Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing

Please ensure that your pet is either in a travel crate or on a leash before bringing them to their appointment.

Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Osteoarthritis is a common degenerative joint disease that affects many dogs, especially as they age. This condition can significantly impact a dog's quality of life, causing pain, reduced mobility, and discomfort. Understanding dog osteoarthritis, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment options, can help pet owners provide the best care for their furry friends.

What is Osteoarthritis in Dogs?

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown and eventual loss of the cartilage that cushions the joints. This can lead to pain, inflammation, and decreased mobility in dogs. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but it is most commonly seen in the hips, knees, elbows, and back legs.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Recognizing the symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs is crucial for early intervention and management. Common osteoarthritis symptoms in dogs include:

  • Pain, stillness, and lameness
  • Swollen joints
  • Refusal to jump, use stairs, or run
  • Reluctance to stand up 
  • Restlessness, can't get comfortable
  • Lack of enthusiasm for walks or play
  • Whining, irritability, or aggression
  • Licking joints
  • Slow shuffling walk

Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis can develop in any breed of dog, but it is most commonly diagnosed in larger breeds such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labs, and Rottweilers.

The exact cause of osteoarthritis is largely unknown. Still, this condition is often associated with underlying issues such as trauma-related injuries, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cruciate injury, or dislocations of the shoulder or knee.

Additionally, obesity is linked to osteoarthritis, as excess weight can put unnecessary stress on the dog's joints, leading to pain and degenerative joint issues over time.

How to Treat Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis in dogs cannot be reversed or cured. Successful treatment of this condition reduces the pain caused by the affected joints, helps slow the ongoing degeneration of the affected joints, and allows your dog to live more comfortably and enjoy a good quality of life as they age. Often, a combination of treatments will be used to achieve pain relief and improve mobility.

Painkillers / Pain Meds

Painkillers like anti-inflammatories are frequently prescribed for long-term management of your dog's joint pain and to reduce swelling.


Although it may seem counterintuitive, exercise is essential for dogs with osteoarthritis. It may be necessary to cut back on exercise when your dog is first diagnosed with osteoarthritis; however, staying mobile will help your dog maintain fitness, achieve a healthy weight, relieve joint pain, and enjoy a good quality of life. Exercise will need to be tailored to your dog's overall health and the severity of osteoarthritis. Your vet will recommend the best level of exercise to help relieve your dog's osteoarthritis symptoms.


Remember to manage your dog's weight as a key part of their osteoarthritis treatment. Increased weight stresses your dog's joints, so maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the pain from the condition.

Your vet might suggest a calorie-reduced diet if your dog's exercise level has decreased or a diet with added chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids to help alleviate symptoms.


Sometimes, when joint damage is extensive, your vet may recommend surgery to help alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of your dog's osteoarthritis. Veterinary surgery may involve removing bone fragments that aggravate the condition or replacing the affected joints.

Cold Laser Therapy for Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Cold laser therapy is a non-invasive treatment option that can effectively manage osteoarthritis symptoms in dogs. This therapy uses low-level lasers to stimulate cell regeneration and increase blood circulation, promoting healing and reducing inflammation.

When and How Cold Laser Therapy Can Help

Cold laser therapy can be used at various stages of osteoarthritis to provide relief. It is particularly beneficial for:

  • Reducing Pain: The laser stimulates the release of endorphins, which can help alleviate pain.
  • Decreasing Inflammation: The anti-inflammatory effects of laser therapy can reduce swelling in the joints.
  • Improving Mobility: By enhancing circulation and reducing pain, dogs often experience improved mobility and a better range of motion.
  • Accelerating Healing: It can speed up healing for dogs recovering from surgery or injury.
Typically, cold laser therapy involves multiple sessions, the frequency and duration of which depend on the severity of the dog's osteoarthritis and response to treatment.

Prognosis for Dogs with Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis in dogs is a common yet manageable condition. Pet owners can significantly enhance their dog's quality of life by understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and exploring various treatment options, including cold laser therapy.

Early intervention and consistent care are key to helping dogs live comfortably despite osteoarthritis. If you suspect your dog is showing signs of osteoarthritis, consult your veterinarian to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to your dog's needs.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Contact our Jackson vets today to learn more about your dog's osteoarthritis treatment.

New Patients Welcome

North Madison Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of all companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

Contact Us

Book Online (731) 664-6200