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
Insurance expert
5
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?
Posted 21 SEPTEMBER 2020 Last Updated 18 FEBRUARY 2022

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 can 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. The condition, unfortunately, 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’s 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 shows any 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, it’s important that you get them checked. Your vet will test your dog’s joint flexibility to determine which joints may be affected. A follow-up x-ray should confirm it.

What causes arthritis in dogs?

As with humans, arthritis in dogs is usually something that comes with age. But it can also affect younger dogs whose bones and joints perhaps haven’t developed properly. For example, hip dysplasia - a painful condition caused by the ball and socket of the hip joints not fitting together properly - can develop at around five to six months old. This can lead to swelling, stiffness and eventually arthritis.  

Trauma, such as fractures or ligament damage, can also make arthritis worse, as can infections within the joint. 

Genetics could also be to blame. Conditions like hip or elbow dysplasia are often inherited from the parents. Because of this, certain pure breeds have a higher risk of developing arthritis. These include:

What can I do to prevent my dog getting arthritis?

There’s a few things you can do to help prevent your dog from developing arthritis: 

  • Keep them on a good diet, with the correct food for their age. 
  • Keep your dog active – regular exercise will help to maintain their health and strength. This will also help maintain a healthy weight, which will put less strain on their joints.
  • Supplements could help as a preventative method. 

Did you know?

While it’s important for dogs to get the right amount of daily exercise, don’t overdo it. Pushing them beyond their limits, especially when they’re puppies, can lead to development and mobility issues. So rather than preventing arthritis, regular over-exercising could end up being the cause. Talk to your vet about the right amount of activity for your dog’s size and breed.

How is arthritis 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 like glucosamine and chondroitin to your dog’s food can help support healthy joint function.  
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs – NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are great for reducing painful inflammation but can have side effects.  
  • Cartilage protector supplements – designed to reduce cartilage damage and prevent it from getting worse. They can also help reduce inflammation.  
  • Hydrotherapy – this gentle treatment option allows your dog to perform exercises on an underwater treadmill without putting 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:  

  • Manage your dog’s weight and exercise - being overweight and unfit can make arthritis worse as it puts extra stress on the joints. So 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. 
  • Use a ramp - this could help your dog climb into the car boot or tackle the garden steps more easily.   
  • 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.
  • Keep your dog warm - always dry your dog after a walk on wet days, and don’t let them stay out in the cold for too long. A heat pad under their bed could provide extra comfort and help ease aching joints, especially during the cold winter months. 
  • Massage your dog - particularly around the time they exercise. This can help relieve soreness and stimulate blood flow to the muscles. There are specialists available if you’re not confident doing it yourself but there are techniques you can learn.
  • Medication and supplements – medication can vary from simple pain relief to injections that can aid their body’s ability to repair and rebuild cartilage. There are also many supplements that are specific to maintaining healthy joints. Be sure to check with your vet before giving your dog any medication or beginning a supplement routine.

Top tip

Don’t be tempted to give your dog leftovers or ‘food scraps’ from the dinner table. As well as contributing to bad eating habits and weight problems, some human foods can be extremely dangerous for our canine friends and may even worsen arthritic symptoms. These include salty, sugary and fatty foods, garlic, onions and chocolate.

What supplements are available for my dog?

There’s a wide variety of supplement options for dogs suffering with arthritis. The most common include the likes of glucosamine, chondroitin and Omega-3. Vitamin C and E can also be good for your dog’s joints.

While it’s always best to check 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. If you want to make sure your dog’s covered for arthritis, you’ll need to buy the correct level of cover.

It can be harder to get pet insurance for pre-existing conditions, as most policies only cover new problems. 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.

Find the right pet insurance

At Compare the Market, we’ll 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.

Start a quote

Frequently asked questions

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 and probably one that your pet will live with for the rest of their life, so this could affect your cover. However, if your insurance covers arthritis (not all policies do), then you may be able to claim for treatment.

If I switch providers, should I tell my new provider about my dog’s arthritis?

You should declare existing conditions if you’ve been asked to or it could invalidate your insurance. Generally, when switching providers, new pet insurance policies won’t cover pre-existing conditions. But there are specialist policies that do, and others that provide a limited amount of cover.

Where can I find out more about canine arthritis?

While it should never be used as a substitute for your vet, Canine Arthritis Management (CAM), an online information portal, offers helpful advice and community support for the day-to-day management of arthritis in dogs. 

Find out more about Canine Arthritis Management (CAM).

Compare pet insurance

Get a pet insurance quote and you could start saving now

Get a quote
Compare pet insurance Get a quote