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Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Osteoarthritis in dogs is a degenerative, progressive condition that grows more severe over time. Osteoarthritis can develop in your dog's front legs, back legs, or both. While there's no cure for this painful condition, our Torrance vets can provide treatments that may help manage symptoms and allow your dog to enjoy a good quality of life as they age. 

What is osteoarthritis in dogs?

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis in dogs. This degenerative joint disease can cause the cartilage that cushions the joints to deteriorate permanently. This painful condition is estimated to affect about 25% of all dogs during their lifetime. 

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs 

Osteoarthritis can cause pain in your dog's joints, along with several other telltale symptoms. Common symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs include:

  • Swollen joints 
  • Stiffness, pain and lameness 
  • Refusal to use stairs, jump or run 
  • Unusual aggression, irritability or whining 
  • Reluctance to stand 
  • Restlessness 
  • Slow, shuffling walk 
  • Lack of enthusiasm for play or walks 
  • Licking at joints 

Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs 

While any breed of dogs can develop this condition, it's most often diagnosed in larger breeds like golden retrievers, Labradors, rottweilers, German shepherds, and giant breeds such as Bernese mountain dogs. These breeds are naturally large and heavy, and therefore prone to osteoarthritis due to the additional stress placed on their joints. 

The specific cause of osteoarthritis is generally unknown. However, this condition is often associated with underlying problems like side effects from trauma, hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia, dislocations, cruciate injuries and more. 

In addition, some evidence suggests that obesity may contribute to the development of osteoarthritis in canines. If your dog is carrying too much weight, this may contribute to joint strain, which can hurt and eventually weaken a dog's joints. 

Treatment to Help Manage Pain

Osteoarthritis in dogs is irreversible and impossible to treat. However, goals for successful management of this condition often include reducing pain, delaying joint degradation and controlling the progression of the condition to provide your dog with the most comfort possible in their senior years. 

Several treatments will often be used together to relieve pain and help your dog achieve more comfortable mobility. 

Painkillers / Pain Meds

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


Exercise is essential for dogs with osteoarthritis, despite the fact that this may seem somewhat paradoxical. When your dog's condition is first diagnosed, you might need to reduce some of their exercise regimen. However, keeping your dog mobile will help them stay fit, maintain their weight, and get rid of joint pain. 

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 diet will be a critical component of their treatment for osteoarthritis. Any increase in weight puts extra stress on your dog's joints, so keeping your pup's weight at a healthy level will help to minimize their pain.

If your dog has decreased their exercise, your veterinarian might advise a calorie-reduced diet or one that includes supplements of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids to help with symptoms. 

Physical Rehabilitation (Physio for Dogs)

Dog physiotherapy is known as physical rehabilitation, and it can involve a variety of procedures aimed at lowering pain levels while preserving range of motion, enhancing muscle tone, and enhancing general endurance.

Rehabilitative therapy for dogs with osteoarthritis will generally include one or more of the following treatments: cold laser therapy, regenerative therapy, underwater treadmill and/or pool therapy, massage, and therapeutic exercises. These treatments may also be combined with medications to help manage the inflammation caused by your dog's osteoarthritis.

Ask your vet if there is a qualified canine physical rehabilitation practitioner in your area.


Your veterinarian may suggest surgical treatment in certain cases where your dog's joint damage is quite severe in order to help manage their symptoms and slow the progression of their condition. In order to remove bone fragments that might be making the condition worse, surgeries may be necessary.

The Prognosis for Dogs with Osteoarthritis

Your dog may live a long and happy life with osteoarthritis if they receive effective long-term pain management and a little extra care. To find out more about treating your dog's joint pain and ensuring that it has a happy life for many years to come, consult your veterinarian.

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.

Is your dog displaying symptoms of osteoarthritis? Contact our vets in Torrance today to book an appointment for your four-legged friend. We can help your dog live as comfortable as possible with chronic pain.

New Patients Welcome

New Patients Welcome

Harbor Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Torrance companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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