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What is Knee Arthritis in Dogs? Get Answers to Your Questions Here

Veterinarians.org Team

By

Medically reviewed by

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Knee arthritis in dogs a specific type of joint disease frequently occurring in dogs predisposed to hip dysplasia and tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament.

Just like in any other canine arthritis case, pain and inflammation are at the center of the problem, and their reduction needs to be the primary veterinary concern.

What is Knee Arthritis in Dogs?

Canine osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) is a painful inflammation of the joints with gradual and irreversible character. It develops when the cartilage starts deteriorating and loses its shock-absorbing ability, thus allowing bone friction.

The cartilage deterioration could stem from natural joint wear and tear (associated with older dogs), repetitive stress (associated with orthopedic issues and compensating), and traumatic injuries.

Knee arthritis in dogs occurs when the cartilage damage is limited to the knee joint. Certain dog breeds are at higher than average risk of developing this type of degenerative joint disease.

Symptoms and Signs of Knee Arthritis

Not all dogs with knee joint disease will manifest their pain equally. Some dogs are better at masking their osteoarthritis signs and symptoms, while others will show:

  • limping or lameness
  • difficulty getting up
  • inability to climb stairs
  • reluctance to jump
  • decreased appetite
  • sudden weight gain
  • increased lethargy
  • decreased exercise tolerance
  • pain upon touching the affected knee joint
  • swelling of the affected knee joint.

Degenerative Joint Disease Diagnosis

When older dogs present with the above-listed signs and symptoms, osteoarthritis is an objective suspicion. However, things are not straightforward with younger dogs and dogs that tend to hide the pain or during the early stages.

Since early diagnosis is important, the veterinarian will perform a complete physical and orthopedic examination of your dog. Performing x-rays of the affected joint is a vital part of the examination. The x-rays are enough for the vet to set the degenerative joint disease diagnosis.

The veterinarian could suggest taking x-rays of other joints (hips, shoulders, knees, elbows, wrists) to evaluate your dog’s overall joint health.

Causes of Knee Arthritis

There are several causes of knee arthritis in dogs. Some are directly related to the knee joint, while others affect different musculoskeletal structures but trigger arthritic changes in the knee joint as well. These are the top three causes of knee arthritis.

Old Age – Natural Wear and Tear

Canine osteoarthritis (or degenerative joint disease) is usually associated with old age. It is almost impossible to find an 8-year old dog with no arthritic changes in at least one joint.

Almost every dog will develop arthritis at a certain point in its life due to natural wearing and tearing of the cartilage and changes in the synovial fluid viscosity. However, certain dog breeds are more likely to develop arthritis even at an early age.

Although arthritis can develop in any of your dog’s joints, the knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders are most commonly affected.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tearing

Like in humans, knee cap problems are common in dogs. Problems with the knee caps will eventually lead to osteoarthritis development in the knee joints because of the compromised stability.

The most common knee cap problem stems from tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament. Large and giant breed dogs are more likely to sustain tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament. The list of predisposed breeds includes:

  • Akita
  • American Staffordshire terrier
  • Bernese Mountain dog
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • German Shepherd 
  • Golden Retriever 
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Mastiff
  • Newfoundland
  • Rottweiler
  • St. Bernard.

However, this knee injury is not limited to large and giant breeds – Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers, and other tiny breed dogs can also experience anterior cruciate ligament tearing.

Hip Dysplasia

All dogs with hip dysplasia are at high risk of developing knee arthritis. The reason why knee osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia are mutually dependent is compensation.

Namely, a dog with hip dysplasia will feel pain when using the hip joint. To achieve pain relief, it will put more stress, or better said, weight, on the next joint – the knee.  

Hip dysplasia is a congenital hip deformity. Normally, the hip consists of two main parts – a ball (head of the femur bone) and a socket (acetabulum of the hip bone) which must grow simultaneously at equal rates.

In dogs with hip dysplasia, the femur bone and the hip bone do not grow at equal rates. In other words, there is no uniform bone growth resulting in structural and functional anomalies. Hip dysplasia is prevalent among certain dog breeds, including:

  • Bernese Mountain dogs
  • Bulldogs
  • Golden retrievers
  • Great Danes
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Mastiffs
  • Pugs
  • Rottweilers
  • St. Bernards

Breed Predisposition

Certain dog breeds are at higher than average risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. Some breeds are predisposed to arthritic changes within the knee joint itself, while others to orthopedic issues occurring outside the knee joint but eventually affecting its overall health, stability, and functioning.

Members of the following breeds are likely to develop arthritis before reaching old age:

  • Labrador Retriever
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Standard Poodles
  • Old English Sheepdogs
  • Dalmatian
  • Australian Cattle dog
  • Bernese Mountain dog
  • American Cocker spaniel.

If your pet has a breed predisposition for osteoarthritis, it is advisable to start protecting its joints as early as possible, preferably while still a young puppy.

Initiating a proper osteoarthritis management plan at an early age while the dog’s joints are still healthy can slow down the development of the condition and ease its clinical manifestation.

Holistic Treatment Options for Dogs with Knee Arthritis 

Humans have enjoyed the use of holistic treatment opinions for years. However, their use in the veterinary medicine field is quite novel. There are different forms of holistic treatments for dogs.

Your vet can recommend which treatment is best for your dog after evaluating several factors related to its joint disease.

Therapy Options

There are various physical therapy and rehabilitation options for dogs with osteoarthritis. Hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and dog massage are among the most popular choices.

The goals of these treatments include pain relief, inflammation reduction, and leg strengthening. To achieve optimal results, the vet may recommend combining different therapy options.

Natural Supplements

Older dogs and dogs with breed predispositions to osteoarthritis need to receive joint supplements. Natural joint supplements for dogs promote joint health and are safe even when used in the long term.

Your vet will explain which joint health supplement is best for your dog. Although most joint supplements are available over the counter, it is advisable to talk to your dog’s veterinarian before using something.

Glucosamine

Glucosamine is a naturally occurring sugar found in the cartilage of humans and animals. It is the main building block of cartilage and an important ingredient in many joint supplements.

Glucosamine stimulates cartilage renewal and prevents the degradation of type II collagen within the cartilage.

Chondroitin Sulfate

Chondroitin sulfate is another compound found in the cartilage of humans and animals. It absorbs water and increases the cartilage elasticity and shock-absorbing ability, and inhibits enzymatic cartilage damage.

Glucosamine and chondroitin protect your dog’s cartilage best when used together. Therefore most joint supplements include both glucosamine and chondroitin in one joint formula known as glucosamine chondroitin.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential joints supplements for dogs with osteoarthritis. Omega 3 fatty acids are important because of their ability to reduce inflammation, thus easing the pain associated with arthritis.

The best source of omega 3 fatty acids for dogs is fish oil. Fish oil extracted from wild-caught, coldwater fish has the optimal omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids ratio.

Dogs with arthritis receiving fish oil require lower NSAIDs doses to achieve pain relief than dogs that are not supplemented with this omega 3 fatty acids source.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is a gel-like substance that increases the cartilage shock-absorbing capacity and elasticity by promoting a more viscous synovial fluid. It also enhances the joint and cartilage lubrication.

Green Lipped Mussels (GLM)

Green-lipped mussels are a natural source of several cartilage-protective compounds like omega 3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin. They are also rich in vitamin C and E, copper, selenium, and zink which protect the different joint (bone, ligament, tendon) structures.

Plus, Green Lipped Mussels have the ability to reduce inflammation and protect the joints from oxidative damage.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is an organic sulfur source found in animals and plants. It could help manage arthritis in dogs because it promotes cartilage, ligament, and tendon synthesis.

To ensure adequate MSM intake, many canine food manufacturers add MSM to their formulas. Veterinary prescription diets formulated for joint health and support contain particularly high MSM amounts.

Eggshell Membranes

The use of eggshell membranes in the veterinary medicine field is relatively new but showing promising results.

Dogs with arthritis could benefit greatly from joint supplements containing eggshell membranes because they are particularly rich in hyaluronic acid, collagen, glucosamine, and chondroitin.

Boswellia Serrata

Boswellia serrata is a resin tree extract rich in boswellic acids. The bowellic acids are good for your dog’s joints because they reduce inflammation and help ease the main osteoarthritis signs and symptoms – pain, lameness, and stiff gait. In terms of pain relief and arthritis management, Boswellia serrata has a similar effect as NSAIDs.

CBD Oil

Pet CBD oil is an excellent joint supplement for dogs with osteoarthritis. Pet CBD oil is beneficial because of the active cannabinoid ingredients, which:

  • Support healthy joints and flexibility
  • Provide connective tissue reinforcement
  • Help maintain a healthy inflammatory response
  • Manage inflammation processes in the body
  • Could help with orthopedic pain relief
  • Ease joint stiffness, discomfort, and pain due to normal daily exercise and activity.

The Honest Paws® Mobility chews contain organic hemp CBD oil and other ingredients that promote healthy joints and joint structures.

Tools to Help Your Arthritic Dog

You can improve your dog’s quality of life and increase its mobility by using certain mobility aids and environmental supports. These tools are not substitutes for conventional treatments and should be used in conjunction with other therapy approaches.

Mobility Aids

Based on the severity of the signs and symptoms, your dog may benefit from a mobility aid. There are different types of mobility aids for dogs, and you need to talk to your vet about whether this treatment approach is worth considering in your dog’s case.

Hip and Knee Braces

There are different types and designs of braces for dogs. Hip and knee braces are the most common choice for dogs with hind leg degenerative joint disease.

Lifting Harnesses

Dogs with hind leg joint disease have trouble getting up. Using a lifting harness is an excellent way of helping your dog get up without overstressing the joints.

Pet Wheelchair

Your dog may need a pet wheelchair if both its knees or hips are severely affected by arthritic changes. The pet wheelchair can be used during exercise to relieve joint pain and support your dog’s mobility.

Environmental Support

In addition to regular treatment, dogs with degenerative joint disease need several simple environmental modifications.

Pet Ramps

Dogs that have to climb stairs and jump on surfaces may aggravate their osteoarthritis signs and symptoms. Placing pet ramps will protect your dog’s joints and ease the pain.

Orthopedic Pet Beds

Providing an orthopedic pet bed with a human-grade memory foam mattress and lowered side for easy entrance will support the dog’s joints and relieve the pain and discomfort associated with repeated joint stress.

Elevated Food and Water Bowls

Your dog may benefit greatly from elevated food and water bowls. This is because the position dogs need to take while using regular bowls puts too much pressure on the joints and causes pain.

Non-Slip Mats

Walking on slippery surfaces is detrimental, especially for dogs prone to hip dysplasia and anterior cruciate ligament tearing. Covering all slippery floors with non-slip mats and rugs can help prevent problems. Alternatively, you can get your dog a nice pair of grippy socks.

Combining Treatments

When deciding the right treatment, the veterinarian will consider several factors related to your pet – age, breed, body weight, the severity of the signs and symptoms, and overall health. If the veterinarian suspects change, he/she may order new x-rays of your dog’s joints.

Pain Management

The two main goals of the arthritis treatment plan are to reduce inflammation and pain. There are different drugs that the vet could use to achieve these goals – some are safer for long-term use while others are more likely to trigger side effects.

Steroidal and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

When it comes to pain and inflammation management, steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the gold standard because of their unmatched efficacy.

However, long-term use of steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is associated with certain side effects. In general, dogs are at higher risk of developing side effects when treated with steroids than NSAIDs.

To avoid the development of side effects, the vet will recommend regular checkups and blood tests if your dog is receiving steroids or NSAIDs.

Before prescribing steroids or NSAIDs, the veterinarian will review several factors related to your pet, including co-existing health issues. Steroids and NSAIDs must never be used together because they increase the likelihood of side effects development when used in one combo.

Other Pain Killers

Sadly, not all arthritis-affected canine patients respond well to steroids and NSAIDs – some dogs develop side effects, and other dogs do not experience satisfactory pain relief.

In such cases, the vet will prescribe opioids (like tramadol) or gabapentin. Same as with the previous group, the vet will probably recommend regular checkups.

Diet and Exercise Regimen

The right diet is important in terms of weight gain prevention and reducing inflammation processes in the body. This is because certain foods have the ability to promote inflammation and others to inhibit.

As for exercise, it will keep the weight within the normal range and strengthen the legs, which will result in decreased pain and increased motion range of the joints.

Healthy Body Weight

Maintaining a healthy and lean weight is a vital part of canine osteoarthritis management. The best of managing your dog’s body weight is through proper feeding and a regular exercise regimen.

Healthy weight (more on the skinny side) is important because too much weight could put extra pressure on the joints, thus aggravating the arthritis signs and symptoms.

Joint Surgery

The vet can suggest joint surgery if the pain cannot be otherwise managed. There are different joint surgery approaches for dogs, including arthroscopy (removing the debris from the joint space) and joint replacement surgery.

Our Final Thoughts

The development of knee arthritis in dogs can be slowed down, especially when veterinary attention is sought during the early phases when the joint health is not severely compromised.

Degenerative joint disease in dogs is a complex condition affected by several factors. The vet will craft an individually tailored multimodal therapy strategy to enhance your dog’s quality of life (decreased pain and increased mobility).

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I give my dog for arthritis?

When dealing with a dog with arthritis, it is critical to follow the vet’s instructions. There are many anti-pain medicine options and joint supplements for dogs. It is important never to give your dog meds and supplements your vet hasn’t prescribed, as certain formulations for humans can be dangerous to dogs.

How can I ease my dog’s arthritis pain?

Pain is a detrimental state for your dog’s overall health. Luckily, there are several things you can do to ease the pain your dog feels – from anti-pain drugs and joint surgery through joint supplements and physical therapy to mobility aids and environmental support. Your vet will explain which treatments will benefit your dog’s joints most.

Should you walk a dog with arthritis?

Yes, it may sound counteractive, but dogs with osteoarthritis need to walk and exercise. However, the intensity of those walks and exercising regimens need to be modified to your dog’s needs and abilities. Talk to your vet about which type and how much physical activity your arthritic dog needs.

How long can dogs live with arthritis?

Canine osteoarthritis does not affect the dog’s lifespan, only the quality of life. In other words, dogs affected with osteoarthritis can reach and go through their senior years, but unless the arthritis is properly managed, they will experience pain daily.