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  • Writer's pictureKatie Mehrtens

OUCH! Arthritis is a PAIN!

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis. It’s one of the leading, if not the lead, cause of chronic pain in dogs. Unfortunately, it is not just an “old” dog condition—it occurs in pets of any, yes any, age.

Arthritis is defined as “inflammation of the joints,” and often results in structural and functional decline of the joint, leading to pain and lameness. Arthritis is a progressive disease of the entire joint system, affecting all structures within that joint.

Meaning…cartilage within the joint is destroyed, the joint capsule’s inner lining becomes

inflamed, the fibrous outer layer thickens and becomes restrictive, the joint fluid thins and is no longer able to support the joint’s normal movements, the bone under the cartilage remodels resulting in the inability of it to absorb shock, and the supportive structures such as ligaments (at the joint and in other areas of the body) weaken, leaving the joint unstable and weak. All duringthis degenerative process, the nerve receptors within the bone and joint capsule send messages of inflammation and tissue damage to the brain. The central nervous system responds to the pain in a manner called central sensitization.*

In this blog, I am focusing on dogs. However, cats also experience the degenerative effects of arthritis. While the degenerative effects follow a similar path, cats have a different physical structure.

Why Does Arthritis Occur?

Arthritis can develop in our pets for a number of reasons. It may have no known cause, or it may develop due to a joint disorder, underlying disease factors, injury, or a genetic component. No matter how or why arthritis develops, is can be exacerbated by risk factors such as aging, poor diet, obesity, too much or too little exercise, and lifestyle.

The #1 cause of arthritis is developmental joint disease, which is often a younger dog’s disease. It occurs when joints do not fit together properly causing degenerative changes in that joint. The two most common developmental conditions are hip and elbow dysplasia.

Arthritis Affects the Whole Body

Unfortunately, arthritis pain is not limited to the affected joint area alone.

Pain from the arthritic joint causes reduced use of that joint and limb, resulting in the weakening of the surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Because of this, the body weight shifts away from the painful joint to compensate in another part of the body. This leads to more pain, weakness/loss of strength, and reduced function.

For example, a dog with painful and weak hind limbs will carry less weight in the hind end to avoid the pain, and will compensate by using the forelimbs more—the dog will pull more than push.

The reduced use of the hindlimbs results in muscle loss and weakness, decreased stability,

and less forward push. Thus, the dog’s back, forelimbs, shoulders and neck will compensate and work harder to support the dog’s mobility.

This compensation will eventually cause secondary issues in these regions that leads to pain in the front end.


In my practice I see numerous dogs with arthritis. The most obvious arthritic pups are my senior clients. However, it is not uncommon for me to see younger dogs that have pain in some of their joints.

No pet parent wants to hear that their younger dog has joint pain/arthritis. It is hard to hear for many reasons—no cure, it’s progressive, the associated pain, etc. Because joint pain is typically thought to be an older pet’s disease (unfortunately not true), it is often dismissed when I mention joint pain to to a client with a younger dog.

Then there’s our dogs—our wonderful, loving companions that do not want us to know they are experiencing pain. Dogs are fantastic at hiding pain, and most dogs hide their pain until they can no longer hide it. They hide their pain by compensating and adapting their posture to maintain their normal daily routine. With this in mind, watch your dog (or cat) closely for small, subtle signs of discomfort. The earlier joint pain is addressed, the sooner proactive steps can be taken to help your dog remain pain free for as long as possible.

Massage is, of course, my first go-to.

Massage helps with arthritis by:

  • Reducing pain—massage causes the release of endorphins (the body’s natural pain-killers)

  • Reduce inflammation and its associated pain

  • Increase flexibility and range-of-motion (or at least maintain)

  • Helping the body maintain correct body alignment

  • Reducing muscle tension in affected areas and areas of compensation

  • Increasing circulation and the flow of body fluids

There are other modalities that can also help—acupuncture, chiropractic, exercise therapy, supplements….all things worth looking into.

For some more info on small changes that are easy to make in your home environment, please ready my blog Lovin’ the Senior Life!

While this blog is about senior pets, it has a number of simple life hacks for helping any pet with arthritis or weakness.

*For more info on central sensitization, please look it up. The neurological system is amazing!

I am not a vterinareian. If you have any questions/concerns about your pet, please contact your vet.


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