Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.
What Are the Signs of Arthritis in a Dog?
Arthritis symptoms can be seen in dogs of any age, but they are most common in geriatrics. The most common presentation is seen with older, large breed dogs, but even little dogs can develop arthritis when they have certain problems (like when they have a knee cap slip out of place). If you notice any of these arthritis symptoms, treatment should be started early, so your dog can have a better chance of recovering.
General Arthritis Symptoms to Look For
- Reluctance to play: This is one of the first things you might notice. A dog that would normally chase the ball for hours may not even bother to go after it even once. Don’t assume that your dog won't want to play anymore just because he's getting older. If it is winter, you will notice this problem even more.
- Decreased activity and weight gain: If your dog is slowing down when climbing the stairs, having difficulty rising in the morning, and even reluctant to go on walks, he will most likely gain weight. Obese dogs will have even more difficulty rising and will be reluctant to go on walks. It is up to you to prevent a simple problem from destroying your dog's life. Dogs still need exercise when they become obese and arthritic, but they should be taken on shorter walks a few times a day.
- General loss of tone: Along with the reduced activity, you might notice your dog's body becoming softer and less muscular. This will follow the other symptoms and should not be missed.
- Grumpy attitude: Your old dog may even bite. Biting is not a reason to condemn your dog; he may just be telling you, “Leave me alone; I am in pain”.
- Symptoms of pain in the affected joint: Most dogs will not show clear evidence of pain until the situation is advanced. These final arthritis symptoms will be obvious. If you bother to notice, he will even tell you where it hurts.
Do Certain Parts of the Body Have Different Symptoms?
Yes, and if you are worried about your dog, you need to learn where he is suffering!
- Hip: Arthritis in this joint is most commonly seen with big dogs who have inherited hip dysplasia. The most common symptom when your dog is feeling pain in this joint is licking. If he could massage his sore hips, he probably would. Since he can't, licking is the next best thing.
- Elbow and shoulder: These usually have only subtle differences. If one elbow is worse than the other, your dog might try to walk on three legs.
- Back joints: Your dog may be nervous and try to move away when you try to pet his back.
- Feet and legs: The dog will lick on the sore joints, sometimes until the hair is gone and an open wound is present.
- Neck: Your dog may try to sit down to drink and eat. He may show fear when you try to touch him, and, of course, will not want to roughhouse.
Go to the Vet When You Notice These Symptoms
As soon as you notice any of these changes, take him to your regular veterinarian for an examination. After the vet palpates the joints and detects arthritic changes, he may want to do X-rays to monitor the severity.
Make Your Home More Comfortable for Your Dog
Some changes can be made at home. Think about how living conditions need to change for geriatric humans, and then think about your dog. He may need ramps, a raised food and water bowl, and an orthopedic bed.
What Are the Conventional Treatments for Arthritis?
- Steroids: Although these drugs can help at times, there are numerous side effects (like damage to the cartilage and weight gain).
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Many of the large pharmaceutical companies are working in this area, but most of the drugs released so far have serious side effects: stomach ulcers, kidney damage, and liver damage. These drugs will never cure arthritis but are formulated to make your dog feel better.
What Are the Alternative Treatment Options for Arthritis?
- Fish oil supplements: An omega 3 supplement is vital in treating arthritis because it reduces inflammation. Many veterinarians now consider this a conventional treatment, so your dog may start this supplement early in the course of his disease. It is also an antioxidant and will reduce some of the damage done to your dog's body.
- Other antioxidants: Vitamin C may be used since it protects the collagen. If acerola, a natural source, is too expensive, look for alternatives. Adequate sources of Vitamins A and E also help.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin are also now widely accepted alternative therapies. They are probably most effective when given early in the course of the disease; if you notice symptoms early, they may be started before severe changes have occurred. They might help at any time. One product, Technyflex Canine, is produced from mussels in New Zealand. Some anecdotal reports say that the human product available at your local pharmacy is also effective.
- Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine: I realize that these options are not available to everyone, but they have been successful when combined with other therapies. I do not want to make any recommendations for these therapies, so unless you have a veterinarian that specializes in these treatments, you should consider other options.
- Massage and hydrotherapy: Call around your area and find out if massage is available. If there is a pool available for your arthritic dog to exercise, there is a lot less stress on the joints.
- Organic diet: Especially one formulated for arthritic dogs, using collagen meat sources (like trachea) and the supplements I have discussed above.
- Apple cider vinegar: This article discusses the doses and potential benefits of apple cider vinegar for dogs.
- Herbal therapy to reduce inflammation and pain. There are several options available. To reduce inflammation, you can try bromelain, parsley, or garlic. For pain, you can try St. Johns wort and cayenne. Herbal treatments may take a lot longer to show any benefits, so if you want to try something, consult a holistic veterinarian and start as early as possible.
Can All This Help Manage His Arthritis?
Besides alternative therapies, you should perform a weekly physical examination on your dog and be aware of any changes early.
If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, there are many options you can investigate. You can just say, “He is old, and there is nothing we can do about it,” or you can aggressively treat his symptoms and give him several years of productive life.
Learn the symptoms of arthritis in your dog. Your dog deserves it.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My 14-year-old dog has been experiencing neck pain. He's had symptoms that lasted a day or two before. What could be wrong with him?
Answer: Part of his problem might be due to his conformation. Small dogs like Dachshunds have neck and back problems and will need to be examined, x-rayed, and may even need to have surgery to relieve the pressure on the spinal column. I am not sure this is a good idea at your dog's age.
Some other dog breeds will have problems with the vertebra of the neck. You can consult a holistic vet if one is available in your area and they might refer you to a veterinary chiropractor that can massage and align the bones in your dog's neck. Veterinary acupuncture is an option too, or if you have nowhere to turn to, you can try acupressure at home.
If it is simple arthritis, you can try some of the home remedies, but it might be so bad that it is justified to put your dog on anti-inflammatories. It is impossible for me to judge this without an exam.
Question: My blue tick beagle has been having difficulty walking up and down the steps to get out of the backdoor. Is she too young for it to be arthritis?
Answer: Arthritis can appear even in young dogs. If she is having symptoms, like difficulty with steps, you should have her examined and probably have her joints X-rayed.
She may also have arthritis secondary to Lyme disease. Get her examined.
Question: My ten-year-old husky kicks his hind legs out as if his paws itch. The vet said it is lower back arthritis; however, the medication is not working. He takes Rimadyl twice a day. Recommendations?
Answer: If your vet has done X-rays of the back and diagnosed arthritis, I would look for some alternatives to the NSAID Rimadyl, even if it was not working. The first thing to try is glucosamine, then antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Also, be sure that your dog is not overweight.
© 2012 Dr Mark
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 28, 2019:
Hi Sharon, even conventional vets will recommend glucosamine and fatty acid supplements but if you want to try other alternatives for your dog you should consult a holistic vet in your area. I have seen some amazing improvements with dietary change, antioxidants, weight loss, herbal therapy, and even acupuncture. I do not recommend you subject your dog to homeopathic remedies, even if the vet you consult recommends them.
Best of luck with your senior. Dementia is difficult to deal with but at least your dog is small enough to carry in and out of the house.
Sharon on January 27, 2019:
Where do you get all these suggested alternative supplements & vitamins. Is it the same products that humans consume & if so what dosage. Or are there particular brands suited to canines. Appreciate your feedback on this as we have a 16 yo poodle/shitzu cross with dementia and bad arthritis. I am just desperate to help improve the quality of her life. Many thanks.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on April 25, 2018:
Gloria, it depends on what he has. How old is he? Is the itching just in one area? This article will give you some more ideas on alternative medications for itching. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/natural-dog-health-all...
If there is any hair loss, read about the possible causes https://pethelpful.com/dogs/causes-and-treatment-o...
GLORIA on April 24, 2018:
My dog is itching his inner shoulder what should I give him
Lily on May 24, 2016:
What an informative hub! There are really so many treatment options for an arthritic dog that people often don't even consider. I basically self-taught myself how to perform massage techniques on my arthritic dog, and your mention of apple cider vinegar is one remedy on this list I had never read about before! My boxer has arthritic knees, which can make exercise difficult and on days with longer walks I used to be able to really notice her discomfort. From doing my research online I found the Ortocanis dog knee brace and bought one for each of her knees! The Ortocanis one I chose because it wasn't rigid like most of the others I saw online, a and they were super reasonably priced. I don't put it on her every day, but when she does have them on it almost always makes a difference in her gait.
LongTimeMother from Australia on July 20, 2013:
Oops. I just wrote a really long answer to this very point in response to your comment on my Mobicosa hub. If I copy and paste it here it will be duplicated content which is not a good thing, so I'll give the one sentence summary. lol.
Once the dog is comfortable and mobile, running and jumping, it is easy to watch for any signs of future discomfort - in which case start the treatment again. :)
I suspect we have all been taught to assume meds have to be taken forever instead of accepting that sometimes nature provides us with a real and lasting solution. Some might need continued treatment, but I don't know how good it is to be treating a condition if it no longer exists.
For me it felt silly to be taking capsules for my painful arthritis when I no longer had painful arthritis. Know what I mean?
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 19, 2013:
Most of the people I have talked with about glucosamine recommend it be given for the rest of the dogs life. If my dog was improving with Technyflex, I don't think I would want to stop and take a chance of her getting worse again! I have no idea about the gel, but it sounds great.
LongTimeMother from Australia on July 19, 2013:
The nice thing about Technyflex is that you don't have to keep giving it to the dog forever. Mobicosa fixed my arthritis and I'm still in perfect working order a decade later. I've written about mobicosa in hubs - including using the gel for swelling. It just occurred to me that the gel could probably be used on dogs as well. :)
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 19, 2013:
Thanks for that suggestion, LongTimeMother. It is one of the natural glucosamine/chondroiton supplements. I give my dog raw beef tracheas for the same reason. They do not need the product now, but anecdotal evidence shows that they prevent progression.
I am editing this to add your suggestion up above.Thanks again.
LongTimeMother from Australia on July 19, 2013:
This interesting hub caught my eye. I know quite a few people who have successfully treated arthritis in dogs using Technyflex Canine made from New Zealand green-lipped mussels (by the same people who make the Mobicosa brand for humans).
I'd suggest anyone with an arthritic dog research it on the internet. Old dogs seem to become young again. :)
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 29, 2012:
Thanks DoM I really appreciate your visits and have gained a lot from your articles on antioxidants. I really appreciate your vote of confidence.
Beth, the other article gives some options on the omega 3 supplements but for a Lab with mild symptoms it is a great way to go. I have no idea why your vet hasn't brought it up with you yet since it is pretty normal therapy now, but if your dog is responding to a few days of NSAIDs that is the way most vets will choose to treat. I hate to harp on this but the pharmaceutical companies visit every week with mugs, note pads, desk blotters, etc, all so that their product names will not be forgotten. Companies that sell fatty acids don't have that profit margin and never do that kind of marketing.
BethDW on July 29, 2012:
Great hub! My lab-mix is about to turn nine, and she's had a couple of incidents now where she started to limp very suddenly, and both times the vet put her on anti-inflamatories for brief periods (just a few days, until her symptoms waned). I had no idea there were such serious side affects associated with those drugs!
With her it is difficult to see the symptoms of her joint pain until they are severe, because she is a very calm and laid back pup generally (she's never been big on playing...she'll scrap with or younger dog occasionally, but she has no interest in toys, and really the only exercise she enjoys is her daily run). And she also isn't one to complain. So unfortunately, we didn't realize it was even an issue until she began limping the first time.
I know that because she is so large, and has had weight issues most of her life (I adopted her when she was 6, and when she came to me she was severely overweight) that her joint problems are likely to be exacerbated as she gets older...thanks for providing so much helpful info as to how to safely manage this problem! I'll definitely be starting her on an Omega-3 supplement right away (I don't know WHY my vet hasn't brought this up with me yet!)!
Melissa Flagg COA OSC from Rural Central Florida on July 28, 2012:
Have I mentioned I love your hubs? Another fantastically informational hub! I even bookmarked this one, my dog is an adolescent now, but we might need this down the road. Living in Florida just exacerbates arthritis symptoms (I know that from personal experience lol)
Voted up and Awesome and shared!