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Like humans, dogs can develop aches and pains due to arthritis as they age. But arthritis isn’t exclusive to older dogs. While dogs are more likely to develop it as they grow older, research indicates that arthritis affects approximately 20% of all dogs over one (1). 

Read on to learn more about how to detect, treat, and manage dog arthritis. 

What Is Arthritis in Dogs?

The term “arthritis” refers to inflammation within the joints. The most common cause of canine arthritis—and what people usually mean when they use the term arthritis—is osteoarthritis. That’s what we’ll focus on here.

Osteoarthritis in dogs is degenerative, meaning wear-and-tear makes it worse over time. This condition is more common in older dogs, but it can also occur in young dogs with certain risk factors. When arthritis occurs, it causes pain and stiffness in the affected joint, impacting its mobility. 

What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?

French Bulldog lying in front of stairs

Osteoarthritis happens with repetitive motion. Over time, repeated movements cause wear-and-tear on the joint. Any dog can develop arthritis, but veterinarians have identified several risk factors.

Overweight dogs are at an increased risk of arthritis. Not only does carrying excess body weight place increased strain on the joints, but fat itself releases chemicals that promote inflammation. 

Arthritis is also more common in dogs with underlying joint abnormalities. Conditions like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and medial patellar luxation often become arthritis. As a result, the same genetic factors that predispose a dog to these conditions can also predispose them to arthritis. 

Finally, age is a risk factor for arthritis. While arthritis can occur in young dogs (especially dogs with joint abnormalities), a dog’s risk of arthritis increases with age. 

Stages of Arthritis in Dogs

Chocolate Lab limping

Arthritis is a chronic, progressive condition. Arthritis increases in severity over time, progressing from mild to moderate to severe. 

  • Mild: A dog with mild arthritis shows a subtle decrease in mobility when performing certain activities. For example, your dog may be fine for long walks around the neighborhood but limp when running after a ball. A dog with mild arthritis may have slight stiffness in one or more joints. These symptoms often appear after periods of activity or long periods of rest. 
  • Moderate: A dog with moderate arthritis has a consistent limp affecting one or more legs. This limp will appear with any movement, whether the dog is walking or running. 
  • Severe: A dog with severe arthritis is uncomfortable most of the time, even at rest. They may have trouble lying down comfortably (acting restless) and often have difficulty getting up after sleep. 

Dogs with arthritis may have good days and bad days. But the general trend is for a dog’s arthritis to progress over time. 

What Are the Symptoms of Dog Arthritis

In the earliest stages of arthritis, a dog often will not show any symptoms. In these early, asymptomatic stages, arthritis can only be diagnosed with an X-ray. As your dog’s arthritis progresses over time, symptoms will also get worse.

Signs of arthritis in dogs may include: 

  • Stiff gait
  • Limping (intermittent or continuous)
  • Limping when running, after heavy activity, or after long periods of rest
  • Difficulty lying down or getting comfortable
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty getting up from a sitting or lying position
  • Difficulty walking on slippery surfaces

Diagnosing Arthritis in Dogs

A diagnosis of arthritis requires a thorough physical exam. Your veterinarian will assess your dog’s overall health, paying special attention to his joints and assessing range of motion. A physical exam helps your veterinarian rule out other causes of your dog’s clinical signs.

Next, your veterinarian will likely recommend X-rays of the affected leg(s). These X-rays allow your veterinarian to look for evidence of arthritis, while also ruling out other causes of pain or discomfort (like bone fractures). Your dog may need to be sedated for these X-rays, depending on the joint(s) to be imaged and your dog’s temperament.

More testing may also be needed, depending on your dog’s individual case. Laboratory tests, including a complete blood cell count (CBC), serum biochemistry profile, and urinalysis (UA), allow your veterinarian to assess your dog’s overall health before prescribing medications. Your vet may also recommend advanced imaging, such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to provide a better look at the joint(s). 

Dog Arthritis Treatment

Alaskan Malamute swimming with life jacket in pool

Arthritis is a chronic condition that has no cure. That means the goal of any treatment plan is to manage your dog’s pain and slow the progression of arthritis.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are the most common arthritis medicine for dogs. Advil is toxic in dogs (along with many other human NSAIDs). But canine NSAIDs control the pain and reduce inflammation associated with arthritis and often produce few side effects.

Nutraceuticals and dog arthritis supplements can also play a valuable role in the treatment of arthritis. Glucosamine and chondroitin strengthen the joint fluid and cartilage that comprise your dog’s joints, while omega-3 fatty acids counteract inflammation. Your vet may also recommend polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (PSGAG) injections to further support joint health. 

If these treatments alone don’t control your dog’s pain, your veterinarian may prescribe other pain medications. Gabapentin, amantadine, and other medications, when combined with NSAIDs, can provide additional pain relief with dogs suffering from arthritis-related discomfort. 

In 2023, the FDA approved a new monthly injectable medication called Librela (bedinvetmab). It is a monoclonal antibody that works on the nervous system and inflammatory response to help reduce pain and increase quality of life in arthritic dogs.

Physical therapy, underwater treadmills, acupuncture, laser therapy, and other interventions may also help soothe your dog’s arthritis.    

How Do You Manage Arthritis in Dogs?

The best thing you can do to minimize your dog’s arthritis is to keep your dog at a healthy weight. Ideally, a dog with arthritis should stay at the low end of their healthy weight range. Work with your veterinarian to help your dog reach their ideal body weight. 

Prescription diets for arthritis can play a valuable role in its management. Weight loss diets for dogs may promote initial weight loss, and joint diets can provide long-term weight maintenance.  

Slippery surfaces can be difficult for dogs with arthritis, so ensure that you have non-slip rugs on any wood or tile floors your dog may need to cross. Dog ramps can provide access to beds and couches, minimizing the joint impacts associated with jumping off elevated furniture. 

Exercise can be helpful, as long as you take it easy. Forego fetch, frisbee, and running in favor of low-impact exercises like walking or swimming. Don’t exercise your dog to the point of exhaustion. Instead, focus on gentle, low-impact exercise to help build the muscles that stabilize your dog’s joints. 

How to Prevent Arthritis in Dogs

German Shepherd puppy with ball

Many cases of arthritis have an underlying cause rooted in genetics or a prior injury. Therefore, even the best care will not prevent all cases of arthritis. Still, there are some simple steps that can help prevent the worst symptoms of arthritis.

If you’re purchasing a puppy from a breeder, research common orthopedic conditions associated with that breed. Then, ensure the breeder you’re working with performs recommended genetic testing to reduce the risk of joint abnormalities in their puppies. For example, if you’re buying a German Shepherd puppy, it’s important to ensure the breeder screens for hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Parents with joint abnormalities are more likely to pass on these joint abnormalities to their puppies, increasing the risk of arthritis. 

Feed your puppy a high-quality dog food that is appropriate for their life stage and breed. If you have a large-breed dog, it’s important to feed a large-breed food. Feeding an imbalanced diet or allowing a large-breed puppy to grow too quickly can increase the risk of joint disease and later arthritis. 

As your dog reaches adulthood, focus on weight maintenance. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight can reduce the risk of arthritis, and slow the progression of arthritis if it does arise. 

Related Conditions

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Medial patellar luxation


  1. Anderson KL, Zulch H, O’Neill DG, Meeson RL, Collins LM. Risk Factors for Canine Osteoarthritis and Its Predisposing Arthropathies: A Systematic Review. Front Vet Sci. 2020;7:220. Published 2020 Apr 28. doi:10.3389/fvets.2020.00220