area. Please ask our team if this is something you are interested in and we can arrange an initial consult with her.

Can I do anything else to help my dog be more comfortable?

There are simple things that any dog owner can provide to a dog with OA that can help with comfort and mobility. These include:

  • Soft, padded bedding
  • Raised food and water dishes (elbow height)
  • Non-skid floor surfaces
  • A ramp or stool/step for getting onto higher surfaces
  • Adhering to prescribed feeding and medication recommendations

What is my dog’s long-term outlook?

With appropriate management, dogs with OA can and do live a normal life expectancy. Your veterinarian can provide specific guidance about lifestyle adjustments.

Can OA be prevented?

Allowing a dog to grow slowly as a puppy, maintaining a lean body condition throughout growth and into adulthood, is the most important way to prevent OA. Growth abnormalities and injuries cannot always be predicted, so even our best efforts may not be enough to ward off OA in an older dog.

That said, with slow growth, good nutrition, optimal body condition, and regular exercise, the odds of preventing or at least delaying OA are excellent. Your veterinarian will partner with you to create the best plan for your dog.

If at any point in time you have any concerns, questions or queries please call us on 4151 3550.

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