Pet Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is a progressive non-inflammatory, irreversible deterioration of articular cartilage.

Basically, you have to prevent it rather than treat it. Once the joint has deteriorated beyond a certain point the only way to “treat” degenerative joint disease is to use pain medication as a band-aid to the problem. Before we go into the different preventative therapies, let’s go over the different causes of osteoarthritis:

  • Joint instability caused by conditions such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and osteochondrosis, cranial cruciate rupture, patellar luxation and arthropathy
  • Joint incongruity caused by conditions such as elbow dysplasia or trauma
  • Obesity
  • Overworking physically
  • Excessive athletics

If any of these conditions is something that you know your dog has or participates in, then they could be at a risk of developing osteoarthritis over time.

Symptoms of degenerative joint disease:

  • Limping
  • Altered or stiff gait
  • Joint pain
  • Crepitus or “crunching” of the joint when it moves
  • Pain on touching the affected joint (in severe cases)
  • Thickening or swelling of the joint

Diagnosing osteoarthritis in your pet:

Your veterinarian can diagnose osteoarthritis in your pet through gathering a general history, a through physical examination and sometimes radiographs. On the physical exam, signs that osteoarthritis is present are limping, reduced range of motion in the joint and thickened joint which can be felt by moving hands over the joint and comparing its size to the contralateral limb or what can be deduced as normal based on the size and breed of the animal.


Once osteoarthritis has been diagnosed, there are a number of ways we can treat it. The most important being to keep your pet at a lean body weight! Having excess weight on the joints can contribute to a faster progression of the disease and makes the joint work harder.

If the osteoarthritis is caused by joint instability or incongruity it is best to surgically correct the problem first. Non-surgical methods include pain management, cartilage modifiers, chondroprotective agents, acupuncture, rest and exercise modification.


Osteoarthritis is typically an irreversible, slowly progressive disease. Treatment is aimed at reducing the pain associated with the disease and trying to slow its progression as much as possible. The goal is to prolong quality of life and try to keep full mobility intact.

Written by Dr. Megan Haines