May 18, 2022

Signs of arthritis

Osteoarthritis(OA) is a chronic degenerative disease of one or many joints. This means it is caused over a period of time (months or years) and gets worse as time goes by. It can affect young dogs too and not every old dog has it.

Inside joints is cartilage covering the ends of the bones and this cushions the stresses put through the joint. Cartilage relies on nutrients found in the joint fluid to maintain its integrity.

Age, trauma, obesity, poor biomechanics (limb alignment), previous joint issues or operations can all disrupt cartilage and joint fluid. Disruption of cartilage leads to increased friction and inflammation in the joints. Inflammation causes pain as it increases pressure in joint, it releases chemicals that heighten nerve sensitivity and in its attempts to clean up the area, it erodes bone & cartilage which then initiates new bone growth in awkward area. This interferes with normal joint movement and causes pain. Eventually, the joint cartilage can wear away to the point that the underlying bone is actually grinding against the adjacent bone. Because such bone is rich in nerve supply, this is a main source of pain in later stage arthritis.

Signs of arthritis

Many owners first notice that their dog seems stiff after vigorous activity or when the dog first gets up after resting for a period of time (for example, upon waking up in the morning). The dog will often warm out of stiffness when beginning an activity, but may refuse to perform strenuous activities altogether. Although most will try and with a bit of excitement their aches may be forgotten until later. Dogs may be reluctant to jump into the car or go down stairs, and may lag behind on walks, or may appear slow to rise. They may also seek warmth and soft, comfortable surfaces, and may lick or chew at the affected joint. Dogs do not normally cry when in pain, so it is important to recognize other signs of OA pain.

What makes it worse

Too much vigorous exercise, or no exercise, or continued obesity has been proven to make the disease progress faster in dogs that already have arthritis. One of the main ways you can help your dog is to control his weight so he/she has a waist and you can feel their ribs and to provide the right amount of the right kind of exercises for your dog – work with your physio to optimise this.

The cure?

There is no cure for arthritis but there are multiple ways of managing the conditions for the short and long term benefit of your dog. Working closely with vets, nutritionists, physiotherapists and hydrotherapists provides a multi-professional approach to be gold standard care. For a helpful map of where to start go to

Helping live with Arthritis better

Every 5% difference you can make in a good way adds to the well-being of your dog. So it’s not all about pain meds and exercises but often includes changes to the home environment. This could include:

1. reduction of slippy surfaces your dog has access to – a slip is painful and slippy floors are hard work for aching joints and muscles;

2. a firm but comfy bed – a bed that is too soft is hard work to get up out of. A big enough bed to stretch out on as being curled up can mean painful uncurling of joints later;

3. not having access to stairs;

4. using ramps or steps or being lifted (careful to your back) to get in and out of vehicle – please still have a harness on your dog to guide them up steps or a ramp into a vehicle as this prevents a slipping accident.

There is equipment out there to help you and your dog including ramps, harnesses, lifting harnesses, rubber booties, mobility aids and support – ask your physio.

Return to Classic Physio main Arthritis page Canine ARthritis