Arthritis in geriatric dogs

Eric Fold, DVM
SeptembeR 28, 2018

I have noticed my oldest dog Duke, is beginning to slow down when he gets up from his naps to greet me. He also isn’t jumping into the truck to cruise around the farm as eagerly as he once did. Sometimes we notice our pets slow down with time, others show signs more rapidly and may cry out in pain when they get up or are touched on their hips and joints. Arthritis is a painful process that can lead to bone and joint changes that can only make matters worse. We at Rock-N-Country Vet services want to make sure our older friends get to live long, happy, pain-free lives and with early arthritis detection and management we can help.

What is arthritis and what causes it?

Photo by Kintarapong/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Kintarapong/iStock / Getty Images

Arthritis is an inflammatory response that occurs in a joint space and can be primarily inflammatory, or it could be caused by and infectious process therefore making an examination with x-rays important for diagnosis. Osteoarthritis is arthritis where the cartilage is worn down to the bone causing degenerative changes of the bone. The causes of arthritis and osteoarthritis are numerous and can be a combination of factors or just one single factor.

Common causes of arthritis

  • Nutritional history - inappropriate nutrition during bone development

  • Joint development - hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, elbow dysplasia

  • History of injury - fractures, bone plate, orthopedic surgeries

  • Body condition - obesity

  • Body conformation - poor conformation through genetics

  • Infectious diseases - Ehrlichiosis, lyme disease, bacterial infections

  • Immune mediated disease - the body attacking it’s own cells in the joint space

What are some common signs that indicate arthritis?

Not only will dogs have trouble getting up and down, but they will also exhibit a number of clinical signs that may indicate that they have early arthritis. The pain associated with the stress on joints when going from sitting to standing can cause significant pain and discomfort. Noticing that your dog is off, or not their normal self is usually a first indication that they are having arthritic issues.

Common clinical signs associated with arthritis

  • Difficulty getting up or laying down

  • Lameness when walking - stiff stilted gait

  • Avoidance of steps or inclines

  • Stiff or swollen joints

  • Reluctance to jump on and off furniture or in and out of vehicles

  • Recent aggression towards other dogs and people

What treatment options are available?

It is important to understand that arthritis cannot be cured with treatments, but managed, and with an early multi-modal approach the results can be rewarding. There are several options for management and most patients require more than one for success. Weight loss is usually the patient’s first step since this will reduce the stress on the joints and using prescription diets can help the pet loose weight while also providing nutraceutical supplementation.

Medications are often prescribed to reduce inflammation and pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are most commonly used, with tramadol or gabapentin being used secondarily, and corticosteroids are used occasionally. NSAIDs and corticosteroids should never be mixed and you should never reach for a medication from your own drug cabinet to treat your pet since some of these can cause severe disease and death. Thankfully there are many NSAID options that work on different pathways to pain and inflammation and most but not all are processed either in the liver or kidneys. Since most of these medications are processed in the liver and kidney, routine blood chemistry will be performed to evaluate their function and health. With long-term NSAID use, periodic blood chemistry will be performed to monitor function and make sure the patient is not being harmed by the medication.

Nutraceuticals are often prescribed as a supplement to help with joint fluid viscosity or cartilage health. These can work in conjunction with prescribed medications and sometimes patients may only require nutraceuticals once the initial inflammation is removed. These are often combined in prescription diets to allow easy administration and multi-modal approach.

Other treatments to consider would be soft padded bedding and multiple places for the pet to lay throughout the house. Carpet runs or Dr. Buzby’s toe grips to allow traction on hard, slick surfaces. Carrying the pet up stairs, using ramps or a harness to help the pet stand up.

Arthritis is a painful condition that can be managed if caught early and multi-modal approach is used. We hate to see our pets in pain or having difficulty with day-to-day tasks and would love to give you management options for arthritis in your pet. With prescription medications and diets, along with changes in the home, we can help your pet cope with the arthritis.


  • Downing, Robin; DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CRPP. “Arthritis in Dogs.” vca_corporate,

  • Loyle, Donna. “Treating Osteoarthritis in Geriatric Dogs.” dvm360.Com, DVM 360, 15 July 2014,