What are the signs of arthritis in dogs?

By Jayne Clark on 09 February 2021

How common is arthritis?

Arthritis in dogs is very common, exact figures vary but it has been estimated to affect up to 20% of dogs over 1 year of age. There are an estimated 9 million pet dogs in the UK1 so this means a significant proportion of our pets could be affected with arthritis which can substantially affect their quality of life. Arthritis is a painful disease of the joints which is progressive in nature; it cannot be cured but it can be managed to ensure dogs can continue to have a good quality of life. It is also worth bearing in mind that some of the symptoms of arthritis can be subtle or maybe simply attributed to increasing age and therefore go unrecognised, so it’s very possible that the true prevalence of this disease may be higher. All ages, breeds and sizes of dogs can be affected, it is not just a disease of older and bigger dogs. However, whilst this disease can affect all dogs, there are some breeds in particular who are predisposed to developmental joint disease and consequently arthritis; common examples would be the Labrador retriever and hip dysplasia or the English Springer spaniel and elbow dysplasia.

What are the signs to look for?

Our dogs may not be able to communicate to us in words, but there are many signs that you can look for that could indicate that your dog is one of those affected:

  • Trouble walking or running; if your dog appears to be limping or even just moving more slowly than normal, this is an indication all is not as it should be. You may notice that your dog appears stiffer when first getting up in the morning but appears to improve throughout the day; this is typical of early OA and is important to be aware of.
  • Reluctance to play/interact with the family as normal; every dog is different and some are certainly more playful than others but if you have noticed a change in their activity it can signal something is causing them a problem.
  • Restless at night; painful joints mean finding a comfortable sleeping position is more tricky and you may notice your dog seeming unable to settle as before.
  • Difficulty with stairs or jumping onto the sofa or into the car; jumping or ascending/descending stairs puts increased pressure on joints and can highlight signs of joint disease.
  • Licking repeatedly over joints; persistent licking of skin can signal many different issues but if your dog appears to be licking over joints this can indicate that the joint is painful.
  • Change in behaviour; if your dog appears quieter or even more grumpy than normal, this can be a sign of pain or ill health.

It is important to note that you, as your dog’s owner, are best placed to spot signs of change as you will know what is normal for them. The list above highlights that limping is just one of the many indicators that can signal arthritis; many are more subtle and could easily be missed as potential signs. Many dogs will also continue to want to go for a walk despite having advanced joint disease in some cases so we need to be aware of the early signs and intervene at this stage.

What should I do if I suspect my dog has arthritis?

If you spot one or more of these symptoms, a visit to your vet would be recommended so a full clinical examination can be carried out. Though arthritis cannot be cured, there are now many treatment and management options that can help to manage the pain slow the progression of the disease and improve overall quality of life for your dog.

Reference:

  1. Pet Population. PFMA. (2020). Available online at: https://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-population-2018 (accessed September 8th 2020)

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BVSc BSc(Hons) GPCertSAM MRCVS


Jayne worked as a small animal vet in clinical practice for 10 years before making the move into industry in 2015. She has particular interests in anaesthesia, analgesia and geriatric medicine and joined Zoetis in 2020 as a veterinary consultant for the Eastern region.

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