Recognizing the Signs of Canine Osteoarthritis

In this article, we'll tell you everything you need to know about canine osteoarthritis, and what you can do to help your pet.
Recognizing the Signs of Canine Osteoarthritis
Francisco María García

Written and verified by the lawyer Francisco María García.

Last update: 22 December, 2022

Canine osteoarthritis is a chronic disease which affects the joints, causing a progressive loss of mobility. Despite often being asymptomatic, this can be a very painful illness. As a result, owners need to be able to recognize subtle signs and changes in their pets.


Joints are delicate structures, made up of cartilage. They’re very flexible, and are found at the join between bones. Joints increase the mobility of the rigid skeletal system. Without joints, bones would break more easily, ultimately destroying motor function.

In a young, healthy body, cartilage is thick, flexible and lubricated by synovial fluid. This fluid protects the bones and joints from the general wear and tear of daily use.

A Labrador.

Over the years, joint structures start to deteriorate and lose their flexibility. Arthritis is one of the most common joint conditions, affecting both dogs and humans.

Learning to recognize the early signs of arthritis can help your pet lead a healthier and more active life.

What is canine osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the name given to the degenerative changes that affect the joints. This disease is common all over the world, affecting many species of domestic and wild mammals.

Arthritis can be mild, moderate or severe, and is a progressive, long-term disease. This means that an animal suffering from arthritis will have to live with the condition for the rest of its life.

Although it isn’t considered fatal, it can be a very painful disease that makes even basic daily tasks, such as walking or playing, difficult. Loss of mobility can have a huge impact on the animal’s physical and psychological health, posing a significant threat to their well-being.

A dog that can’t exercise or have fun can quickly become sedentary. This often leads to obesity, depression and cardiac and/or respiratory issues.

Causes of osteoarthritis

Aging is the leading cause of canine osteoarthritis. Over the years, natural erosion of the cartilage causes the deterioration of joint function. As such, the majority of cases of advanced arthritis are found in older dogs.

Elbow or hip dysplasia can accelerate degeneration of the joints. When it comes to arthritis, genetics plays an important factor. In fact, genetic predisposition is considered to be one of the main causes of arthritis in dogs.

Obesity is another important risk factor. The body can only support and absorb a limited amount of weight. Excessive weight means the joints have to work harder to reduce damage to the skeletal structure. This causes the cartilage to deteriorate more quickly.

Are some breeds more prone to osteoarthritis than others?

Studies have shown that larger breeds, such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Labradors are more prone to developing arthritis and hip dysplasia. This genetic predisposition also manifests itself in the accelerated progression of the disease.

Physical activity and diet are particularly important when it comes to these breeds. While dietary supplements can help improve joint health, excessive calorie intake can lead to weight gain, increasing the risk of arthritis and dysplasia.

Symptoms of canine osteoarthritis

Dogs with osteoarthritis often experience changes in their physical movements and mobility. They may walk more stiffly, limp or hunch.

As the disease develops, pain increases. As a result, the animal will often start to avoid doing normal everyday activities. They may refuse to walk up or down stairs, or be less eager to play or go out on walks.

A man and his dog.

In more advanced cases, the pain can be so severe that the animal may suffer from symptoms such as loss of appetite or fatigue. Some dogs can also exhibit aggressive behavior.

It’s important to consult with a vet as soon as you notice any of these symptoms. Early treatment can help reduce pain and improve the animal’s well-being.

Treating canine osteoarthritis

There is no cure for canine osteoarthritis. Like all degenerative conditions, treatment can only slow down the progression of the disease and help manage pain. As always, your vet is the only person qualified to prescribe the right treatment for your pet.

We would also recommend taking some simple steps to improve your pet’s quality of life. Hot compresses on the affected areas, gentle massages and low impact exercise can all be effective.

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The contents of My Animals are written for informational purposes. They can't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.