"Unfortunately, treating arthritis in dogs is necessary in about 1
in 5 pets over the age of 1. The most common type is osteoarthritis,
which is also referred to as osteoarthrosis, degenerative arthritis or
degenerative joint disease (DJD). Other types include
immune-mediated (canine rheumatoid arthritis, plasmacytic-lymphocytic
synovitis and Idiopathic polyarthritis) and infectious arthritis.
Causes of osteoarthritis are either unknown (idiopathic) or is
secondary causes such as bone abnormalities, hip dysplasia or other
inherited problems. Immune related arthritis is thought to start with
the tissue around the joints. Infectious arthritis is the result of a
The disease results in the breaking down of joint cartilage. The result
that can rub together, joint pain and increasing levels of joint
damage. Specific problems include thinning cartilage, bony outgrowths
around the joint and fluid buildup. Byproducts are symptoms such as
swelling, joint scarring,
restricted motion and varying degrees of lameness and stiffness.
Dogs at higher risk include working dogs, over weight dogs,
extremely active dogs or those that have one of the disorders that
affect cartilage or collagen in the joints.
When seen in young dogs, it is usually due to some type of congenital
problem such as elbow or hip dysplasia.
The treatment goal is to improve the quality of life by slowing down
the progression of the disease with medications, surgery and
supplements while addressing any symptoms."
Video on Treating Arthritis in Dogs
Like humans arthritis can be caused by an injury or disease. Unlike
humans where an injury doesn’t immediately manifest itself as
arthritis, in dogs symptoms can be seen within several weeks (called
secondary arthritis). Most arthritis cases are due to an inherited
cause and are triggered by problems such as hip dysplasia, joint
ruptured cruciate ligaments. Other causes are
infection or some type of immune system disorder that affects the
joints. Arthritis can be found in 1 out of 5 dogs, yet only 50% of
those who have arthritis receive treatment.
Dog Arthritis Podcast
Here's a helpful podcast on arthritis in pets from the American
Veterinary Medical Association. The podcast features Dr. Craig Prior
from the Murphy Road Animal Hospital. The discussion reviews the causes
of arthritis and approaches for treating arthritis in dogs.
Dog Hip Replacement (Left) and Hip With
The right hip
of this dog (on the left side of the X-ray) has an artificial hip. The
left hip has hip dysplasia with osteoarthritis and remodeling of the
head of the femur.
Photo Credit: Joel Mills
The Biology of Arthritis (Pathophysiology)
The disease starts with some type of stress on the joints. This can
be caused by an injury, unusual activities or abnormality in the way
the joint is formed. The stress damages chondrocytes, which causes the
loss of collagen (fibrous protein constituent of bone). When the
collagen is altered, other problems occur such as the release of nitric
oxide, which causes inflammation, and the breakdown of cartilage. The
synovial fluid in the joint loses some viscosity, reducing lubrication.
The decline in fluid quality also lowers oxygen levels and the amount
of nutrients that reach the chondrocytes (the cells found in healthy
cartilage). The bone tissue hardens stimulating pain receptors in the
tendons, ligaments, bone and joints.
Synovial Joint Diagram
Dogs are at higher risk when one of the following factors are
Dogs with a disease that affects the cartilage or collagen:
Prolonged use of steroids
Dogs that put more stress on the joints are also at risk:
Large breed dogs
Normal Dog Hips (left) and Dog with Hip
shown on left, with
severely dysplastic dog hips shown on right. Hip dysplasia is a risk
factor for the development of arthritis. Arthritis can be
crippling in older age.
Types of Arthritis in Dogs
Degenerative Joint Disease (osteoarthritis)
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis seen in both people
and pets. It is a condition in which the cartilage between bones wears
down. Without the cartilage padding, bone rubs against bone, causing
inflammation and pain.
Osteoarthritis Joint Diagram
Normal stress on a joint problem or too much stress on a normal
joint can be the cause. This stress causes a reduction in cartilage
that protects the bones in the joint. If your dog is constantly jumping
or exercising, this could be the cause. If you can pinpoint the cause
and you caught it early, surgical solutions could stop or slow the
Inflammatory Joint Disease
This type is usually caused by infection and is seen in several
joint locations. Symptoms often include fever and anorexia. Fungus,
ticks and bacteria are common causes.
Immune Mediated Arthritis
There are three types of canine
immune-mediated arthritis. These include:
Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis:
results in swelling and joint inflammation. The cause is thought to be
immune complexes that are in the tissue around the joints. Areas
commonly affected include the dog's wrist (carpal), ankle (tarsal) and
toe joints. Symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis in dogs
includes pain, shifting from leg to leg, trouble getting up, climbing
or everyday walking. Other signs are joint swelling and joints
that are warm to the touch. Some dogs may experience fever. A
veterinarian will diagnose the condition using X-Rays and various lab
tests. Treatment includes medications formulated for rheumatoid
synovitis: This is considered to be a
form of canine rheumatoid arthritis. It is more commonly seen in larger
dogs. Symptoms include a tendency to demonstrate lameness in the hind
limbs since the knee is often the problematic joint. The
condition is treated with medications that reduce joint inflammation.
Idiopathic indicates that the cause of the arthritis in several joints
is unknown. Symptoms often start with a frequent fever that does not
improve after therapies such as antibiotics. The veterinarian
will look for other symptoms of arthritis such as lethargy, lack of
appetite and physical characteristics such as stiffness or lameness.
Idiopathic polyarthritis can be controlled with the use of
corticosteroids over a 3 to 5 month period. Other medications may
Dogs affected are larger breeds such as:
Pictures of Immune-mediated Arthritis in a Canine
Retriever pictured above
has immune mediated arthritis in
the carpus or wrist.
Photo Credit: Washington State University
School of Veterinary Medicine
Immune mediated arthritis of carpus
a Golden Retriever Dog
arthritis in tarsus
It is extremely rare for arthritis to be a primary condition.
Instead, other problems in the musculoskeletal system trigger
degenerative joint disease. These include:
Dysplasia: Hip and elbow dysplasia in dogs is an inherited
condition that results from a malformation in bone development. It can
lead to crippling lameness and painful osteoarthritis.
Hip dysplasia: which the femoral head does not sit properly in
the socket of the hip joint. Dysplasia can affect any dog of any size,
but strikes 50% of certain large breeds including:
English Springer Spaniel
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Bernese Mountain Dog
Elbow dysplasia: includes the inherited developmental defects
un-united anconeal process, fragmented (un-united) coronoid process,
osteochondritis of the medial humeral condyle, and radio-ulnar
incongruence, which occur in young, actively growing, large breed dogs,
causing lameness and later arthritis of the elbow. Elbow
dysplasia usually causes lameness in the front legs. Breeds affected
English Springer Spaniel
German Shepherd Dog
Bernese Mountain Dog
Osteochonodrosis dissecans (the formation of a separate center of
bone and cartilage on an epiphyseal surface. An epiphyseal surface is
the expanded articular end of a long bone)
Patellar luxations (dislocated kneecap)
Congenital Shoulder Luxation: the joint connecting the leg to the
LLegg–Calvé–Perthes syndrome is a form of osteochondritis of the
hip joint, where growth/loss of bone mass leads to some degree of
collapse of the hip joint and to deformity of the ball of the femur and
sometimes the surface of the hip socket.
Crania cruciate ligament rupture: a pair of ligaments which cross
over one another, specifically the cranial and caudal cruciate
ligaments which tie the femur to the tibia.
Predicting Dog Joint Health
There is a website developed by researchers at Cornell University
College of Veterinary Medicine that rates the likelihood of dog's joint
health based on lineage. It is the first public resource of its scope
in the United States. The website offers scores on the genetic
potential for the hip and elbow quality of more than 1 million
registered breeds. The database can help owners make informed decisions
on breeding on on buying specific dog breeds.
We also recommend visiting the website to check on your current dog in
order to see if your dog is susceptible to hip and elbow
problems. If your dog's breed related information indicates that
this is a problem, then
preventive measures such as weight control and checking the joints in
regularly scheduled exams makes sense. To learn more visit the
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