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Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a progressive, degenerative condition in dogs that gradually becomes more severe. While no cure has been discovered for this painful condition, your New York vet may be able to successfully manage symptoms to help your dog enjoy a good quality of life as they continue to age.

What is Osteoarthritis in Dogs?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in dogs. This degenerative joint disorder causes the cartilage that provides cushioning for the joints to permanently deteriorate. The painful condition is estimated to impact about one-quarter of all dogs during their lifetime.

Osteoarthritis in Dogs Symptoms

With osteoarthritis, your dog's joints can become painful. Other primary symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs include:

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

Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Though any breed of dog can develop osteoarthritis, it's most often diagnosed in larger breeds such as labs, golden retrievers, rottweilers and German Shepherds.

The condition is often related to underlying issues such as elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, dislocations of the knee or shoulder, cruciate injury or trauma. However, the actual cause of osteoarthritis is largely unknown.

Obesity is also a factor, as excess weight can add unnecessary stress on a dog's joints, leading to pain and degenerative joint issues over time.

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 actual cause of osteoarthritis is largely unknown but this condition is often associated with underlying issues such as an injury due to trauma, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cruciate injury, or dislocations of the shoulder or knee.

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.

Osteoarthritis can also occur in a dog's back legs due to the joints failing to lubricate properly. Subsequently, your dog will likely experience pain when they move their joints.

Treatment to Help Dogs With Osteoarthritis Live More Comfortably

Osteoarthritis symptoms in dogs should be assessed as soon as possible. While the condition cannot be reversed or cured, successful treatment can reduce pain caused by joints that have been impacted. This helps to slow ongoing degeneration of the joints that are impacted, allowing your dog to live more comfortably and enjoy a good quality of life while aging. Several treatments will often be used in combination to relieve pain and offer more comfortable mobility.

Pain Medication

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


Although it may seem counterintuitive, exercise is essential for dogs with osteoarthritis. It may be necessary to cut back on exercise when your dog is first diagnosed with osteoarthritis, however, staying mobile will help your dog to maintain fitness, achieve a healthy weight, relieve joint pain, and enjoy a good quality of life.

Exercise will need to be tailored to your dog's overall health and severity of osteoarthritis. Your vet will be sure to recommend the best level of exercise to help relieve your dog's osteoarthritis symptoms.


Managing your dog's weight will be a key element of their treatment for osteoarthritis. Increased weight puts increased stress on your dog's joints so keeping weight at a healthy level will help to minimize the pain caused by the condition.

Your vet may recommend putting your dog on a calorie-reduced diet if their exercise level has been reduced, or a diet supplemented with chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids as a way to combat symptoms.

Cold Laser Therapy

With cold laser treatment, we can use low-intensity lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to alleviate pain, stimulate and increase cell activity and accelerate recovery. Laser therapy can increase circulation, reduce inflammation and associated pain, and encourage healing.

Physical Rehabilitation (Physio for Dogs)

Physical rehabilitation is the name for physiotherapy for dogs and can include several treatments that are designed to help reduce pain while strengthening and improving muscle tone, maintaining range of motion, and working to improve overall endurance.

Physiotherapy for dogs with osteoarthritis may include one or more of the following treatments: therapeutic exercises, therapeutic ultrasound, cold laser therapy, regenerative therapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, underwater treadmill or pool therapy, and massage, combined with conventional treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications.

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


In some cases, when joint damage is particularly extensive, your vet may recommend surgery to help alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of your dog's osteoarthritis. Surgery may be performed to remove bone fragments that are aggravating the condition or to replace the affected joints.

The Prognosis for Dogs with Osteoarthritis

With effective long-term pain management and a little additional care, your dog may be able to enjoy a long and happy life even with osteoarthritis. Speak to your vet to learn more about managing your pup's joint pain, and how you can help your dog to enjoy a happy life for many years to come.

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.

To learn more about treatment for your dog's osteoarthritis, contact our New York vets today to learn more about treatment for your dog's osteoarthritis.

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