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Arthritis in dogs: spotting the signs and treating the problem.

We often talk about arthritis in people, but it’s also common in dogs, both young and old. Can you be certain that you’d recognise the signs if your pet was affected? And what could be done to help? We take a look at the problem in some detail.

Arthritis involves inflammation in the joints and causes pain and discomfort. It can be surprisingly hard to identify in the early stages, if the changes have been gradual or if both legs are equally affected.

Signs to look out for include:

  • Limping or "favouring" a leg
  • Struggling to get up or moving stiffly after lying down for a while
  • A lameness or stiffness that is worse after rest but eases with movement
  • Noticeably worse after longer walks or periods of running and chasing
  • Difficulty with steps or stairs, or with getting into the car or onto the sofa
  • Loss of stamina, either slowing down on walks or stopping dead
  • Increased anxiety around other dogs
  • Unexpected aggression to people or dogs, for fear of being hurt
  • Swollen or sore joints that you can see or feel
  • No longer wanting to be touched, lifted or groomed

Seek veterinary care

If you suspect your dog is suffering from arthritis, the first thing you should do is contact your vet to confirm the diagnosis – arthritis isn’t the only possible reason for these signs.

Your vet might recommend X-rays or an examination under sedation to refine the diagnosis and, usually, an initial trial of pain-killing and anti-inflammatory medicine will be prescribed. 

In time, medication may need to be given long-term. It may need to be changed or added to as the disease progresses. Some cases will benefit from surgical treatments too.

Alongside appropriate use of prescription medication, there are a number of things you can do at home to help ease your dog’s discomfort: 

Take shorter walks

Moving helps the joints stay nourished; exploring the outdoors keeps doggy minds stimulated and absorbed.

We recommend taking shorter walks 2 or 3 times a day if possible.

Leave the weekend mega-hikes aside, as keeping exercise levels consistent and gradually adjusting to their current abilities is key.

Just because your dog has arthritis, that doesn’t mean they should stop taking their walks.

Try complementary therapies

There are various forms of therapy you can explore to find what eases your furry friend’s discomfort and keeps them active. There are gentle massages you can do at home, or you can seek qualified veterinary physio- or hydro-therapists. Hydrotherapy in particular can really help with mobility and muscle strength. Acupuncture and laser therapy may help too.

The Animal Medical Center introduction to massaging your dog is a great place to start if you’re looking for some home-based care, while the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has set up the Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners to give you the confidence to find qualified practitioners.

Use ramps and non-slip flooring

If an elderly relative was suffering from mobility problems, making stairs and flooring more accessible for them would be a priority and it’s the same with our pets. When you are out and about, avoid steep steps and hills if possible. You can help with ramps such as the Henry Wag folding car ramp and at home, importantly, lay down runners on hard and slippery floors to reduce joint strain and keep your dog confident to move around safely.

Add nutritional support 

Nutrition can play a big part in easing pain and discomfort. Great results have been seen with certain therapeutic diets – check out Royal Canin’s Mobility, Purina Proplan’s Joint Mobility or Hill’s JD range with a low-calorie option.

Note that weight management to achieve and keep a lean, healthy body condition is a major aspect of successful arthritis care.

Supplements with appropriate levels of omega-3 fatty acids, such as the Yumove range, can also help. A consultation with a vet can help you to evaluate these options so as to tailor your approach to your own dog’s needs and tastes.

The long term view

Although arthritis is a chronic condition that needs lifelong management, most dogs can have a long and happy life despite it.

Be prepared for the problem to wax and wane, and work with your veterinary team to adjust medical and supportive care as needed.

We hope these recommendations help you to keep your dog as comfortable as possible, especially when we move into the colder months.

Don’t forget to keep your dog warm and snug, with coats for the outdoors and warm and well-padded resting places such as Scruffs’ thermal bed at home and in the car!

What else?

If you’d like personalised help and support, please book an online video or telephone consultation with one of our vets. 

For more extensive information and guidance, visit the marvellous website Canine Arthritis.co.uk, which has the approval of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management.