Canine OA FAQs

For answers to specific questions about canine osteoarthritis, please review our frequently asked questions below.
For more information about canine osteoarthritis (OA), contact your veterinarian.

  • How can dog owners keep their dogs from getting canine osteoarthritis?

    The best way to handle canine osteoarthritis (OA) is to prevent it from happening altogether by making sure dogs stay active, eat healthy diets and don’t become overweight. But even with these precautions, dogs may still experience OA because of genetics, developmental disease or excessive wear or injury on joints.

    The next best thing to preventing OA is to slow its effects — loss of cartilage, pain from inflammation and joint damage, mobility limitations — as much as possible. Dog owners can watch for the early signs of OA so it can be diagnosed as soon as possible. Beginning OA management early, such as treating OA with a disease-modifying osteoarthritis drug (DMOAD), can help slow the long-term effects.

  • How do dog owners know if their dogs have canine osteoarthritis?

    Watching for the early signs of canine osteoarthritis (OA) is important because early management helps slow the effects of OA, which continues to get worse over time. Early signs of OA include dogs acting more anxious, restless or irritable; struggling to get comfortable and frequently changing positions; moving more slowly to get up or sit down; shifting weight from side to side or front to back while standing; showing less interest in playing; hesitating before doing normal activities like walking or climbing stairs; excessively licking a leg or paw; and showing difficulty squatting to eliminate. When dog owners notice any of these early signs of OA, it’s important to speak with their veterinarian as soon as possible. Getting a diagnosis of OA early allows veterinarians to begin proactive treatment with a disease-modifying osteoarthritis drug (DMOAD) that can help slow cartilage loss in a dog’s synovial joints.

  • How is canine osteoarthritis diagnosed?

    Ideally, veterinarians and dog owners will begin watching for the signs of canine osteoarthritis (OA) when dogs are still puppies. Veterinarians may ask dog owners a series of questions to find a dog’s mobility baseline and to help dog owners know how to identify the early signs of painful OA. If a veterinarian suspects a dog is developing OA, there are some common tests and observations that will help confirm the diagnosis. These might include an orthopedic exam in which a veterinarian analyzes a dog’s range of motion and muscle mass, radiographs to see issues in a specific joint, and lab tests to identify the cause of swollen joints or the presence of another disease.

  • How is canine osteoarthritis treated?

    Once veterinarians diagnose canine osteoarthritis (OA), they create a treatment plan specific to the dog’s stage of OA, physical condition and age. The plan will likely include a variety of approaches ranging from lifestyle management to pain management to disease treatment. Such a plan is often referred to as multimodal. The lifestyle portion will likely include a recommendation for daily walking. Dogs with OA actually worsen if they don’t move enough because their joints become stiff. Walking also helps dogs maintain an appropriate weight, which reduces pressure on joints. Veterinarians may prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to help manage the pain associated with OA inflammation. They may also prescribe a disease-modifying osteoarthritis drug (DMOAD) to treat the disease disease in addition to controlling the clinical signs. In addition to proper nutrition, some joint supplements may help support a dog’s general health. Since supplements are not reviewed or approved by the FDA, they’re available without a prescription, but it’s best for a veterinarian to recommend a supplement before dog owners begin giving one. To support the primary OA treatment, veterinarians may also recommend physical therapy, hydrotherapy, laser therapy or heat or ice therapy.

  • What can people do at home to help their dogs with osteoarthritis?

    A diagnosis of canine osteoarthritis (OA) can be scary, because it’s a progressive disease that gets worse over time; however, OA can be managed more effectively over a dog’s lifetime, especially when it’s diagnosed early. In addition to managing an OA diagnosis, dog owners may need to make some changes at home to help with their dogs mobility.

    Taking a dog with OA for a daily walk helps the dog’s joints stay loose, and daily walking helps dogs maintain an appropriate weight so painful pressure on the joints doesn’t increase. Using ramps inside the house can help dogs with OA more easily move up and down small stairs or get up and down from a piece of furniture.