Managing Arthritis and Joint Disease

July 14, 2017

At some point in their lives, pets will suffer from arthritis or joint disease. It can be mild, or it can be debilitating, severely affecting the pet's quality of life, or even causing complete lameness. Signs of arthritis or joint disease will usually appear later in life which can vary depending on the dogs breed. Dogs are more susceptible to arthritis than cats, and the larger dog breeds are more susceptible than smaller breeds.


The Most Common Signs Of Arthritis Or Joint Disease Include:

Stiffness, soreness, limping, favouring a particular leg, inability to rise, reluctance to jump or even climb stairs.


The Cause Of Arthritis:

There are 10 major classifications of arthritis and joint disease:

Ligament, tendon, or muscle disease 

Fractures involving the joint

Hip dysplasia

Congenital disorders

Luxated Patella

Obesity and Hormonal Disease

Metabolic Disorders


Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Degenerative Joint Disease


Managing Arthritis: 

Medical treatment has greatly improved in the last several years and arthritis can be managed with various drugs and supplements that are now readily available. Good diet, exercise, supplements, anti-inflammatories, and pain relief are able to decrease the progression of degenerative joint disease. Medical management is necessary for both young dogs with clinical signs and for older dogs with chronic osteoarthritis. Because of the high cost involved with many surgeries, medical management is the preferred method of treatment.


Weight Management:

Weight management is the first thing that must be addressed. All surgical and medical procedures will be more beneficial if the animal is not overweight. A weight loss followed by a weight maintenance program must be developed.



Exercise is the next important step. Exercise that provides for good range of motion and muscle building and limits wear and tear on the joints is the best. Leash walking, swimming, walking on treadmills, slow jogging, and going up and down stairs are excellent low-impact exercises. An exercise program should be individualized for each dog based on the severity of the osteoarthritis, weight, and condition of the dog. In general, too little exercise can be more detrimental than too much, however the wrong type of exercise can cause harm.



Keeping the pet warm with blankets, coats and away from drafts can help the aid of arthritis pain.


Daily Activities

Going up and down stairs is often difficult for arthritic pets. Many people build or buy ramps, especially on stairs leading to the outside, to make it easier for the dogs to go outside. Larger breed dogs can benefit from elevated food and water bowls.


Oral Disease-Modifying Osteoarthritis Agent:


Glucosamine is the major sugar found in glycosaminoglycans and hyaluronate, which are important building blocks in the synthesis and maintenance of cartilage in the joint. Glycosaminoglycan inhibits damaging enzymes in the joint. When a dog has hip dysplasia or other osteoarthritis, the joint wears abnormally and the protective cartilage on the surface of the joint gets worn away and the resultant bone-to-bone contact creates pain. Glucosamine gives the cartilage-forming cells (chondrocytes) the building blocks they need to synthesize new cartilage and to repair the existing damaged cartilage. Glucosamine is not a painkiller; it works by healing the damage that has been done. Glucosamine take at least six weeks to begin to heal the cartilage and most animals need to be maintained on these products the rest of their lives to prevent further cartilage breakdown.


Oral Supplements

Omega-3 Fatty Acids 

Omega 3 Fatty Acids are often used for the management of the signs of atopy (allergies) in dogs. Because of their anti-inflammatory properties, many are advocating their use in dogs with osteoarthritis.


Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Carprofen and Meloxicam 

These are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) developed for use in dogs with osteoarthritis. They are strong and effective painkillers and anti-inflammatory agents. They are prescription products and because of potential side effects, careful monitoring of dosing must be maintained. Periodic blood tests must be done on animals that are on this product to monitor any developing liver and/or kidney problems resulting from their use. These products are often used initially with glucosamine therapy and then as the glucosamine product begins to work, the NSAID dose may be reduced or even eliminated.




Corticosteroids have been used for years to treat the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. Corticosteroids act as a potent anti-inflammatory, however many side effects develop due to its use. Because of these side effects, corticosteroids are generally only used in older animals with flare-ups where all other pain control products have failed. Vets will use corticosteroids as a last resort, preferring to exhaust all other methods initially. 


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