Arthritis in dogs

Canine arthritis is a complicated disease which affects a dog’s quality and length of life.  It takes many forms, has many causes and sometimes has no trigger.

Arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints which occurs when there is interference with the normal structure and function of the joint.  Inflammation is the body’s response to trauma, infection or irritation and materialises in redness, warmth, swelling and pain. Canine arthritis can occur in any joint but most commonly develops in the hips, knees and elbows:

Prevalence of arthritis in dogs

Sadly, arthritis is a very common problem in dogs.  It is estimated that at least 20% of dogs are affected by the condition – this statistic is only an estimate as some dogs are never diagnosed.  The likelihood of any dog developing the condition is ever increasing because they are living longer and longer.

Types of arthritis in dogs

There are three types of arthritis in dogs:

1. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is often used interchangeably with the term ‘arthritis’ and is also called Degenerative Joint Disease.  OA is the most common type of arthritis in dogs and affects one or two of their joints.

In OA there is progressive, permanent, and long-term deterioration of the cartilage surrounding the joints which causes chronic joint inflammation.  There are two types of OA:

A. Primary OA which occurs as dogs get older due to natural wear and tear.  The cause is usually unknown.

B. Secondary OA which occurs because there’s an underlying anatomical problem including developmental disorders such as hip or elbow dysplasia or an injury such as a fracture or a ligament problem.  When arthritis is the secondary problem, dogs can be relatively young when they develop it.

With both types of OA there is joint capsule inflammation, joint capsule thickening, joint fluid accumulation, joint swelling and most importantly a break down of cartilage.  In the most severe cases, cartilage can wear away leaving bone to rub on bone which makes it very difficult and extremely painful for dogs to move around.

Osteoarthritis is often a slow process and can be well advanced before the joint becomes sore.

2. Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis

Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis (IMPA) is also called Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis.  Joint inflammation occurs when the immune system attacks a joint or multiple joints because parts of the joint are considered to be ‘foreign’.  Conditions come on very suddenly.

The joint inflammation, swelling, tenderness and heat are often much more severe than osteoarthritis.

3. Septic Arthritis

Septic arthritis occurs when there is a bacterial infection of a joint resulting from either a puncture wound, bite, allergy or reaction to certain drugs or vaccines.  It typically affects a single joint.

Septic arthritis differs from the other two types of arthritis because as well as the inflammation there is also the presence of a disease-causing organism within the joint fluid.

It is very destructive because the level of inflammation is intense and as such it is often treated as an emergency.  It requires antibiotics and, if the joint infection is chronic, emergency treatment from the vet.


I saw my old dog Duke suffer from very weak legs because his muscles had wasted away and so I really recommend that, if you’re concerned that your dog’s suffering from arthritis, you get your vet to check your dog out.  Getting an early diagnosis may help to prevent the arthritis from getting worse and you can start managing your dog’s comfort levels.  

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