Canine Osteoarthritis

There are many types of joint problems in dogs, and most are dictated by genetics, breed and age. Although there is no way to guarantee that your dog will not develop these, and other, conditions, there are some preventative measures that you can take. Most joint disorders occur in dogs that are overweight or otherwise unhealthy. Feeding your dog a healthy diet, giving him plenty of proper exercise and regular veterinary visits are imperative to taking the best care of your beloved pet. Below is information covering several common joint disorders, their causes and possible symptoms. This information is not intended to replace the advice of your veterinarian.


This is a condition characterized by cartilage deterioration, loss of joint movement and pain. Cartilage is the smooth tissue that lines the joints and provides frictionless joint movement and shock absorption. The deterioration that is caused by osteoarthritis can lead to friction and inflammation in the joints. Symptoms of this condition, such as joint pain and lameness, can be very subtle. Some dogs may appear stiff but are able to exercise it out, while other dogs may lick or chew the affected part. Many times a dog that is diagnosed with osteoarthritis will not begin showing signs until later in life. Osteoarthritis is a common condition in dogs and can be caused by anything that results in atypical strain on the joint, specifically, hip dysplasia, patellar luxation and osteochondritis.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is “an abnormal formation of the hip socket that, in its more severe form, can cause crippling lameness and painful arthritis of the joints”. While it has, occasionally, been found in cats and humans, this condition is far more common in dogs and is the number one cause of arthritis in the hips. Hip dysplasia is characterized by an aversion to move the affected area, stiffness and less exuberant movement (reluctance to run or jump, etc.). Oftentimes, because of the restricted hip movement, other, spinal and soft tissue, problems will arise. Hip dysplasia is most common in medium to large pure bred dogs, such as Labradors and mastiffs, but can also appear in smaller dogs, such as pugs. Causes of this disease can range from weight problems, to injuries and even overexertion of a joint at a young age.

OCD (Osteochondritis Dissecans)

An osteochondritis dissecan is a crack in the cartilage of the weight bearing surface of a long bone. These cracks can continue deep into the underlying bone and, if left alone, will detach from the underlying structure to create a flap. If a flap is formed, it will then act as an irritant to the joint leading to inflammation, possible scar tissue and calcium deposits on the bone. Some theories have been formed regarding the cause of OCD, but there is no evidence to support them. Although, an all encompassing cause has not been found, many people believe that joint impact, breed and weight, all play a role in development of OCD. It has been shown to be far more prevalent in large breed, overweight dogs. It has, also, been theorized that joint impact may contribute to OCD.

Patellar Luxation

The patella, or kneecap, is a bone that guides the muscles of the lower leg, as well as protecting the knee joint. In a normal dog, the patella is seated in a slight groove, located at the end of the femur. This groove allows the kneecap to slide up and down when the leg is moved. Sometimes, due to trauma or genetics, a dog will not develop a deep enough groove to hold the patella. If this occurs, the patella will then slip out of the groove (usually towards inside), causing the leg to lock up. This is called patellar luxation. In some dogs it is visible by a sudden stop in activity, followed by holding up the affected leg for a moment and then returning to normal play. This is because the muscles are contracted and the patella has luxated. Once the muscles relax, the patella is able to slip back into the groove and the animal is no longer in pain. Genetics are the main cause of this condition and it is the small breeds that mainly suffer from it. Toy and Miniature breeds, as well as any short legged breed are susceptible.


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