How to Treat Osteoarthritis in Dogs

How to Treat Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD, RPh
Written by Adam McCown, PharmD

As your dog gets older, you’ll probably start to notice that they move a bit slower than they used to. Just like with their human owners, as our furry friends age they can become stiffer, have difficulty keeping up with younger dogs, and just not be quite as active as they were in their younger years. If you notice your canine having severe problems getting up or moving, or they seem like they are experiencing pain, he or she might be suffering from osteoarthritis.

Signs of Arthritis in Dogs

Arthritis can be difficult to spot in dogs, however the earlier you notice it, the sooner you can treat it and start giving your older pup a better quality of life. What makes it even harder is that many dogs will attempt to hide their pain until it becomes so severe that they simply can’t. For that reason, if you have an animal that is middle aged or older, keep an eye out for these signs of joint pain in dogs:

  •       Stiffness or difficulty standing up
  •       Lameness
  •       Lethargy
  •       Reluctance to play or be active
  •       Weight gain
  •       Irritability or other changes in behavior
  •       Pain when petted or not liking being petted
  •       Difficulty posturing to urinate or defecate
  •       Loss of muscle mass in the limbs and spine

If you consistently notice any of these symptoms in your pup, it’s best to take them to see the vet as soon as you can. They will most likely perform a full physical examination, including palpating your dog’s joints and assessing their range of motion. They may also order X-rays to both rule out other conditions and see the degree of damage to your animal’s joints.

Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Similar to in humans, canine osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease characterized by the progressive and permanent long term deterioration of joint cartilage. Although there is not one primary cause of this condition, typical factors include trauma, abnormal wear on joints and cartilage, or a congenital defect present at birth like an improperly formed hip. Obesity can serve as another factor, because the abnormal weight puts additional stress on joints.

Just “getting old” is not a cause of arthritis in dogs, however, it is almost always a combination of the above factors. As it normally takes time for the joint cartilage to break down, unless the primary cause is trauma, dogs normally have to be around for quite a while before the deterioration causes noticeable problems.

Treating Canine Arthritis

Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition, and so treating it is actually more akin to managing it. With pain medications, joint supplements, and proper diet and exercise, you can give your pup a good quality of life for many years. Taking the proper measures will both decrease your pet’s pain and even slow the development of the disease.

Depending on your specific dog’s condition and overall health, your vet may choose to prescribe joint supplements. These are aimed at reducing inflammation, improving movement, and slowing the progression of joint damage. Glucosamine and chondroitin are two common joint supplement ingredients that are used in both humans and dogs. These supplements work by reducing inflammation, promoting healing, and increasing water retention in the cartilage, which provides more cushioning for the joint.

Meloxicam for dogs is also often used by vets to treat the inflammation, pain, and stiffness that results from osteoarthritis. Additionally, you can try other Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) that are meant for dogs, like carprofen. However, as these types of medications can sometimes have serious long term side effects in animals, you should only use under the direction of a veterinarian or other pet medical professional. You should not give your dog NSAIDs meant for humans, like Ibuprofen.

Weight Management

No matter which treatment option you and your vet choose, having a healthy diet and exercise is critical to managing the condition. Carrying excess weight on damaged joints is both painful and can lead to even more damage and deterioration. Obesity can also make your animal more likely to develop arthritis at an earlier age than they otherwise would.

If your dog is diagnosed with this condition, talk to your vet about the healthy diet options and how much exercise is healthy. If the arthritis is far advanced, then too much exercise may not be a good idea for managing the condition.


Many dogs develop osteoarthritis as they age. The best thing you can do to give them the best quality of life possible is to catch it early, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and follow your vet’s instructions when it comes to supplements and pain medications. If they do prescribe your dog any drugs, remember that you can find anything your pet needs conveniently online at Express Vet Pharmacy.