Canine Arthritis: Non-Surgical and Surgical Treatment Options

Canine arthritis is a common and progressive condition that affects a dog’s joints. It involves the deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones within a joint, leading to pain, inflammation, and reduced joint mobility.

Arthritis primarily affects older dogs, but it can also occur in younger dogs due to various factors such as genetics, joint injuries, or certain underlying conditions.

There are several types of canine arthritis, including:

Osteoarthritis (OA):

This is the most common form of arthritis in dogs. It occurs when the protective cartilage that covers the ends of bones wears down over time. As the cartilage deteriorates the bones rub against each other, leading to pain, swelling, and decreased joint function. OA often develops as dogs age, and it commonly affects weight-bearing joints like hip joint, knees, elbows, and shoulders.

Think your dog has OA? Read on here for specific treatment options.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA):

Unlike OA, which is primarily caused by wear and tear, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where the dog’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own joint tissues. RA is less common in dogs than in humans, and it often affects multiple joints simultaneously. It can lead to severe joint deformities and requires specialized medical treatment.

Infectious Arthritis:

This type of arthritis is caused by an infection that enters a joint, leading to inflammation and joint damage. Bacteria, viruses, or fungi can cause infectious arthritis, and it can result from a variety of sources such as wounds, surgery, or systemic infections.

Immune-Mediated Arthritis (IMPA):

Similar to rheumatoid arthritis, IMPA is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the body’s own joint tissues. This can result in inflammation, pain, and joint damage. Different forms of IMPA exist based on which part of the joint is affected.

You will have to go to your Vet to get an accurate diagnosis as the symptoms of the different types of arthritic conditions tend to be similar.

Your Vet will perform multiple assessments like, physical examination for swelling, limited motion, and discomfort. Gait observation and gentle joint palpation to identify abnormalities in movement. X-rays to confirm the arthritis and show its severity and blood tests rule out other causes.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the veterinarian will discuss treatment options tailored to your dog’s specific needs and the severity of arthritis. Early detection and intervention are essential for managing arthritis effectively and improving your dog’s quality of life.

Conservative Treatment for dog with arthritis

Dog arthritis, like arthritis in humans, is a condition characterized by inflammation and degeneration of the joints. And just like there is no absolute cure for arthritis in humans, there isn’t one for dogs too. Degenerative joint disease can cause pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility. There are several non invasive treatments available to manage a dog’s arthritis pain and improve their quality of life. Here are some common conventional treatment options for dog arthritis:

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs):

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed for pain management. These medications work by reducing inflammation, relieving pain, and improving joint mobility. NSAIDs inhibit specific enzymes that contribute to inflammation, helping alleviate discomfort and enhancing your dog’s overall comfort.

However, it’s crucial to use NSAIDs specific to dogs and not administer human medicine and use them under veterinary supervision, as prolonged or incorrect usage can lead to adverse effects like gastrointestinal issues, liver problems, or kidney damage. Regular check-ups with your veterinarian ensure proper administration and monitoring of your dog’s response to NSAID treatment.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin:

These are dietary supplements often prescribed to dogs with joint pain. Glucosamine and chondroitin are natural compounds found in joint cartilage and are believed to support joint health and reduce inflammation. Joint supplements promote healthy cartilage while keeping the joints well-lubricated.

When used well in advance, Joint supplements have proven effective in significantly reducing the speed of progression ultimately leading to increased quality of life.

Steroids and Corticosteroids:

Steroids are potent anti-inflammatory pain medications that can provide significant relief from inflammation and decrease pain associated with arthritis in dogs. They work by suppressing the immune response, which helps reduce inflammation in the affected joints.

Steroids are generally used for short-term management of severe arthritis flare-ups or when other treatments have not provided adequate relief. Long-term use of steroids is typically avoided due to potential side effects, including increased thirst, hunger, and the risk of immune suppression and other health issues.

Disease-Modifying Osteoarthritis Drugs (DMOADs):

DMOADs are a class of medications designed to slow the progression of arthritis and protect joint tissues from further damage. It works by promoting cartilage repair and inhibiting enzymes that break down joint tissue. DMOADs are often administered as injections, and they can complement other treatments like NSAIDs and glucosamine/chondroitin supplements.

Canine Physical Therapy:

Canine Physical Therapy plays a crucial role in improving the health of your dog’s joints. It involves targeted exercises and therapies designed to improve joint function, strengthen supporting muscles, and enhance overall mobility. Get in touch with your Vet or a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner and have them teach you a few at home exercises that you can carry out. Some suitable physical therapy exercises for dogs with arthritis include:

Passive Range of Motion Exercises (PROM):

Gently move your dog’s joints through their full range of motion to prevent stiffness. This can be done by flexing and extending each joint, such as the knees and elbows, in a controlled manner.


Water-based exercises in a controlled pool or underwater treadmill provide low-impact resistance, aiding muscle strengthening and joint mobility without putting excessive strain on joints.

Sit-to-Stand Exercises:

Have your dog stand and then sit and then get up from the sleeping and the sitting position repeatedly to improve strength in their leg muscles and support their weight-bearing joints.

Weight Shifting:

Teach your dog to shift their weight between their front and hind legs while standing to help distribute pressure evenly across the joints.

Walking on Uneven Surfaces:

Gentle walking on soft surfaces like grass or sand engages different muscle groups, promoting joint flexibility and strength.

Low-Impact Fetch:

Play a game of fetch using a soft toy or ball on a carpeted surface, ensuring controlled movement to prevent excessive strain on joints but still get in the exercise needed. Ensure your dog doesn’t jump too much or does complex moves like a side-to-side jump.

animals, nature, dogs

Stretching Exercises:

Gently stretch your dog’s limbs, holding each stretch for a few seconds, to maintain flexibility and prevent muscle tightness.


Massaging your dog’s muscles helps improve circulation, reduce muscle tension, and alleviate discomfort. Use gentle, circular motions around the affected joints.

Cavaletti Poles:

Set up low hurdles or poles for your dog to step over, promoting controlled movement and flexibility.

Heat and cold therapy:

Applying warm compresses or using heating pads can help relax muscles and increase blood flow to affected areas. Cold packs on the other hand can reduce inflammation and ease pain.

Chiropractic Care:

Chiropractic care for dogs with arthritis involves manual manipulation of the spine and joints to improve mobility, relieve pain, and enhance nervous system function. Chiropractors aim to realign misaligned joints and optimize the body’s natural ability to heal itself. However, it’s essential to seek a qualified and experienced animal chiropractor for safe and effective treatment of chronic conditions.

Laser Therapy:

Also known as cold laser therapy or low-level laser therapy, uses light energy to penetrate the skin and promote tissue healing. It is believed to reduce inflammation, increase blood flow, and stimulate cell regeneration in arthritic joints. Laser therapy is non-invasive and generally well-tolerated by dogs and is a popular form of treating arthritis in advanced cases.

Remember to always start with short sessions and gradually increase intensity as your dog becomes more comfortable. You don’t have to build a plan that comprises all of the above dog physical therapy exercises. Get in touch with your Canine Rehab. Center and build a plan that is well-suited for your dog.

It is also important to be regular with the physical therapy exercise sessions and don’t forget to monitor their response and adjust the rehab exercises, accordingly. If at any point your dog shows signs of discomfort or fatigue, stop the exercises and consult your veterinarian. The goal is to provide gentle and controlled movement to improve your dog’s joint health and well-being without causing strain or pain.

Surgical Intervention

In specific cases where conservative treatments have resulted ineffective or your dog’s condition is severe. Surgical options aim to reduce pain, improve joint health, and enhance your dog’s quality of life. Some surgical procedures for canine arthritis include:

Total Joint Replacement: This involves replacing the entire affected joint with an artificial joint made of metal or other materials. Total joint replacement is often used for severe hip or elbow arthritis and can provide significant pain relief and improved mobility.

Joint Fusion (Arthrodesis): This surgery fuses the bones on either side of the joint, eliminating movement in that area and reducing pain. It’s commonly used for wrists, ankles, and toes.

Osteotomy: Osteotomy involves reshaping the bones around a joint to alter the joint’s mechanics and reduce pressure on damaged areas. It’s often used to address specific issues like abnormal hip joint or angles or instability.

Debridement and Lavage: In some cases of less severe arthritis, arthroscopic procedures can be performed to remove damaged tissue, debris, and inflammatory substances from the joint. This can provide relief and improve joint function.

Ligament Reconstruction: Certain types of arthritis can result from ligament instability, such as cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) tears in the knee. Surgical repair or reconstruction of the ligament can improve joint stability and alleviate associated arthritis.

Cartilage Restoration Procedures: Techniques like autologous cartilage implantation (ACI) involve transferring healthy cartilage cells to damaged joint surfaces, promoting the growth of new cartilage tissue.

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) and Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA): These procedures are commonly used for dogs with cruciate ligament injuries that contribute to arthritis. They involve altering the mechanics of the joint to reduce strain on the ligaments and prevent further joint damage.

The decision to proceed with surgery should be made in consultation with a veterinary specialist who can evaluate the dog’s overall health, the severity of arthritis, and the potential benefits of surgery. Post-operative physical rehabilitation is crucial to ensure a successful recovery and maximize the benefits of surgical intervention.

Things you can do to your help your dog.

Nutritional supplements

can play a supportive role in managing canine arthritis by promoting joint health, reducing inflammation, and providing additional nutrients to support joint function. It’s important to consult your veterinarian before introducing any supplements to your dog’s diet, as their specific needs and any potential interactions with medications should be considered. Some commonly used nutritional supplements for canine arthritis include:

Glucosamine and Chondroitin: These compounds are building blocks of cartilage and are commonly used to support joint health. They may help reduce inflammation, improve joint mobility, and promote cartilage repair.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fish oil supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, have anti-inflammatory properties that can help alleviate joint discomfort in dogs with arthritis.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): MSM is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, potentially reducing joint pain and promoting joint flexibility.

Turmeric/Curcumin: Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory effects that can aid in reducing joint inflammation and discomfort.

Hyaluronic Acid: This substance is naturally present in joint fluid and helps maintain joint lubrication and cushioning. Supplements may improve joint comfort and mobility.

Green-Lipped Mussel: These supplements contain compounds that may help reduce joint inflammation and support overall joint health.

Collagen: Collagen supplements can provide additional support to connective tissues and cartilage, aiding in joint health.

Vitamin E and C: Antioxidant vitamins like vitamin E and vitamin C can help combat oxidative stress and inflammation in arthritic joints.

Probiotics: Probiotics can support gut health, which is linked to overall inflammation regulation and immune function.

When selecting supplements, opt for one that has all the above-mentioned ingredients in an appropriate dosage.

Weight Management:

One of the most critical lifestyle modifications for dogs with arthritis is weight management. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential as excess body weight places additional strain on the already compromised joints. Obesity can exacerbate arthritis symptoms, cause more pain, and lead to faster joint degeneration. Overweight and obese dogs are at higher risk of developing arthritis and are likely to experience more severe arthritis-related issues.

To address this, work closely with your veterinarian to determine the ideal weight for your dog’s breed and age. They can recommend a suitable diet plan and portion control to help achieve and maintain the desired weight. If you’d like to know more about what makes up a good diet for an arthritic dog- read on here.

Exercise and Physical Activity:

While arthritis may make movement uncomfortable for many dogs, low-impact, regular exercise is essential for maintaining joint flexibility and strengthening supporting muscles and preventing muscle atrophy. Exercise helps keep the joints mobile and improves blood flow to the affected areas, reducing stiffness and discomfort.

It is crucial to choose activities that are gentle on the joints. Activities such as walking, swimming, and hydrotherapy can be beneficial for arthritic dogs, especially senior dogs. Avoid high-impact activities or excessive running, jumping, as these can worsen joint stress. A veterinarian or a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner can provide guidance on appropriate physical therapy exercise routines tailored to the dog’s specific needs and condition.

Assistive Devices and Mobility Aids:

In cases where arthritis severely affects a dog’s mobility, assistive devices can help your dog overcome some of their mobility issues. These devices help dogs move more comfortably and safely, minimizing the pressure on their joints and reducing pain.

Some common assistive devices include ramps to help them climb stairs or get in and out of vehicles, orthopedic beds that provide better support for their joints, and harnesses that allow pet owners to support the dog’s weight during walks or standing up. These aids improve the dog’s independence and allow them to maintain a more active lifestyle despite their condition.

Environmental Modifications:

Modifying your dog’s environment can create a more comfortable and accommodating space for them. Creating a dog-friendly environment involves ensuring that their living space is easily accessible and that they have everything they need within reach.

Food and water bowls kept on the floor can result in your dog’s head bending to a degree more than they are comfortable with. Elevated food and water bowls can be placed at a suitable height, reducing the need for your dog to bend down and strain their neck and back.

When laying on a flat surface, your dog’s body conforms to that surface increasing discomfort. Soft and supportive bedding is essential to alleviate pressure on their joints while resting.

Providing non-slip surfaces with carpets or using toe grips helps your dog walk about easier and it helps prevent any slips.

Colder weather can increase your dog’s pain as the cold weather causes their blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow to joints, it also causes the joint fluid to thicken and become less effective at providing cushioning and lubrication. Keeping your dog warm will help ease this discomfort. If you do plan to use a heating pad, ensure it doesn’t in direct contact with your dog.

french bulldog, dog, sleep

By making these lifestyle modifications, you can significantly improve the quality of life for your dog. Remember, early detection and prompt medical intervention and implementation of these changes can slow down the progression of the disease and is key to having your dog lead a more comfortable and active life for as long as possible.

With proper care and attention, dogs with arthritis can continue to enjoy a long fulfilling life filled with love and companionship.