What does arthritis look like in dogs?

There are a few major types of canine arthritis, one of the most common being spinal arthritis. As dogs age, the cartilage present in their joints becomes thin and the cartilage cells die. While the cartilage cells die, they produce enzymes that cause inflammation of the joint and excess release of the joint fluid. Over a period of time, the cartilage becomes thinner and causes the bone beneath it to deteriorate.

Regardless of the specific type of arthritis a dog is experiencing, they are likely to exhibit a similar set of symptoms. Normally, these will include stiffness in the whole body, which can make your pet less agile and affect mobility. The difference in the pet’s mobility can be easily seen, and the changes in activity level are noticeable.

Running becomes clumsy and stiff. And it may take longer for your pet to climb up the stairs. Other common signs of arthritis include an altered gait or standing positions, slow response rate, and overall lethargy.

How does arthritis start?

Arthritis sets in when joints lose their cushioning. As the cartilage in joints deteriorates, friction between bones increases, which results in lost mobility and may also mean a significant amount of pain. This process can also cause the growth of bone spurs, as the joint finds new ways to move.

The deterioration of joints itself can be genetic, with some dogs more disposed to arthritis for hereditary reasons. Others will develop deterioration due to lifestyle factors. So, if you own working or show dogs that are often performing the same set of movements day in, day out, their risk of developing arthritis in their most-used joints will significantly increase.

Does arthritis only affect older dogs?

Mostly, yes. The overwhelming majority of canine arthritis cases are types of osteoarthritis, which affects around 65 percent of dogs over seven years of age. As your dog gets older, all that activity takes a toll on their joints — specifically, the cartridge and fluids that lubricate the joints, making it harder to move with ease.

There is however another category of arthritis, which is not caused by age-related wear and tear. Some insect bites, especially tick bites, contain toxins that can cause persistent inflammation of the joints (or in the case of Lyme disease, even paralyzation).

What is the life expectancy of a dog diagnosed with arthritis?

Because many dogs are diagnosed with arthritis as seniors, the association between arthritis and shortened life expectancy can be a little misleading. It’s true that arthritis dogs may be entering their twilight years, where mobility and independence gradually reduce. But there’s no necessary connection between arthritis and a shorter life.

Does Arthritis kill dogs?

This osteoarthritis explainer from a veterinary hospice confirms that arthritis does not in itself necessarily decrease a dog’s life span. However, arthritis can lead to pain, difficulty controlling bowel movements, and other symptoms that lower quality of life — sometimes to the point where it is kinder and more sensible to move a dog into end-of-life treatment.

How is arthritis in dogs treated?

While arthritis can’t necessarily be cured, there are three main areas of management and therapy: managing the specific joints and areas of the body affected; maintaining a lifestyle that will slow the progression of arthritis, and relieving any arthritis-caused pain.
To give your dog the best chance of stable condition management, make sure to introduce a multimodal approach, including each of the areas below.

Managing the causes of arthritis

  • Medication: There’s lots that owners can do to mitigate arthritis, but veterinarians also have a key role to play. Often this involves the prescription of helpful medications — most of which are designed to have some kind of anti-inflammatory effect. However, because human-grade NSAIDs can be highly toxic to dogs, it’s important that owners don’t take it upon themselves to prescribe their dogs with anti-inflammatory medication.

  • Dietary supplements: Joint supplements are intended to help a dog’s body in the quest to naturally replace lost cartilage. Often derived from mollusks and other sea creatures, supplements are a safe and non-invasive way to support the body in fighting arthritis.

Slowing the progression of arthritis

  • A healthy exercise routine: This should include regular walking, adapting to fit your pet’s ability. For example, maybe instead of a single long walk, you and your four-legged friend switch it up with multiple short walks in one day. The key is to maintain that active lifestyle and to get those joints moving as much as they can.

  • Hydrotherapy: The difference between hydrotherapy and plain swimming is that hydrotherapy involves specific exercises, performed in the water and designed to strengthen muscles around joints. Dogs suffering from arthritis often tend to move affected areas as little as possible.

    This can cause a vicious cycle, in which muscles weaken, making joints more fragile, making dogs less inclined to use them, and so on. This can also cause discomfort in those muscles that are being used instead, compensating for the weaker muscles. Hydrotherapy lessens the discomfort involved in using those muscles and is therefore a great way to reintroduce dogs to a healthy level of exercise.

  • Turmeric: Popular across the health food world for its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric contains the active ingredient curcumin, which can have a similar effect to ibuprofen when ingested to combat inflammation. Studies on turmeric use in both humans and dogs have confirmed what has been known for thousands of years in India: that this spice is as beneficial to joints as it is tasty.

Relieving pain arthritis-associated pain

  • CBD oil: The prevalence of arthritis in dogs has fortunately coincided with the growth of a safe, pet-friendly, and effective anti-inflammatory product: CBD oil. CBD is a cannabinoid derivative harvested from the hemp plant, and separate from cannabinoids such as THC which can alter your state of mind.

    Best CBD oil for dogs with arthritis

    CBD is known for its calming and soothing properties, both mentally and physically, which makes it a popular choice among those suffering from conditions such as anxiety, seizures, pain, and even cancer.

    As a result, CBD can work well for dogs with arthritis, as it can help to calm both inflammation in the joints, and any accompanying pain or anxiety that your dog may be experiencing. In fact, a study on the effects of CBD on arthritis in dogs found that only two mg/kg of CBD, administered twice daily, can help increase comfort and activity in dogs with osteoarthritis.

  • Medication: As covered above, there are a variety of medications designed to support your dog’s body as it tackles joint inflammation. But there are also other pain-relieving medications relevant to the treatment of canine arthritis. For example, antihistamines such as Benadryl (While not FDA approved), are commonly used by vets and owners alike to relieve and calm dogs experiencing discomforts. This is thanks to the mild sedative effect produced by many antihistamine compounds. Just remember: many antihistamines, especially those in liquid form, contain additives that can harm your dog. So always be sure to check the full ingredients list.


As long as your dog is enjoying their life, is able to perform basic functions, and can receive the right treatments when necessary, there is really no limit to what a dog with arthritis can do — or how far they can go!