About canine osteoarthritis

Canine osteoarthritis (OA), also referred to as degenerative joint disease, is a painful, progressive disease caused by deterioration of joint cartilage, surrounding tissue and fluid.1 Over time, this can lead to bone-on-bone contact, chronic inflammation, swelling and a very uncomfortable life for a dog.1 OA is the most common cause of chronic pain in dogs1 and the effects can be debilitating.

Before you even notice common signs of OA, a dog’s cartilage may be starting to wear away. Unless properly managed, the joint cartilage will continue to wear away, and cartilage damage can be directly associated with joint disease, including OA.

Mid-adult male vet examining a dog in the animal clinic.
Healthy-damaged chart

A dog's joint

Taking a walk, getting up from a nap, sitting for a treat: Every movement depends on healthy joints. Cartilage is an important part of a joint, and it goes through normal wear and tear every time your dog moves. But unlike most other types of tissues, cartilage contains no blood vessels, lymphatics or nerves. This unique structure means it doesn’t heal and repair itself as well as other tissues. That’s why keeping cartilage healthy is so important.

Rethink these OA myths

  • Myth: Canine osteoarthritis is an old dog’s disease.

    Fact: One in five dogs over 1 year old may be affected by osteoarthritis.2 Canine osteoarthritis is genetic and developmental and usually starts within the first few months of a dog’s life – during the rapid growth that occurs in the first four to six months. While any dog can develop OA, some dogs are at a higher risk than others.

  • Myth: Dogs with OA should not exercise.

    Fact: Exercise is one of the most powerful weapons against arthritis in dogs. Activity helps joints function better and feel better. Dogs with OA actually worsen if they don’t move enough, because their joints become stiff. Lack of exercise can lead to increased weight, which puts more pressure on already sore joints. So, keep your dog moving. If your dog is in too much pain to exercise, your veterinarian can make recommendations about how to give your dog some relief and ease into walking more and more.

  • Myth: OA is like a death sentence.

    Fact: A diagnosis of OA can be scary, because it is a long-term disease that worsens over time. However, OA can be managed effectively over your dog’s life, especially if you and your veterinarian catch it early. Proactive OA management can slow the effects of OA, so your dog can romp and play and enjoy a high quality of life for many years to come.


Stages of OA3

Veterinarians classify the disease of canine osteoarthritis into four stages.
The stages are universal, but dogs go through them at varying rates.


Earliest signs can include subtle changes in behavior, body position and movement.


Signs include limping, struggling to get up or lie down, and refusing to climb stairs.


Signs include less interest in going on walks and playing.


Signs are visible at all times; dog loses the ability to function or walk.

  1. Esptein M, Kirkby Shaw K. Osteoarthritis in Dogs and Cats: Novel Therapeutic Advances. 2016 NAVC Proceedings, pp. 863-865.
  2. Clinician’s Brief, Aug 2013, Canine OA, DA Canapp, DVM, CCRT, CVA, DACVSMR.
  3. Face validity of a proposed tool for staging canine osteoarthritis: Canine Osteoarthritis Staging Tool (COAST), T. Cachon, O. Frykman, J.F. Innes, B.D.X. Lascelles, M. Okumra, P. Sousa, F. Staffieri, P.V. Steagall, B. Van Ryssen, COAST Developmental Group, The Veterinary Journal, 235 (2018) 1-8.