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Managing Arthritis in Dogs

Abnormal changes in a joint can lead to arthritis in dogs. While this disorder is common, it can be difficult to detect whether your canine friend only displays subtle signs. It may also be challenging to manage. Our Turlock vets share insights into symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of arthritis in dogs. 

What is Arthritis in Dogs?

Arthritis refers to abnormal changes in a joint. These can arise from joint tissue destruction after infection, congenital defects that impact structural architecture, and stress and trauma to a joint's surfaces and their supporting structures. 

This condition may co-occur with others such as hip dysplasia. While cartilage erodes and becomes inflamed, joints and their elastic tissues swell, and blood vessels to and from the joints dilate. This is a terrible cycle, as it worsens swelling. 

Calcium deposits can then build up and nerve endings start to send pain signals to the brain. Unfortunately, joint degeneration leads to more restricted motion, which can trigger your pooch to use their joint less. This cycle continues as reduced use leads to weight gain, and mobility is limited even further with continued disuse. 

While any joint in a dog's body can be impacted by arthritis, the most commonly affected joints are the wrists, elbows, knees, lower back and hips. 

Pet acupuncture, surgery, medication and other measures may be taken to manage arthritis in your four-legged friend. 

Types of Arthritis

There are three common types of arthritis in dogs:


When cartilage protecting the bones of the joint is destroyed, osteoarthritis can develop. As a result, cushioning is lost, which leads to friction between bones and decreased mobility in the joints that are impacted.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body's immune system attacks the body's own tissues. This attack is general in nature and impacts the joint as well as many other parts of the body. The condition causes damage to the joint lining and cartilage. Eventually, opposing bones of the joint erode. 

Inflammatory Joint Disease

A less common type of arthritis is inflammatory joint disease, which is typically caused by fungal or bacterial infection, tick-borne disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Defects in a dog's immune system, which may be hereditary, can also cause this disease. 

Signs & Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs

Our canine companions have strong survival instincts and may not display clear, outward symptoms of pain or discomfort if their joints are bothering them. Veterinarians are trained to check for less obvious signs of early-stage arthritis and develop solutions for pain management. 

Look for subtle symptoms such as:

  • Limping after rest
  • Reduced interest in playing or reluctance to climb stairs, walk or run
  • Stiffness or lameness
  • Shift in attitude or change in alertness
  • Irritability 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Weight gain 
  • Sleeping more 
  • Seeming unsure about jumping onto the bed or couch 
  • Being overly cautious when climbing inclines such as stairs 
  • Less excitement when greeting their people 
  • Sleeping more 
  • Unusual urinating in the house

Owners may notice some of these symptoms or their veterinarians may spot them, perhaps during a conversation when you bring your dog in for a routine exam. A dog may not cry out or limp due to pain unless they are in later stages of long-term joint degeneration. 

Common Causes of Arthritis in Dogs

Factors that may contribute to arthritis developing in a dog include aging, congenital joint disorders, repeated joint trauma, increased stress in joints for working and athletic dogs due activity levels, and metabolic diseases including diabetes, osteochondrosis, and hip and elbow dysplasia. 

How Dogs are Diagnosed with Arthritis

Your vet will perform a physical exam to check joint areas for pain if arthritis is suspected to be causing your dog's symptoms. X-rays and blood tests may be ordered to rule out other diseases or illnesses such as bone cancer. Diagnostic tests will reveal how severely the arthritis has impacted your dog's joints and help guide treatment planning. 

How Arthritis is Treated in Dogs

Since each dog's health status and diagnosis differ from the next, there's no set-in-stone answer to how to manage arthritis in dogs. That said, it's important to know the condition can't be cured.

However, the good news is there are treatment avenues to manage pain and help your dog ease back into everyday activities. While your pooch's daily lifestyle may look somewhat different, your four-legged friend can still live a happy, long life with suitable treatment.

Veterinary Acupuncture

This treatment comes to use from traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture for dogs is sometimes used to help reduce pain and inflammation that accompany arthritis.

This procedure is similar to cat acupuncture. Tiny needles are inserted into the body at precise points (meridians) where nerves and blood vessels converge. This supports the nervous system, promoting circulation and enhancing the body's healing abilities. To learn more about dog and veterinary acupuncture near Turlock, contact us

Accessibility Aids 

From buying a soft pet bed to installing pet steps or ramps to help your four-legged friend get to their favorite spots in the house, adding carpeting and physically assisting your dog by carrying them upstairs or lifting them into your vehicle, there are some things you can do in your home to make getting around easier for your pet.

Exercise & Weight Loss 

Obese or overweight dogs will be especially sensitive to joint pain due to arthritis. Your vet may be able to recommend a safe weight loss program that covers diet and exercise customized to what your dog is able to tolerate. 

For dogs who are at a healthy weight, the goal may be to make exercise less uncomfortable and more fun. You might also need to adjust your dog's caloric intake and avoid giving extra treats and goodies.

Prescription Medication

Painkillers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are often prescribed as a long-term treatment to help manage your dog's joint pain and reduce swelling. Discuss potential side effects with your vet and what to do if they appear.

Natural Supplements

Natural supplements such as chondroitin and glucosamine, which help to rebuild cartilage and support joint health, may help canine arthritis. Always speak with your vet about any supplements before providing them to your dog.


If joint damage is especially severe, surgery may be recommended to help alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of your dog's arthritis. During the surgical procedure, affected joints may be replaced or bone fragments aggravating the condition removed.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you suspect your dog may be suffering from arthritis or issues with their joints, contact us to book an appointment today. At Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital, we provide veterinary acupuncture treatment to alleviate pain and supplement other rehabilitative therapies.

New Patients Welcome

Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Turlock companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

(209) 634-0023

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