What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?

Some of the most common symptoms of arthritis in dogs include limping, reduced activity, stiff walking or generally slower movement. If you notice one or a combination of these symptoms, your dog may be presenting signs of arthritis.  Arthritis is the inflammation of a joint, which can cause pain and/or swelling. Arthritic joints can cause a lot discomfort for your dog, so it’s important to be aware of the circumstances or conditions that can potentially cause arthritis.

Injury to Ligaments

Ligament damage is a very common cause of arthritis. The most common ligament damaged is the CCL (cranial cruciate ligament) in the knee. These tears are a common injury in pets, but other joints besides the knee can be affected, too.

Unfortunately, damage to the ligament can lead to joint instability and result in excess wear on the cartilage. Early diagnosis and treatment (often surgery) of any ligament damage can help prevent or minimize arthritis from occurring in the future. Other types of injuries that can cause arthritis include fractures, especially those involving a joint.

Joint Instability

Certain dogs are predisposed to a variety of joint instability issues that can lead to arthritis over time. Because these conditions may present themselves with similar or identical to symptoms of arthritis, it’s important to diagnose and begin treating what could be root causes.

  • Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hips, which can lead to joint instability. This can cause excess wear of the cartilage and lead to arthritis. There are some surgical and medical treatments available, but the earlier your pet is diagnosed, the more treatment options are available. Hip dysplasia is most commonly diagnosed through X-rays and an orthopedic exam.
  • Elbow dysplasia is a group of developmental disorders of the elbow. It usually starts as lameness around 6 to 9 months of age. Elbow dysplasia is typically seen in large, fast-growing dog breeds. Specialized X-rays are used to make a diagnosis. Surgery can help minimize the arthritis but most likely it will get worse over time.
  • Patellar luxation is common in small or toy breed dogs. This happens when the patella (knee cap), which moves up and down in a groove, pops out of place. Smaller dogs’ kneecaps tend to pop to the inside. Signs include an intermittent, non-weight bearing lameness of a hind leg—you may see your dog skip or hop on the affected leg(s). Patellar luxation can potentially lead to arthritis in the knees.

Cartilage Issues

Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) is a thickening of joint cartilage that can lead to injury. Oftentimes, pets with OCD will tear the thickened cartilage in the affected joint(s), which can lead to lameness of those joints.

OCD is most commonly seen in large and giant breed dogs in both the front and hind legs. It has been linked to excessive food intake resulting in extra weight. The first signs may appear as early as 4 to 8 months of age. Treatment often involves surgery to remove the excess cartilage.

Joint Infection

An infection in a joint can damage the joint enough that it eventually develops arthritis. Infections can occur after there’s an injury or a penetrating wound to a joint. Antibiotics can help treat some infectious causes of arthritis.

Autoimmune Disorders

There are some rare diseases in pets, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, which can cause pain, inflammation of the joints and lameness as well. Caused by an overreaction of the immune system, these diseases usually affect more than one joint and can eventually wear away the cartilage and even the bone in the joint. Immunosuppressive drugs can be effective against some autoimmune disorders.

Do you see potential signs of arthritis in your dog or cat? We can help.

If you notice any signs of arthritis in your pet, see your local veterinarian immediately. The doctor will perform a complete physical exam and diagnostic tests to help determine the cause and severity.

For more information on arthritis symptoms and care for pets, please refer to our Arthritis Handout or browse through our Pet Health Resource Library.

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