Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Osteoarthritis is a progressive, degenerative condition that worsens over time in dogs. Although there is no cure for this painful condition, symptoms can often be effectively managed to help your dog maintain a good quality of life as they age.

What is Osteoarthritis in Dogs?

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in dogs, and it is a degenerative joint disorder that causes the cartilage that cushions the joints to deteriorate over time. Approximately a quarter of all dogs are thought to be affected by this painful condition at some point in their lives.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

The painful joints caused by osteoarthritis can lead to several tell-tail signs that your dog may be suffering from osteoarthritis. The main symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs include:

  • Pain, stillness, and lameness
  • Swollen joints
  • Refusal to jump, use stairs, or run
  • Reluctance to stand up 
  • Restlessness, can't get comfortable
  • Lack of enthusiasm for walks or play
  • Whining, irritability, or aggression
  • Licking joints
  • Slow shuffling walk

Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

While osteoarthritis can develop in any breed of dog, it is most often diagnosed in larger breeds such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labs, and Rottweilers. 

The exact cause of osteoarthritis is unknown, but it is frequently linked to underlying issues such as a traumatic injury, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cruciate injury, or shoulder or knee dislocations.

Obesity is also associated with osteoarthritis. Excess weight can put unnecessary stress on the dog's joints leading to pain, and degenerative joint issues over time.

Treatment to Help Dogs With Osteoarthritis Live More Comfortably

In dogs, osteoarthritis cannot be reversed or cured. Treatment for this condition reduces the pain caused by the affected joints, slows the degeneration of the affected joints, and allows your dog to live more comfortably and enjoy a good quality of life as they age. To achieve pain relief and more comfortable mobility, a combination of treatments is frequently used.

Painkillers / Pain Meds

Painkillers such as anti-inflammatories are often prescribed as a long-term treatment for managing your dog’s joint pain and helping to reduce swelling. 


Exercise is essential for dogs with osteoarthritis, even though it may seem counterintuitive. When your dog is first diagnosed with osteoarthritis, it may be necessary to reduce exercise, but staying active will help your dog maintain fitness, achieve a healthy weight, relieve joint pain, and have a better quality of life.

The amount of exercise you give your dog will depend on his overall health and the severity of his osteoarthritis. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on the best level of exercise for your dog's osteoarthritis symptoms.


Weight management will be an important part of your dog's osteoarthritis treatment. Weight gain puts more strain on your dog's joints, so maintaining a healthy weight will help to alleviate the pain caused by the condition.

If your dog's exercise level has decreased, your vet may recommend a calorie-reduced diet or a diet supplemented with chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids to help alleviate symptoms.

Physical Rehabilitation (Physio for Dogs)

Physiotherapy for dogs is known as physical rehabilitation, and it can include a variety of treatments aimed at reducing pain while also strengthening and improving muscle tone, maintaining range of motion, and working to improve overall endurance.

Therapeutic exercises, therapeutic ultrasound, cold laser therapy, regenerative therapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, underwater treadmill or pool therapy, and massage may be used in combination with traditional treatments like anti-inflammatory medications for dogs with osteoarthritis.

Speak to your vet to find a qualified Canine Physical Rehabilitation practitioner in your area


When joint damage is severe, your veterinarian may suggest surgery to help relieve symptoms and slow the progression of your dog's osteoarthritis. The affected joints may be replaced or bone fragments that are aggravating the condition may be removed.

The prognosis for Dogs with Osteoarthritis

Even with osteoarthritis, your dog may be able to live a long and happy life with effective long-term pain management and a little extra care. Speak with your veterinarian to learn more about how to manage your dog's joint pain and how you can help your dog live a long and happy life.

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.

Contact our Sharpsburg vets today to learn more about treatment for your dog's osteoarthritis.