Seeing your dog limping or having trouble getting around is difficult. Like people, dogs can start limping or favoring a specific leg for numerous reasons. These issues could be as minor as a cut or scrape, or could be caused by a number of other, more serious conditions that may require immediate or proactive veterinary care.

If the limping came on suddenly, your dog may have experienced a minor injury, like an insect sting or a thorn stuck in his or her paw. But the limping could be the result of a broken or fractured bone, a sprain or ligament tear, or even a dislocated joint. In the event of sudden limping, it’s always essential to play it safe and call your veterinarian for immediate evaluation and care.

If the limping has come on more gradually, it could be caused by a chronic, progressive joint disease known as canine osteoarthritis, or often just as “OA”. Of course, there may be other issues causing your dog to limp, but it’s helpful to get a good understanding of OA in dogs so you are prepared to discuss this with your veterinarian.

Here are 3 things you should know about canine OA and how you can help your best friend live a happy, active life without being limited by the severe pain that accompanies this disease as it progresses.

1. Osteoarthritis in dogs is extremely common. OA is the most common form of arthritis in dogs. In fact, it affects about 25% of dogs in the United States. And considering that there are over 76 million dogs in this country alone, that’s a LOT of dogs suffering from OA pain and inflammation.

This chronic joint disease may be related to a number of things, including developmental problems in the joints, injury, genetics, and advancing age. Some other things that may contribute to the development of OA include being a large-to-giant breed dog and obesity, which puts a great deal of stress on the joints. Gender, exercise, and diet can also be contributing factors.

2. Canine OA can affect even otherwise healthy young dogs. It may be surprising to learn that OA in dogs is not always caused by just “getting old.” In fact, because OA so often results from developmental problems, many specialists consider it to also be a young dog’s disease. Sadly, more than 50% of cases are not diagnosed until these dogs are between 8 and 13 years of age when a great deal of joint damage has already occurred, causing the signs of OA to become clearly obvious.

One developmental problem that leads to OA is joint dysplasia, which means abnormal growth. Dysplastic joints predispose dogs to developing OA at a young age. Hip and elbow dysplasia are commonly seen in large breed puppies, like Golden Retrievers, Labradors, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers. In many cases, hip and elbow dysplasia can be addressed to some extent with surgery, various medical treatments, or a combination of both. But dysplasia is not the only cause of OA in young dogs. It can also be the result of an injury to a joint or an infection, such as Lyme disease.

3. Canine OA should be diagnosed and treated early to slow the progression of the disease. Dogs, especially young dogs, can be very good at hiding the pain of OA. They will typically adapt the way they move in order to continue engaging in all their normal daily activities, so it’s not always easy to tell that there’s something going on inside their joints. But the pain, however well masked, is caused by a vicious cycle of inflammation that has negative effects as it progresses, leading to the slow but steady deterioration of the joint. This then results in a number of tell-tale signs, such as lagging behind on walks, having trouble walking on slick floors or going up and down stairs, being less interested in physical activity, and the like.

Veterinarians divide OA in dogs into 4 stages. In the first 2 stages, OA often goes undetected as the signs are generally mild and because, as mentioned above, OA is still often incorrectly considered a health problem that only affects older dogs.

  • In Stage 1, OA will not yet be readily evident, but the disease is already at work in the joint(s) of dogs that are predisposed to it (ie, breed, level of activity, injury, etc).
  • In Stage 2, the signs of OA are still subtle but are now noticeable due to changes in the way a dog moves when he or she is active.
  • In Stage 3, the signs of OA become much more obvious. Because of this, OA is often diagnosed at this stage when the disease has progressed enough for the dog to be exhibiting signs of pain that limit his or her interest in or ability to normally do physical things that once were easy.
  • In Stage 4, dogs with OA are in so much pain that they have little desire to go for walks, go outside to use the bathroom, or even eat normally. OA is severely impacting their quality of life at this point.

The good news is that there are effective treatments for OA, especially when diagnosed early. If you are recognizing even subtle changes in your dog’s movement or behavior, it’s time to talk with your veterinarian. Treatment for OA includes different approaches that he or she will discuss with you. Although there is no cure for this progressive condition, identifying the problem early on and starting treatment can help keep your dog happy and active into his or her senior years.

One of the newer options that’s now available for canine OA is a completely different approach to treatment. It is called Synovetin OA®, which is prescribed to treat elbow OA. It doesn’t use drugs that have to go through your dog’s entire body. Instead, it relieves arthritis pain in a very targeted way, eliminating the inflammation deep inside the joint that is causing progressive destruction of cartilage. With Synovetin OA, all it takes is a single, simple procedure for up to 1 full year of relief that will help get your dog back to his or her happy, active self. Learn more about how Synovetin OA works.

For more information on the signs and symptoms of canine OA, please read the next article.