Canine Osteoarthritis


Osteoarthritis is a progressive, irreversible deterioration of joint cartilage.  It is also known as degenerative joint disease. 


What causes osteoarthritis?

There are many causes of osteoarthritis including genetic predispositions, previous injuries, joint instability, and congenital problems.  All of these conditions can disrupt the healthy joint cartilage and cause irreversible damage and dysfunction.  Dogs that are overweight or hard working dogs can potentiate these effects by overloading their joints, which contributes to the damage over time.


What are the signs and how is it diagnosed?

Many owners will recognize subtle signs such as a reluctance to get up or move, limping or stiffness after exercising, and lethargy.  Other findings include gait changes, thickening of the joints, joint instability, decreased range of motion, or even muscle wasting.  The diagnosis is suspected based on history and physical exam findings, but confirmation requires x-rays or other imaging.


How can I treat my dog?

Unfortunately, there is no cure to osteoarthritis and the goal is to manage the disease.  Surgical corrections of the primary cause may help in certain situations (such as a ruptured knee ligament), but any existing osteoarthritis will still remain.  A multimodal approach to managing osteoarthritis should be discussed with your veterinarian to address your dog’s specific needs.  The following is a list of possible long-term therapy options: 

1.     Weight control to reduce stress on the diseased joints

2.     Canine physical rehabilitation or low impact activity such as short leash walks and swimming. 

3.     Nutraceuticals such as glucosamine and chondroitin supplements.  The use of supplements is controversial and should be discussed with your veterinarian before starting them.

4.     Chronic pain medications.  Any long-term pain medication can have potential side effects, and its use should be closely monitored by a veterinarian.

5.     Surgery

6.     Acupuncture


Could I have prevented this?

There is no known way to prevent this disease.  Certain breeds with a higher predisposition can be screened as a puppy and early intervention may delay the progression of the disease.  Many surgeons are now recommending early intervention in at-risk breeds. 



Côté, Etienne. Clinical Veterinary Advisor. St. Louis: Elsevier Mosby, 2011.  Print.