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Top Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs & How Rehab Can Help Manage Arthritis Pain

Did you know that arthritis is the most common joint disease diagnosed by veterinarians? Research shows that 80% of dogs over the age of 8 years suffer from arthritis. Being able to recognize the symptoms of arthritis in your pet is the first step to helping them manage this painful and debilitating condition. Physical rehabilitation also known as physical therapy is a great way to support your pet's arthritis naturally.

What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?

Any form of abnormal stress on your pet's joints can result in damage to the cartilage within the joint, which can lead to the development of arthritis over time.

Some dogs are predisposed to developing arthritis due to being born with abnormally formed joints. The abnormal joint structure results in a gradual breakdown of the cartilage and increased stress within the joint istelf. Breeds such as Labradors or Germah Shepherds may fall in this category as hip dysplasia is very common in these breeds. Common conditions caused by abnormally formed joints:

  • Hip dysplasia

  • Elbow dysplasia

  • Patellar luxation

Arthritis may also occur following:

  • Trauma (Hit by car, fractures)

  • Long term obesity

  • Surgery (after ACL/CCL injury, fracture repair)

How Can You Tell If Your Dog Has Arthritis?

The signs of arthritis in pets can often be subtle. Typically our pets will not cry or whine in pain. Instead, the most common signs of arthritis are changes in your pet's mobility or behavior. These signs may gradually creep up and go unnoticed until there are significant changes to your pet's mobility. Signs of arthritis may include:

  • Difficulty rising from rest

  • Limping

  • Trouble jumping on the couch or bed

  • Slowing down on walks

  • Excessive licking of specific joints

  • Slipping on floors

  • Reluctance to climb or descend stairs

  • Changes in the way the pet stands or walks

  • Loss of muscle mass

  • Aggression

How Is Arthritis Diagnosed?

Any changes to your pet's mobility are worth a visit to your veterinarian. Arthritis is diagnosed through a thorough physical exam and x-rays. During the physical exam, your vet will watch your pet walk to check for limping or abnormal movement. They will then perform an exam to assess the joints for any swelling, loss of movement or pain. If any abnormal changes are noted, then x-rays can confirm the presence of arthritis.

How Can Physical Rehabilitation Help Arthritis?

Reduce Pain Naturally

Pain managmenet is one of the most important aspects of managing arthritis. If your pet is in pain, they won't want to go on walks or participate in their normal activities. So our first step to getting them back to their daily walks is to relieve their pain. Your primary care veterinarian may prescribe medications such as non steroidal anti-inflammatories or other medications to help with pain. Rehabilitation can be used for additional pain relief or can be used exclusively to manage your pet's pain naturally and eliminate the need for medications all together. Common natural arthritis pain management techniques we utilize at Healing Tails include:

  • Laser therapy

  • Acupuncture

  • Massage therapy

  • Chiropractic Care

Weight Loss

Excess weight adds additional stress to your pet's joints. Maintaining your pet at an ideal weight is one of the key factors of managing their arthritis! Studies have shown that weight loss helps to improve the mobility of pets with arthritis. However, if your pet is sore, weak and unwilling to walk, physical rehabilitation is necessary to assist them with weight loss. Underwater treadmill therapy is an extremely useful tool for pets who are painful and need to engage in low impact exercise. The water in the treadmill is warm, which can help to sooth sore joints, and the buoyancy of the water helps to support their weight and relieve the pressure on their joints. By utilizing low impact exercise techniques, we can sucessfully increase your pet's activity level and help them shed the necessary pounds to get them back in tip top shape.

Improve Strength

Once your pet's pain is well controlled and we've instituted an appropriate weight loss program, the next step is to create a customized exercise program to help them regain muscle mass and strength. This may involve exercises as simple as incorporating a slight hill in your walking routine a few times per week. Incorporating exercises which are too difficult or doing too much too soon can result in further pain or injury for your pet, so it's important to incorporate these exercises under the guidance of a certified physical rehabilitation professional.

Next Steps:

If physical rehabilitation sounds like something that can help your pet and you’re located in the Chicagoland area we would love to see you and your pet for an initial consultation. Click the logo below to request more information about scheduling an appointment.

If you’re located outside of the Chicagoland area, we encourage you to visit to locate a physical rehabilitation professional near you!


  1. Towell TL, Richardson DC, Nutritional management of osteoarthritis. In: Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL, Roudebush P, Novotny BJ, eds. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 5th ed. Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute; 2010:695–713.

  2. Hardie EM, Roe SC, Martin FR. Radiographic evidence of degenerative joint disease in geriatric cats: 100 cases (1994–1997). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002;220(5):628–632.

  3. Impellizeri JA, Tetrick MA, Muir P. Effect of weight reduction on clinical signs of lameness in dogs with hip osteoarthritis. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000;216:1089–1091.

  4. Kealy RD, Lawler DF, Ballam JM, et al. Evaluation of the effect of limited food consumption on radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000;217:1678–1680.


Dr. Arielle Herndobler is the owner and founder of Healing Tails, a clinic located in Chicago focusing on physical rehabilitation and holistic medicine for pets. She is certified in acupuncture, certified veterinary spinal manipulation therapy (chiropractic) and physical rehabilitation.

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