A Guide to Canine Arthritis

| AKC Pet Insurance

Osteoarthritis is an unpleasant condition that many dogs suffer from as they age. We cover everything you need to know about canine arthritis in this article!


While many diseases are unique to the animal kingdom, pets and people can develop a number of the same conditions. Degenerative joint disease, more often called osteoarthritis (or simply called “arthritis”), is one particularly unpleasant condition that dogs and their owners are often unlucky enough to share. 

What Is Canine Osteoarthritis?

Canine osteoarthritis is a painful, chronic condition that occurs when a joint’s protective layer of cartilage degenerates or becomes damaged. This creates friction at the joint which can cause pain and reduce mobility. The condition can affect any joint, but it is most often diagnosed in the elbows and hips. 

As the condition worsens, bone spurs can begin to form at the affected joint. This impacts blood flow, impairing cartilage recovery and causing the symptoms to progress further. 

How Do Dogs Get Arthritis? 

While older dogs are more likely to develop arthritis and experience severe symptoms, simply “getting old” does not cause the disease. What’s more, aging is no guarantee that your dog will develop the condition. Here are some of the environmental, behavioral, and heritable factors that may contribute to an osteoarthritis diagnosis in a dog of any age: 

  • Injuries to joints or ligaments

  • Joint disorders like hip and elbow dysplasia

  • Obesity

  • Poor nutrition

  • Stress from exercise, work, or other repetitive activities

Taking preventative measures can’t always stop your dog from developing osteoarthritis. Working alongside your vet to assess and (where possible) eliminate risk factors can, however, often keep discomfort and loss of mobility to a minimum. 

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What Are the Signs of Canine Arthritis?

Catching osteoarthritis early is essential for treating the condition. While warning signs are often subtle, the disease tends to cause a range of recognizable symptoms and behaviors: 

  • Behavioral changes like sudden aggression or avoidance

  • Difficulty walking, exercising, or changing position

  • Lameness in one or more legs 

  • Reluctance to walk, exercise, or go up and down stairs 

  • Swollen or stiff joints in one or more legs

Your veterinarian can diagnose arthritis through a combination of physical examinations and tests like x-rays and MRIs. They may also collect blood samples to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms like inflammatory joint disease.  

How Can I Treat Canine Arthritis?

Unfortunately, arthritis cannot be cured. Fortunately, dog lovers have a number of options for keeping arthritic pets as comfortable and active as possible. Your vet will likely recommend a combination of the following approaches: 

  • Alternative treatmentslike acupuncture or laser therapy

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs and other pain relief supplements

  • Low-impact exercise and physical therapy 

  • Ongoing weight management 

Responsible weight management is perhaps the most important aspect of managing your dog’s osteoarthritis. Excessive weight is not merely a risk factor for the condition, but tends to aggravate symptoms as well. Your veterinarian will be an important ally in developing the appropriate regimen of diet and exercise. 

Does Pet Insurance Cover Canine Arthritis Treatments? 

Canine arthritis is a chronic condition. That means your pet will contend with symptoms -- and you’ll contend with costs -- throughout the rest of their life. So long as those symptoms first appeared after your insurance policy’s waiting period, your pet insurance plan may help cover related expenses. Hereditary and Congenital Coverage, for example, provides coverage for a host of heritable and congenital conditions such as osteoarthritis.

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