Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis is a progressive, degenerative condition that worsens over time in dogs. Although there is no cure for this painful condition, our Rochester veterinarians can provide treatments that may help manage symptoms and allow your dog to age with dignity.

What is Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in dogs. It is a degenerative joint disorder that causes the cartilage that cushions the joints to deteriorate permanently. This debilitating condition is estimated to affect approximately a quarter of all dogs throughout their lives. It should be noted that osteoarthritis can affect a dog's back legs, front legs, or both.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

The painful joints caused by osteoarthritis can lead to several tell-tail signs. The main osteoarthritis symptoms in dogs that you may notice include:

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

Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Although this condition can develop in any breed of dog, it is most often seen in larger breeds such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labs, Rottweilers, and giant breeds. 

Although the exact cause of osteoarthritis is unknown, this condition is frequently associated with underlying issues such as trauma, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cruciate injury, or shoulder or knee dislocations.

Obesity also appears to play a role in dogs developing osteoarthritis. Excess weight can put unnecessary stress on the dog's joints leading to pain, and degenerative joint issues over time.

Treatments to Help Manage Pain

In dogs, osteoarthritis cannot be reversed or cured. Successful treatment of this condition alleviates pain, slows the degeneration of the affected joints, and enables your dog to age more comfortably and with a high quality of life.

Often several treatments will be used together to achieve pain relief and 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. 


Although it may seem counterintuitive, dogs with osteoarthritis require exercise. While it may be necessary to reduce exercise when your dog is first diagnosed with osteoarthritis, keeping your dog mobile will help him maintain fitness, achieve a healthy weight, relieve joint pain, and enjoy a high quality of life.

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.


Weight management will be a critical component of your dog's treatment for osteoarthritis. Increased weight places additional strain on your dog's joints, so maintaining a healthy weight will help to alleviate some of the pain associated with the condition.

If your dog's exercise level has been reduced, your veterinarian may recommend a calorie-reduced diet or a diet supplemented with chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids to alleviate symptoms.

Physical Rehabilitation (Physio for Dogs)

Physical rehabilitation is the term used to describe physiotherapy for dogs. It encompasses a variety of treatments aimed at relieving pain while strengthening and improving muscle tone, maintaining range of motion, and enhancing overall endurance.

Physiotherapy treatments for dogs with osteoarthritis may include one or more of the following: therapeutic exercises, therapeutic ultrasound, cold laser therapy, regenerative therapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, underwater treadmill or pool therapy, and massage, in addition to conventional treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications.

Ask your vet if there is a qualified Canine Physical Rehabilitation practitioner in your area


When severe joint damage occurs, your veterinarian may recommend surgery to relieve symptoms and slow the progression of your dog's osteoarthritis. Surgery may be necessary to remove bone fragments causing the condition to worsen or to replace the affected joints.

The Prognosis for Dogs with Osteoarthritis

Even with osteoarthritis, your dog may be able to live a long and happy life with effective long-term pain management and some additional care. Speak with your veterinarian to learn more about how to manage your puppy's joint pain and how you can help your dog live a long and happy life.

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. 

If your dog is showing signs of osteoarthritis please contact our Rochester vets today to book an appointment for your four-legged friend. Our vets can help your pup live comfortably throughout their golden years.