Dog Arthritis & Joint Conditions

A Guide to Hip & Joint Conditions & Treatments for Dogs

Does your dog struggle with pain, stiffness, or hesitate to play the way they once did?

Does your dog struggle with pain, stiffness, or hesitate to play the way they once did? Dog arthritis, hip dysplasia, and related issues become more likely as our pets age, limiting mobility and putting a strain on their overall quality of life. As a pet parent, what can you do to help?

No one wants to see their dog limping or struggling with things that used to be easy–running, jumping, playing–or dealing with the persistent pain that seems to come with the territory of aging. We’ll discuss how to assess symptoms and severity, risk factors, and treatment options for dog arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other physical conditions affecting our sweet senior pets (and younger dogs, too).

What Is Dog Arthritis?

Joints are where our dog’s bones meet and move together, and can be referred to as “synovial joints” (which include ball-and-socket, sliding, and hinge joints). Joints enable range of motion and flexibility, allowing your dog to move and maneuver while playing, running, and engaging in other activities. Arthritis in dogs is caused by inflammation of joints such as the knees, elbows, spine, paws, and hips. 

Joint inflammation occurs when the cartilage that cushions each joint begins to change or deteriorate, leading to a higher risk of bone-on-bone contact when a dog moves–along with it come the painful, telltale symptoms of arthritis. Dog arthritis is a disease that affects older dogs, obese dogs, overworked dogs, and dogs with immune or metabolic disorders like diabetes.

Canine Arthritis and Osteoarthritis joint inflammation, deterioration of joint in dogs marked red

When it comes to dog hip and joint issues, causes come down to either abnormal conditions in the joints or mechanical overuse. The most typical type of dog arthritis is a osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear in a dog’s joints, whereas other types of arthritis can be linked to food allergies, disease, injury, or infection.

So how is arthritis related to another dog joint issue known as hip dysplasia? Dysplasia occurs when a joint is displaced from its socket, and is considered a genetic condition that can be made worse by a dog’s lifestyle or certain activities.

Unfortunately, hip dysplasia can’t be avoided for some dog breeds–and it has no known cure. So what can pet parents do to help? To prevent symptoms from worsening, help your dog maintain a healthy diet, promote regular exercise and weight management. Serious dog hip injuries can occur from untreated or worsening dysplasia, leading to arthritis in the hip joints and in extreme cases, lameness of the hind legs.

Which Dog Breeds Are Most At Risk for Arthritis and Hip Dysplasia?

Which Dog Breeds Are Most At Risk for Arthritis?
Arthritis is something that only happens to older dogs, right? Unfortunately, joint-related diseases can affect dogs of any age, size, or breed. But if you’re curious about which breeds are historically prone to arthritis, you’ll want to take note before making plans for your pet!

When it comes to a higher risk of arthritis, dog breeds with higher risk factors include:

German Shepherd Arthritis

German Shepherd dogs suffer from both arthritis and hip dysplasia, which can create or worsen arthritic conditions in their joints. Osteoarthritis is especially common in this working breed.

Labrador Retriever Arthritis

The larger body type and general athleticism can speed up symptoms of arthritis in this notably friendly breed.

Springer Spaniel Arthritis

The energetic athleticism in Springer Spaniels is likely the cause of most cases of arthritis in this famously active breed.

Australian Cattle Dog Arthritis

This working breed is prone to osteoarthritis, thanks to a history of prolonged wear and tear on joints in a lifetime of running and herding.

Other breeds at risk for arthritis:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Rottweilers
  • Old English Sheepdogs
  • Newfoundlands
  • Pomeranians
Which Dog Breeds Are Most At Risk for Hip Dysplasia?
The top dog breeds prone to hip dysplasia are usually larger animals like German Shepherds and Great Danes, but that doesn’t mean small breeds are in the clear! From Great Danes to Pomeranians, here’s a list of the top dog breeds with a risk of hip dysplasia:

German Shepherd Hip Dysplasia

When you think about hip injuries in dogs, German Shepherds often come to mind. Nearly 20% of this breed will experience hip dysplasia because of certain genetic factors like size and growth rate. 

Golden Retriever Hip Dysplasia

About 10% of Golden Retrievers will develop hip dysplasia throughout their lifetime–but the risk is higher if your Golden has an imbalanced diet or has experienced injury or overexertion.

Great Dane Hip Dysplasia

As one of the world’s largest dogs and a member of the exclusive “giant breed” category, it’s probably not surprising to hear that over 10% of Great Danes will inherit hip dysplasia. Keep in mind that a balanced diet and breed-specific exercise can lower these odds.

Other breeds at risk for hip dysplasia:

  • Saint Bernards
  • Pugs
  • Neopolitan Mastiffs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Basset Hounds
  • Bloodhounds

To prevent dog hip injuries, exercise is an important component for all dog breeds–especially for larger breeds. Keeping up their muscle mass is what helps them carry around those heavy skeletons! Without that strength, bigger dogs will struggle even more with the symptoms of joint disease.

Signs & Symptoms of Dog Joint Pain

When a dog’s joint health is impaired, the symptoms will be painfully obvious (especially for your pet). All joint diseases in dogs will have some overlapping or similar symptoms, so it’s important to make note of anything that seems especially ‘off’ for your dog–including how long symptoms have been happening and how often.

Symptoms of arthritis in dogs can include: 

  • Licking affected joints in an attempt to ease pain or discomfort

  • Irritability or aggression toward people or animals who come too close to arthritic areas

  • Dog is limping or has a noticeably slower gait

  • Loss of appetite or fever (specifically in rheumatoid arthritis)

  • Muscle atrophy, quivering, and/or weakness

  • Dog’s legs are swollen or tender to the touch

Common symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs can include:

  • Swaying hips or hind legs while walking

  • Narrow stance of the hind legs (from behind, legs look abnormally close together)

  • Avoidance of certain activities like climbing stairs or jumping

  • “Bunny hopping” with hind legs

  • Lameness of hind legs

  • Dog’s hips sagging or dropping

We know, it’s tough to see your beloved friend struggling with dog arthritis symptoms–and it’s even worse when you feel powerless to help them. After noticing these behaviors in your dog, make a call to your vet for a more comprehensive diagnosis. Tell them about any new behaviors you’ve noticed in your pet, like “my dog is limping” or “my dog can’t jump onto the couch anymore.” Even if you’re unsure about the severity of your dog’s symptoms, it’s best to give your vet the full picture!

Dog Arthritis and Hip Dysplasia Complications and Diagnoses

Seeing your dog struggle to walk or hearing them yelp in pain is nothing short of heartbreaking. What if arthritis symptoms get so bad that your dog can’t get out of bed? Maybe your dog can’t sit comfortably, or your dog is losing mobility–either way, letting them suffer isn’t an option. If arthritis symptoms are present, it’s time to talk to your veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment options. 

So what could be the cause of your dog’s arthritis pain? There are a few potential diagnoses: 

Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Dog osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease caused by mechanical wear and tear of joints–in essence when the joints have been used for a prolonged period (often, as a normal process of aging). Osteoarthritis can also happen in more acute cases when a younger dog has been overexerted regularly for an extended period. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis in Dogs

Rheumatoid arthritis is common in dogs and is usually a chronic (long-term) condition. An overreactive immune response causes a dog’s body to attack and destroy its proteins, specifically targeting and degrading the cartilage that cushions the joints. Over time, the cartilage becomes so damaged that arthritis symptoms begin. Lifelong arthritis medication for dogs may be prescribed for ongoing pain management.

Septic Arthritis in Dogs

Septic arthritis can happen to dogs with fungal or bacterial infections that reach their joints, which can happen after a traumatic injury that exposes joints to infection. Septic arthritis is an acute condition that can usually be treated by antibiotics alone, but more persistent cases may require surgical opening of the joint to remove affected tissue.

Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip dysplasia happens while dogs are growing. The ball-shaped end of the femur (thigh bone) is supposed to grow at the same rate as the hip socket joint, allowing the two parts of the joint to fit together. 

When a dog genetically inherits hip dysplasia, the two parts of the joint grow at different rates, causing displacement and dysfunction of the hip joint–the resulting symptoms are moderate to severe pain and worsening skeletal function. When left untreated, hip dysplasia can lead to arthritis and other more serious injuries. 

When treating advanced dog hip dysplasia surgery costs can be a concern–making early detection and treatment important! 

Common Hip & Joint Treatments & Relief

Pet parents often ask their vets, “What can I give my dog for arthritis symptoms?” And they’ll also wonder how to prevent arthritis in dogs completely, which isn’t always possible depending on the breed or your dog’s genetic makeup. For those wondering how to prevent hip dysplasia in dogs, the prognosis is the same.

However, not all hope is lost! The best medicine for keeping your pet comfortable–and preventing some forms of joint disease–is a steady combination of healthy lifestyle choices. Make sure your dog eats a balanced diet, maintains a healthy weight, and gets breed and age-appropriate exercise every day. 

There are lots of options for hip and joint support for dogs! But if your pet is already suffering from arthritis pain and you’re wondering how to help a dog with arthritis at home, try one of these treatment options: 

Physical Therapy for Dog Arthritis

Exercise might seem like the last thing you’d want to subject your arthritic to, but it’s one of the best treatments! Physical therapy helps to lubricate the joint with synovial fluid and strengthens the muscle tissue surrounding the joint. 

Here are some low-impact exercises that are safe for dogs with arthritis or hip dysplasia:

  • Swimming in warm water

  • Underwater treadmills

  • Walking on softer surfaces like dirt or grass, alternating between flat and uneven terrain to strengthen muscles of the feet, legs, and hips

  • Encouraging them to sit, then stand and come toward you, then give them a healthy treat or supplement; continue this a few times to help exercise the hip joints

  • Passive motion exercises (while a dog is sitting or standing, gently hold and extend their limbs to strengthen the joint and muscles)

For dogs with severe or end-stage arthritis or hip dysplasia, make sure their pain is controlled before they begin any exercise. Bone-on-bone contact is extremely painful for your dog, so don’t engage them in exercise–even beneficial exercise–until you’ve addressed their pain. 

If any of these exercises cause your dog pain–or require any force on your part–cease exercise immediately. Try the exercise again on a different day, and discuss any ongoing obstacles with your veterinarian.

Massage for Dog Arthritis

Gentle massaging of your dog’s muscles around the affected joints can help encourage blood flow, flexibility, and movement of synovial joint fluid. You can apply heat to certain areas to help loosen stiff muscles and joints but stop immediately if your dog shows any signs of irritation or discomfort.

Weight Management for Dog Arthritis

Weight management is important for both prevention and treatment of your dog’s arthritis. If your dog already has arthritis, take any necessary steps to get them to a healthy weight for their age and breed. The more excess weight they have on arthritic joints, the more they’ll struggle.

Accessibility for Dogs with Arthritis

Does your house have a lot of steps? Slippery wood floors? High sleep surfaces? Minimize your dog’s arthritis symptoms by making your home more accessible for their limited mobility. Add rugs for better grip to avoid sliding and falling, and a dog ramp where needed to give your pup a leg up. Place their food and water bowls on a raised surface so they won’t have to bend lower than chest height, and of course, make sure they have a soft sleeping surface where they can rest. 

For help finding the best hip and joint supplement for dogs’ daily health–or even the best arthritis supplement for dogs already suffering from arthritis–look for daily supplements or talk with your veterinarian to get their input.

CBD Oil for Dog Arthritis

CBD oil is considered an “alternative therapy” that has a decent track record for pet pain management! There are topical CBD balms and salves you could massage onto your dog’s pain areas or CBD oil that can be ingested (with special attention to dosage) for pain relief. Wondering how much CBD oil to use for a dog with arthritis? Follow the instructions on the CBD manufacturer’s packaging, but feel free to start low and slow if it’s your dog’s first time using CBD. 

Pain Medication for Dog Arthritis

When looking to treat your dog’s arthritis, medicine is also an option–NSAID anti-inflammatories are often used to treat pain from joint issues. Talk to your veterinarian if you think your pet needs more advanced support for their symptoms. If you’re looking for the best arthritis medicine for dogs, talk to your vet about your dog’s unique health history to find out which medication will suit their needs.

At-Home Tips for Preventing Issues with Dog Arthritis and Joint Issues

Weight Management to Prevent Dog Arthritis

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight–especially if you have high-risk breed–is the number one safeguard against joint issues. The more weight your dog carries around, the more stress will be put on their joints, especially as they age.

Exercise for Dog Joint Health

Getting your dog moving daily is a great way to keep their joints lubricated and the musculature surrounding the joints strong. You can find your dog’s sweet spot anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours per day. Just be sure to watch for signs of fatigue, as overexerting your pet won’t do their joints any favors, either. 

Contacting Your Vet if Joint Pain Worsens

Many pet parents ask themselves, “Is my dog’s joint condition an emergency?” and worry, “how long can a dog live with hip dysplasia?” If you find that your dog’s condition is deteriorating quickly–or if your pet is in pain–don’t wait to call your vet. Make a note of symptoms, and trust your gut!

Not sure when to call the vet for dog hip problems or arthritis? These signs could mean your dog needs immediate veterinary treatment:
  • Vomiting or loss of appetite

  • Fever

  • Malaise (unusual low energy)

  • Inability to stand up from a sitting position

  • Inability to stand for longer than a few minutes

  • Constant yelping or signs of severe pain

For senior dogs with arthritis or similar joint issues, pet parents might be less likely to call the vet, thinking that stiffness and worsening mobility are normal for dogs of a certain age. However, if symptoms of arthritis and associated pain are overlooked, your senior dog could face irreversible damage to their legs, spine, hips, or other at-risk areas. This makes it important for dogs of all ages to be seen by a veterinarian for arthritis concerns.

The good news is that even for a dog with arthritis or hip dysplasia, it’s still possible for them to live a long, healthy life! Finding the right dog arthritis treatment will depend on your pet’s symptoms and severity–but no arthritis should be ignored. As always, take notes on how your dog is behaving–physically and emotionally–and present these findings to your vet to help find the best solution for your dog’s arthritis. Together, you can help your dog live a more active, comfortable life!

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