Arthritis in dogs

How can you tell if your dog has arthritis? And what can you do about it if they have? Here’s what to know about arthritis in dogs and how to treat it. 

How can you tell if your dog has arthritis? And what can you do about it if they have? Here’s what to know about arthritis in dogs and how to treat it. 

Mubina Pirmohamed
Head of Pet Insurance
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Posted 21 SEPTEMBER 2020

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is the term used to describe inflammation of the joints. In the same way that lots of people get arthritis, so do a lot of dogs.

Arthritis happens when the cartilage covering a dog’s joints gets damaged, causing the bones to rub together. New bone then forms, causing the joints to stiffen up and stop moving properly. Unfortunately, the condition often comes with a lot of pain. 

What are the signs my dog has arthritis?

Arthritis in dogs isn’t obvious to the untrained eye – affected joints don’t look particularly swollen or unusual. To diagnose the condition, you’ll need to keep an eye on your pet’s behaviour.

Arthritis symptoms often get worse in cold or damp weather, so it’s worth keeping an extra-close eye on your four-legged friend during cold snaps. You may also find that your dog is reluctant to go out in the morning, but that symptoms improve after they’ve had a run.

Here are a few arthritis signs to look out for: 

  • stiffness or lameness/limping
  • loss of interest in walks
  • excessive licking of an area near a joint – this might be made obvious by patches of saliva-staining 
  • unusual slowness
  • low energy
  • wanting to be left alone

If your dog’s exhibiting signs of the above, it’s worth taking them to the vet for a thorough check-up. 

How are dogs diagnosed with arthritis?

If you suspect your dog may have arthritis, perhaps because they’re less keen on exercising or appear to be suffering from discomfort or stiffness, it’s important that you get your dog checked. Your vet will test your dog’s joint flexibility, detecting which joints may be affected. If they’re led to believe the problem may be arthritis, they’ll usually then suggest x-rays to confirm the issue.

What causes arthritis in dogs?

As with humans, arthritis in dogs is usually something that comes with age. But it can affect younger dogs whose bones and joints perhaps haven’t developed properly. Trauma, such as fractures or ligament damage, can also make arthritis worse.  

What can I do to prevent my dog getting arthritis?

To help prevent your dog from developing arthritis, they need to be well looked after. Keep them on a good diet, with the correct food for their age. Supplements may also help as a preventative method. You should also keep your dog active, with regular exercise helping to maintain your dog’s health and strength. This will also help maintain a healthy weight, which will put less strain on their joints.

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How is arthritis in dogs treated?

The good news is that there are lots of different treatments available for dogs with arthritis, and your vet will choose the one that’s right for your pet. The most common treatments are:

  • Supplements - adding nutritional supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, to your dog’s food can help support healthy joint function.  
  • Cartilage protectors - designed to reduce cartilage damage and prevent it from getting worse. They can also help reduce inflammation.  
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs - NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are great for reducing painful inflammation, but can have side effects.  
  • Hydrotherapy – this a treatment option which allows your dog to perform exercises which put little strain or pressure on their joints.
  • Surgery – in the most severe cases of arthritis, surgery may be the best option. This will usually require a specialist vet hospital.

It can be best to combine treatments to get the most effective pain and inflammation reduction. Ask your vet which course of action they think will work best for your dog.  

What can I do to help my dog with arthritis?

You can’t work miracles, but you can take measures to manage your dog’s arthritis at home, such as:  

  • Manage your dog’s weight and exercise
    Being overweight and unfit can make arthritis worse as it puts extra stress on the joints. So the first thing to do is make sure your dog’s getting the right diet and adequate exercise. 
  • Adapt your dog’s home environment
    Find them a comfortable orthopaedic bed and try to prevent them from climbing a lot of stairs – a baby gate can be a good deterrent. Covering tiled or wooden floors with rugs can also help prevent slips and falls, as well as providing a little extra shock absorption.  
  • Avoid over-exercising your dog
    Don’t take your dog for excessively long walks or make them walk over tricky terrain, such as pebbly beaches or steep rocks.However, it’s important to keep them moving, so shorter but more regular walks may be the best option.

  • Massage your dog
    Particularly around the time they exercise, massaging your dog can help relieve soreness and stimulate blood flow to the muscles. There are specialists available, if you’re not confident in doing it yourself, but there are techniques you may be able to learn yourself.

  • Medication and supplements
    Medication can vary from simple pain relief, which can vary significantly in strength, to injections which can aid their body’s ability to repair and rebuild cartilage. There are also many supplements that are specific to maintaining healthy joints. As always, it’s best to consult with your vet before giving your dog any medication or beginning a supplement routine.

What supplements are available for my dog?

There are a wide variety of supplement options for dogs suffering with arthritis. The most common include the likes of glucosamine, chondroitin and green lipped mussel, but there are also vitamins such as vitamin C and E which can be good for your dog’s joints.

While it’s always best to consult with your vet, supplements can usually be taken alongside any medication.

You can find more information on dog supplements from the PDSA here.

Does my pet insurance cover my dog’s arthritis? 

Not all pet insurance policies cover long-term conditions. So if you want to make sure your dog’s covered for a condition like arthritis, you’ll need to buy the correct level of cover. As always, pet insurance only covers new conditions, so it’s harder to get pet insurance for pre-existing conditions. Even if they do cover pre-existing conditions, it’s worth double-checking the small print for any exclusions and cover limits.

Is there a cure for arthritis in dogs? 

Sadly, there’s no cure for arthritis in dogs – and, just as with humans, the condition is likely to get worse over time. However, your vet can help you maintain, and even improve, your dog’s symptoms and minimise any pain they might experience. 

What is the outlook if my dog gets arthritis?

The sooner your dog is diagnosed, the more you can do to help. Arthritis is a chronic condition that gradually worsens as your dog gets older, but it can definitely be managed to maintain a happy and otherwise healthy life for them. You can find plenty of supplements or medication to help treat the condition, as well as treatments or even procedures for more severe cases.

It’s always best to speak to your vet if you have any questions or concerns. As the experts, they’ll be able to give you the best possible advice to look after your furry friend.

Do I have to tell my pet insurance provider my dog has arthritis?

Yes, as soon as your dog has been diagnosed, you should tell your pet insurance provider. Arthritis is a chronic condition, likely one that your pet will live with for the rest of their life, so this will likely affect your cover. However, if your insurance covers arthritis (not all policies do) then you may be able to claim for treatment.

Should I tell my new provider about my dog’s arthritis?

Generally, when switching providers, new pet insurance policies don’t cover pre-existing conditions. However, there are specialist policies that do. Some of these ask you to declare pre-existing conditions, whereas others provide a limited amount of cover for it. If you’ve been asked to declare existing conditions, you should, or it could invalidate your insurance.

If you already have an insurance policy and you’re having to pay for vet bills for arthritis diagnosis or treatment, it’s worth checking your policy and seeing if you have the right level of cover to make a claim on it as pet insurance policies are designed to help cover the costs for vet bills.

Where can I find pet insurance?

At Compare the Market, we’ll clearly show you pet insurance policies that cover conditions for up to 12 months or less and those that don't have a time restriction, so you can find the right policy for you and your pet. Get peace of mind today and start a quote.

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