A guide to canine arthritis

This article is not meant to replace advice from your veterinarian. If your dog shows signs of canine arthritis, bring him to the vet as soon as possible for an exam. And check with your vet before giving your dog any kind of medication.

What is canine arthritis?

Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a debilitating and progressive, disorder characterized by lost cartilage and the death of cartilage-producing cells. DJD can arise in any joint, but mostly affects the hip. It can cause aches and pains, stiffness, and lameness.

Which breeds and ages get canine arthritis?

In most cases, DJD happens as a result of trauma (such as broken bones), nutritional disorders, or infections. It is common in middle-aged to elderly dogs. DJD has also happened in young dogs who suffer from canine hip dysplasia, a common developmental disorder of the hip joint found mainly in larger and breed mixes.

Treatment options


DJD medication therapy can help to control pain, increase activity, slow down the deterioration of the joint, and repair the cartilage. The medications recommended most by veterinarians are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These help control pain and inflammation in dogs with DJD.

NSAIDs include:

  • Aspirin–The most commonly prescribed NSAID; aspirin can treat DJD in most dogs. Side effects include gastrointestinal problems, including ulcers with long-term use.
  • Carprofen (Rimadyl)–Appreciably stronger than aspirin, carprofen has been shown through tests to be effective and safe for dogs. Side effects are rare cases of liver toxicity.
  • Etodolac (EtoGesic)–A powerful pain-reliever, etodolac can bring DJD relief with little chance of stomach ulcers developing over long-term use.

Chondroprotective drugs can help protect the cartilage as it attempts to repair itself. They have become progressively more and more popular in treating DJD.

Chondroprotective drugs include:

  • Cosequin and Glyco-flex–Consisting of glucosamine and purified chondroitin sulfate, major building blocks of cartilage, these drugs don’t need FDA approval as they’re considered to be dietary supplements or food additives.
  • Adequan–A newer drug on the market, Adequan was approved by the FDA for the treatment of DJD in dogs. It works by reducing some causes of inflammation and controlling enzymes that can add to the destruction of cartilage. Adequan is injected into the dog’s muscles on a regular schedule. Adequan is more likely to give good results if it’s given in the early stages of DJD. For example, when puppies with hip dysplasia were given Adequan before arthritis began to develop, their radiograph showed significant improvement, and development of DJD was delayed.

Because NSAIDs and chondroprotective drugs work in different ways, they can be given to dogs at the same time.

Exercise and weight management

Medication can be more effective when combined with exercise and weight management. Regular, non-taxing exercise, such as swimming or walking, is beneficial and may augment the nutrition of cartilage. Do not let your dog engage in strenuous, high-impact activities. Obese dogs should be placed on a Vet-approved diet. Dogs with DJD may actually be better off from being slightly underweight.


Drug therapy does not always work to reduce pain and slow down the degenerative process. If this is true for your dog, many surgical options are available for hip dysplasia. The most familiar is femoral head ostectomy, where the head of the thighbone is removed to take away the pain of the thighbone grinding against the hip socket. Triple pelvic osteotomy is a corrective surgical procedure that reorients the hip socket to realign it with the head of the thighbone, thus stabilizing the joint. The most radical option is total hip replacement with a prosthetic device.


Chronic pain from hip dysplasia and associated DJD is a frequent reason for acupuncture referrals. Although controlled clinical studies are lacking, there are many anecdotal reports on the use of acupuncture in treating musculoskeletal disorders in dogs.

Source: Adapted from the ASPCA