Elder Care: Arthritis



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As our dogs get older they start to go through the aging process just like we ourselves do. Unlike us however, they accept these changes much better than we do in most cases. They adjust to loss of hearing, sight, smell and their other senses without a lot of hoopla. They also accept an increase in pain much the same way.

Rarely do we know these changes are taking place so subtle the are at first. It usually takes their loss of appetite, movement or other obvious signs. An increase in stiffness in the morning, more naps slept more soundly. An increase in pain. In smaller dogs patella problems. Hip Dysplasia. There are many views and treatments available for arthritis today. I have collected a few articles as well as different "ways to go". There are MANY more articles and sites on the web for more information. I am thankful to all who have taken the time and effort to study and share the info with us. I hope having this gathering if sources will at least give a jumping off point for your study and illumination.


Welcome To: Dogs-With-Arthritis.com

At dogs with arthritis you will learn about canine arthritis and how to help your dog overcome its potentially debilitating effects. Read about the diagnosis of canine arthritis and the common methods to treat dog arthritis. Find out about effective pain management steps you can take at home to help your canine companion live an active and comfortable life.
Dogs with Arthritis Normal Hip Osteo Arthritis Hip Graphic Arthritis doesn't have to destroy your dog's quality of life!
Your veterinarian will help you treat your dog's pain. Make an appointment at once if you've observed changes in your dog's behavior or energy levels.

You don't have a veterinarian yet? Visit
Locate a Vet to find the right veterinarian for you and your dog!



Types & Causes

Types of Arthritis
There are several types of arthritis that can afflict dogs of all breeds and sizes. The most common forms of canine arthritis are:





Bone Spurs

Pain Medication

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Pits in the Cartilage

Steroids/ Cancer Drugs

Septic Arthritis

Infection in the joint


Osteoarthritis: is a form of degenerative joint disease. There is often a genetic component to the disease and symptoms are often progressive with age. It can involve the deterioration of and changes to the cartilage and bone. In response to inflammation in and about the joint, the body

responds with bony remodeling around the joint structure. This process can be slow and gradual with minimal outward symptoms, or more rapidly progressive with significant pain and discomfort. Osteoarthritic changes can occur in response to infection and injury of the joint as well.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a type of inflammatory arthritis in which the dog's immune system actually produces antibodies against the body's own protein. The result is severe inflammation that damages cartilage and surrounding tissues. RA can affect all of your dog's joints and may cause debilitating pain if not properly and promptly treated.
Infectious Arthritis: This type of arthritis is caused by a bacterial, viral or fungal infection in your dog's joints. The infecting organism is carried to the joint via your dog's bloodstream from an infection occurring in another part of the body. Any infection should be immediately checked by your veterinarian.
Hip Dysplasia:
Hip dysplasia is probably the most common example of degenerative joint disease. The amount of osteoarthritis that results from having hip dysplasia can vary and it is generally more of a clinical problem in large and giant breeds of dogs. The degree of laxity in the hip joint is genetically determined and, in general, the looser the hips, the higher the likelihood that osteoarthritic changes will result. 

Why does my dog have arthritis?
Like human arthritis, canine arthritis is widespread and diverse in its causes. Dogs develop arthritic conditions as a result of:

Previous injuries or accidents
Immune system problems
Excessive strain through repeated activity and exercise

Many older pets (and people) that are "stiff" are actually experiencing arthritic symptoms. Most require no treatment. The best action is to consult your veterinarian for diagnosis and proper treatment if indicated.

Any of a wide selection of Orthopedic beds can provide real relief to dogs afflicted with arthritis and limited mobility.


Symptoms of Arthritis
Are you worried? Do you suspect that your dog might have arthritis? Veterinarians have developed a list of signs that might indicate that your dog has arthritis. Look for the following symptoms:
 reluctance to lie down or get up
 trouble running and climbing stairs
 audible "clicking" when walking
 change in behavior that seems to indicate pain
 swelling and inflammation of the joints
 limited movements and lack of desire to exercise
Should your dog exhibit one or more of these signs on a recurring basis, don't hesitate to take her in for a medical checkup.
At the Veterinarian
Veterinarians will consider the genetic makeup of your dog: for example, large and giant breed dogs are especially prone to hip dysplasia. Your veterinarian will check your dog's medical history, since some forms of arthritis may result from previous injuries.
Your veterinarian will probably want to take x-rays to check for bone and joint deterioration. She will listen for crackling and popping sounds (your vet may use the term "crepitus") in your dog's joints, a common sign of arthritis. Your veterinarian will then suggest a treatment plan that best matches your dog's condition.
If you don't feel comfortable with your veterinarian's diagnosis, you may choose to get a second opinion, especially if the treatment recommendation involves surgery.
Pain Management

How Can I Help My Arthritic Dog at Home?
Try the following methods to reduce the pain and discomfort that arthritis causes:
 Control/prevent obesity. 
 Eliminate strenuous exercise routines. Typically, regular,
 non-impact exercise is beneficial and helps maintain
 Find ways to help her avoid going up and down stairs or
 in and out of the car or truck.
Massaging your arthritic dog has many benefits
 relaxes your dog
 soothes sore muscles
 reduces physical pain
 allows you to check dog's skin for unusual lumps
 helps you bond

If you do not feel comfortable massaging your dog, you may choose to have a professional animal masseuse work with him. Interest is growing in this area and you should have no problem finding the right masseuse or additional information on the topic. Many people report a lot of success using emu oil, visit emu oil pet products to learn more, or Managing Pet Pain for more tips and advice.

Change Your Dog's Bedding
Dogs suffering from arthritis have difficulty finding a pain free sleeping position. If your dog is too heavy to lift, consider buying your pooch his own orthopedic bed.  Ironically, many arthritic dogs will seek hard, cold surfaces for sleeping. Generally, these pets are probably tolerating the hard surface for the relief afforded by the cool temperature. A cool, soft surface may be welcomed by these pets. Dogs who sleep on their owner's bed may have trouble getting on and off the bed. If your dog is too heavy to lift, consider buying your pooch his own bed.
Providing your dog a suitable bed is one of the best things you can do to help prevent and manage arthritis pain.
One of the most helpful aids to owners with large dogs is a portable dog ramp. This device allows you dog continued access to vehicles and other locations when they are no longer able to jump and climb.



Arthritis is a pain in the joints

  • Introduction`
  • Degenerative joint disease
  • Inflammatory joint disease
  • Signs of arthritis
  • Treatment
  • Notes


The canine skeletal system is a marvel of bones, cartilage, and ligaments that provide the body with a framework to erect on four strong legs, protect internal organs, and provide a full range of motion. The muscles furnish the power to propel the dog into action, but without healthy bones, joints, and connective tissue, the muscles cannot do their job.

Joints — the skeletal hinges — give the skeleton flexibility for walking, trotting, running, jumping, climbing, and moving the head and neck to increase the field of vision. The dog's body has three types of joints: ball and socket such as the hip and shoulder joints; hinged joints such as the knees and elbows; and gliding or plane joints such as the wrists and ankles. The joints are lubricated for smooth action by synovial fluid and are stabilized by tendons and ligaments. When the joints are damaged by injury or disease, arthritis (joint inflammation) can occur.

“He has arthritis” is probably the most common reaction of the pet owner whose Fido or Fluffy is stiff-legged after exercise, has trouble getting up in the morning, or is reluctant to go up or down stairs. But since such stiffness or lameness can have several causes and since arthritis itself comes in different types, a trip to the veterinarian is a more prudent move than slipping the pooch a couple of aspirin for the discomfort.

Degenerative joint disease

Arthritis results from inflammation in the joints and is generally divided into two types — degenerative and inflammatory — according to the source of that irritation.

Degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) results from destruction of the cartilage that protects the bones that make up the joint. Cartilage destruction can be the result of normal stress on abnormal joints or abnormal stress on normal joints(1). Hip dysplasia(2), a malformation of the hip sockets, is one example of normal stress on abnormal joints. Constant jumping over obstacles, stretching or tearing ligaments during strenuous exercise, or injuries in a fall or accident are examples of abnormal stress on normal joints.

Degenerative joint disease can be further subdivided into primary disease for which no known cause is evident and secondary disease for which a cause can be pinpointed. Among the causes of secondary degenerative joint disease are hip dysplasia, patella luxation (loose kneecaps), osteochondritis dissecans (OCD, the development of cartilage “flaps” in the joints when bone development is disturbed), trauma, and ruptured cruciate (knee) ligaments. Secondary degenerative joint disease can sometimes be prevented or halted by surgical repair of the joint before arthritis progresses.

Degenerative arthritis may not manifest until the dog has had years of abnormal stress. Since cartilage has no nerves, the damage can progress with no outward signs until the joint is severely compromised and the lubricating fluid has thinned and lost its ability to protect the bone surfaces.

Inflammatory joint disease

Inflammatory joint disease can be caused by infection or by underlying immune-mediated diseases. Inflammatory arthritis usually affects multiple joints and is accompanied by signs of systemic illness including fever, anorexia, an all-over stiffness.

Again, this type of arthritis is subdivided into infectious and immune-mediated categories. Infectious joint disease can be caused by bacteria, by tick-borne diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and by fungal infection.

Immune-mediated arthritis is cause by underlying weakness in the immune system and can be hereditary. Rheumatoid arthritis, a deforming type of immune-mediated arthritis, is rare in dogs. Systemic lupus and an idiopathic (unidentified) immune-related arthritis both can cause nondestructive joint infections.

Because infectious joint disease and immune-mediated joint disease call for different treatment protocols, diagnosis must be accurate. The immuno-suppressive drugs used to treat the immune-mediated disease may allow the infectious type of disease to thrive.

Signs of arthritis(3)

  • Reluctance to walk, climb stairs, jump, or play
  • Limping
  • Lagging behind on walks
  • Difficulty rising from a resting position
  • Yelping in pain when touched
  • A personality change resisting touch


Degenerative joint disease can sometimes be halted or prevented by surgery when x-rays indicate joint malformations. If surgery is not indicated or advisable, relief can be achieved with painkillers, exercise, rest, and diet. However, even over-the-counter painkillers should not be used without the advice of a veterinarian.(4)

Researchers are ever busy trying to find new generations of drugs to relieve pain. The latest in pain relievers for canine arthritis includes

  • Rimadyl, Adequan, and Palaprin, all available only from veterinarians.
  • Rimadyl (generic name carprofen) has gotten raves from veterinarians for its ability to relieve pain with few side effects. Long-term use of this drug requires periodic blood tests for liver function, but most dogs apparently do well on it. Like all drugs, however, Rimadyl is not effective for all patients.
  • Adequan (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan)(5) is given by injection twice each week for four weeks. It not only relieves the pain of arthritis, it binds to damaged cartilage to facilitate repair, blocks the action of destructive enzymes that cause inflammation, and stimulates the production of healthy joint fluid.
  • Palaprin6 is a buffered aspirin specifically for dogs; it can be used in the same circumstances in which aspirin is used but without the gastrointestinal irritation that sometimes occurs with aspirin.

There are other drug treatments; dogs with arthritis should be under veterinary care, and the veterinarian can determine which treatment is best for each dog.

Diet also plays an important part in arthritis treatment, especially to control the patient's weight. Excess weight causes more stress on the joints and exacerbates existing arthritis pain. In large breed dogs, periods of rapid growth can lead to development of OCD and joint dysplasia' if the underlying genetic code is present, so special attention should be paid to the diets of these puppies to prevent too-rapid weight gain.

Whether drugs, surgery, or both are indicated in arthritis treatment owners should make sure their pets get plenty of rest and are not asked to perform painful exercise during treatment and recuperation. Veterinary advice in the matter of exercise should be followed even though it may seem that the recovery is slow. Ultimately, the type and duration of exercise will have to be restricted to reduce the pain as much as possible.


  1. From Canine Orthopedics by Robert L. Rooks DVM and Connie Jankowski, the primary source of information for this article.
  2. See hip dysplasia
  3. Signs of Arthritis” from Pfizer Animal Health, manufacturers of Rimadyl.
  4. See “Over-the-counter drugs can poison pets”
  5. Information provided by Luitpold Pharmaceuticals Inc., manufacturers of Adequan.
  6. Information provided by PharmX Animal Health Technology Division, manufacturers of Palaprin.
Norma Bennett Woolf

[Dog Owner's Guide: Arthritis (www.canismajor.com/dog/arthrit.html)] is a part of the Dog Owner's Guide internet website and is copyright 2003 by Canis Major Publications. You may print or download this material for non-commercial personal or school educational use. All other rights reserved. If you, your organization or business would like to reprint our articles in a newsletter or distribute them free of charge as an educational handout please see our reprint policy.

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Books of Interest

Dog Owner's Guide, in association with AMAZON.COM, recommends these books for more information on . . .


  • Canine Orthopedics
    Connie Jankowski, et al/Hardcover/1997


Health and veterinary information

  • Guide to Skin and Haircoat Problems in Dogs
    Lowell Ackerman /Paperback/1994
  • A-Z of Dog Diseases & Health Problems : Signs, Diagnoses, Causes, Treatment
    Dick Lane, Neil Ewart/Hardcover/1997
  • The American Animal Hospital Association Encyclopedia of Dog Health and Care
    Sally Bordwell, American Animal Hospital Association/Paperback/1996
  • Dogs : The Ultimate Care Guide : Good Health, Loving Care, Maximum Longevity
    Matthew Hoffman/Hardcover/1998
  • Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats
    Richard H. Pitcairn, et al/Paperback/1995
  • Just What the Doctor Ordered : A Complete Guide to Drugs and Medications for Your Dog
    Race Foster, Marty Smith/Hardcover/1996
  • The Tellington TTouch : A Revolutionary Natural Method to Train and Care for Your Favorite Animal
    Linda Tellington-Jones,/Paperback/1995
  • Successful Dog Breeding : The Complete Handbook of Canine Midwifery
    Chris Walkowicz, et al/Hardcover/1994
  • Caring for Your Older Dog
    Chris C. Pinney/Paperback/1995
  • Control of Canine Genetic Diseases
    George A. Padgett/Hardcover/1998
  • Help! : The Quick Guide to First Aid for Your Dog
    Michelle C D.V.M. Bamberger/Paperback/1993
  • The Tellington TTouch for Happier, Healthier Dogs, featuring Linda Tellington-Jones
    Kelly Hart/VHS Tape/ (n/a)
  • UC Davis Book of Dogs : The Complete Medical Reference Guide for Dogs and Puppies
    School of Veterinary Medicine Staff, Mordecai Siegal/Hardcover/1995
  • ASPCA Complete Dog Care Manual
    Bruce, Dr. Fogle/Hardcover/1993
  • First Aid for Dogs : What to Do When Emergencies Happen
    Bruce Fogle, Amanda Williams (Illustrator)/Paperback/1997
  • American Kennel Club Dog Care and Training
    American Kennel Club/Paperback/1991
  • The Merck Veterinary Manual (8th Ed)
    Susan E. Aiello/Hardcover/1998
  • Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook
    Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffin/Hardcover/1992

Browse our list of recommended books arranged by topic




Canine Arthritis

Dogs are sometimes effected by osteoarthritis which is caused by the degradation of the cartilage within a joint. Cartilage is a buffer between bones in a joint. The breakdown of cartilage can reduce the function of the joint and create pain or stiffness. Mild arthritis is uncomfortable. Severe arthritis, which can progress to bone on bone contact, is very painful. Symptoms of osteoarthritis in your dog include: stiffness in the` joints, favoring a limb, difficulty in sitting or standing, hesitancy to jump, decreased activity level, and lethargy. There are a variety of treatments for canine arthritis, but unfortunately no cure. The main element of treating arthritis is pain management. In the most severe cases surgery may be required. However, less extreme treatments are recommended for most dogs. Pain relieving lotions are a safe way to treat the aches and stiffness of arthritis. Your vet may also prescribe medication to reduce swelling and discomfort. A newer treatment is dietary. Glucosamine and Chondroitin have been found helpful in relieving inflammation and reducing the degenerative process in some dogs. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates attract fluid to the joint's cartilage system. This helps the body repair damaged joints while keeping the cartilage destroying enzymes under control. It is also thought this may work as a preventative measure for dogs with a high risk of contracting arthritis.

The benefits of pain reduction are two fold. First, reducing pain provides a better quality of life for your dog. Second, increasing your dog's mobility will help prevent the arthritis from becoming more severe. If you think your dog has arthritis, make an appointment with your vet for a proper diagnosis and discussion of treatment options. With proper treatment you may greatly improve your dog's quality of life.



     by Susan G Wynn, DVM

Anyone who has lived with an older, stiff and disabled dog has experienced the heartbreak of arthritis. This slowly progressive disease starts with almost undetectable discomfort, and may progress to the point that the animal refuses to stand, walk outside for constitutionals, or even eat. Arthritis actually comes in different forms, with different causes, and can attack dogs and cats regardless of breed or age.

Although causes may range from autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis (which is more common in humans, by the way) to Lyme disease and primary cartilage degeneraton in young dogs, by far the most common type is degerative osteoarthritis. As our animals age, the bony joints begin to move less smoothly, and bony spurs may develop in the body's attempt to stabilize these "creaky" joints. Joint instability and bony proliferation cause pain when the animal moves.

Your pet may not be able to tell you if he or she is in pain due to arthritis. Many people expect their pets to cry, but old dogs and cats don't moan and complain about their aching joints! You may only see slight trouble in getting up and down, climbing stairs or jumping up on furniture or into cars, soreness hours after exercise, or even a new grumpiness. This is one reason that yearly exams are so important for older dogs and cats.

For some forms of arthritis, such as hip dysplasia, OCD, and rheumatoid arthritis, medical and surgical treatments work fairly well. For degenerative osteoarthritis, there is no cure. The animal is usually sentenced to a lifetime of anti-inflammatory agents, including aspirin, cartrophen (Rimadyl), etodolac (Etogesic), and eventually, cortisone-like drugs. Natural therapeutic treatments, however, can be extremely effective in diminishing the pain, slowing progression of the disease, and delaying or reducing the need for these drugs that have potentially severe side effects.

The first treatment is to switch all food to a very high quality, premium, preservative-free diet, or preferably a home prepared diet (recipes can be found in Strombeck's, Pitcairn's and Volhard's books). A majority of painful dogs are greatly improved by diet change alone. The next step is to start glycosaminoglycan supplements, which fortify the cartilage in diseased joints and may help reduce pain. These supplements are available from veterinarians under names like Cosequin, Promotion, Osteocare and Glycoflex. Glucosamine sulfate or glucosamine hydrochloride alone may also be effective, and these are available at most heatlh food stores. Antioxidant vitamins will probably be helpful for this pathologic inflammation, and homeopathic treatment is sometimes effective, as well.

Many pet owners wonder about herbal treatments. In my experience, popular herbs often recommended for arthritis (such as alfalfa, devil's claw and yucca) do not work well. On the other hand, the Ayurvedic herbs boswellia and curcumin as well as certain Chinese herbal combinations may be fairly effective. If herbal treatment is attempted, consult a veterinarian experienced in Eastern herbal prescription systems.

Finally, acupuncture is very effective at reducing pain from arthritis. Acupuncture will usually involve 4-8 treatments initially, but is usually reduced to "tune-up" treatments over the long term. Many animals with arthritis (or other musculoskeletal diseases) compensate for chronic pain by "contorting" their spines, in an effort to relieve the pain. These animals definitely benefit from occasional chiropractic adjustments.

Arthritis is manageable by a variety of natural and conventional treatments. It is especially important to slow progression of the disease by starting a good diet and glycosaminoglycan supplementation early, so if you suspect that your pet is "stiff," be sure to consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.


Arthritis in Dogs

Enteropatic arthritis possible
Systemic enzyme therapy for arthritis
Arthritis treatment in Golden
Problem getting up after laying down in older hound
Immune mediated arthritis disorders
Dalmatian with Arthritis
Advanced arthritis - treatment and pain control
Rimadyl, liver problems, death
Arthritis Treatment
Advanced Arthritis - Treatment options
Arthritis in rear legs
Arthritis and Lick Granuloma
Immune mediated arthritis
Anti - arthritis medication
Glucosamine and Chondroitin for arthritis
Chronic back problems
also see Dysplasia
also see Immune Problems
also See Lameness
also see Motion Problems
also see Neurological Problems
also see Orthopedic Problems
also see Spinal Problems
also see Spondylosis

Medications for treatment of Arthritis

also see Drug side effects
also see Etogestic
also see Aspirin
also see Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID)
also see Rimadyl
also see Herbs, Supplements and Nutriceuticals
also see Adaquan

Warning:At present it appears that Rimadyl will cause liver damage in some dogs. There have been some deaths in dogs with this reaction, although I think that the use of the word "many" is misleading. The predominant breed affected by this reaction has been the Labrador retriever but there are reports of other breeds being affected.




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Updated 12-31-03