6 Signs Your Dog Could Be Experiencing Early Arthritis


If you've noticed that your dog doesn't run to the front door when you pull out his leash, or maybe he's a lot slower getting down from the couch, he could be developing arthritis.

Of course, you'll want to take him to your veterinarian to find out the cause of his changed behavior, but you should know that canine arthritis is extremely common, and the likelihood your dog is in the early stages of arthritis increase with age.

How Common Is Arthritis in Dogs?

The older your dog is, the greater the chances that his sudden lack of appetite, slow movement or fatigue are due to arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, approximately 20% of all adult dogs have arthritis, or about 1 in 5. If, however, your dog is more than 7 years of age, there's a 65% chance he's suffering from the disease. In other words, more than half of all older dogs have arthritis.

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What Is Canine Arthritis?

Dogs with arthritis are suffering from one of two different ailments. The first is called degenerative joint disease (or osteoarthritis). This type of arthritis occurs due to the gradual loss of the cartilage which provides a cushion to the bones. As the cartilage wears away, the bones rub against one another, which causes your dog pain. 

The second type is called inflammatory joint disease. This is caused not by the destruction of cartilage, but typically by bacterial or fungal infections. It can also be the result of certain tick-borne diseases (for example, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) or genetic deficiencies that attack the immune system.

Are There Red Flags Which Signal Arthritis in Its Early Stages?

It's always dicey to attempt diagnosing your dog without the expertise of your family veterinarian. That said, dogs in the early stages of arthritis tend to present a set of common symptoms. If you notice any of the following 6 behaviors, it's probably time to take your dog the vet for proper diagnosis and treatment:

  1. He's limping. Dogs limp for all sorts of reasons, but if his limping is frequent and extends over a long period of time, the cause could well be arthritis. You might notice that he's favoring one or more of his legs over the others. You might also notice that he limps more when he first gets up in the morning, and that his limping then dissipates throughout the day as he "warms up."
  2. She can't do some of the things she used to do. If your dog is a "couch potato," but she suddenly seems reluctant to jump up or down from her favorite resting place, the cause could be arthritis. Other changed behaviors may be increased difficulty getting into the car, going up and down stairs, or running in the backyard or on her daily walks.
  3. He has back pain. Arthritis, in addition to affecting your dog's legs, can also impact the bones in his spine. If this is the case, he might seem to have pain in his neck, adopt strange postures or walk with a pronounced hunch in his back.
  4. She tires easily. It's normal for dogs to spend a lot of their days sleeping, and the amount of time they sleep increases with age. If, however, your dog tires quickly during normal activities, like during her daily walk, her fatigue could be related to the pain caused by her arthritis.
  5. He's becoming more irritable. Dogs are not that different from people when it comes to managing pain.  Both tend to become more irritable in response to increased pain. If you see your dog snapping at you or others when you try to put on his leash, groom him or pet him, it could be his way of telling you that he's in pain, and that pain could be the result of arthritis.
  6. Her legs are becoming thinner. When a dog has arthritis, she begins moving less, and this can lead to atrophy of her muscles. If you notice that your dog's legs seem thinner than they used to be, it could be from the muscle atrophy associated with arthritis.

Your Vet Can Help

There's no "cure" for canine arthritis, but there are effective treatments. If your veterinarian diagnoses your dog with arthritis, she may recommend a number of treatments, such as weight loss, regular exercise, a change in diet (for example, adding omega-3 fatty acids), and/or medications (like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and chondoprotectants).

Additionally, cutting-edge treatments such as stem cell therapy, laser therapy, hydrotherapy treadmill, acupuncture, and veterinary rehab have been proven to ease the symptoms of arthritis and help pets live a full, active life. 

At South Boston Animal Hospital, we care as much about your dog's health and comfort as you do, and we have the experience to provide him with all of the customized treatments he needs to ease his pain. If you notice one or more of these signs of early arthritis, do the right thing for your dog—contact us today to learn more about our rehab and prevention services.