top of page
  • Writer's pictureNancy Veterinary Physiotherapist

Owner Fact Files: Osteoarthritis

Hello, and welcome to the first of many Owner Fact Files, starting with a condition that is highly prevalent in the canine population - Osteoarthritis (OA).


What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is an inflammatory condition within the joints which is long-term, progressive and unfortunately incurable. The disease is characterised by the joint degenerating over time. OA affects 1 in 5 dogs in the UK, and the prevalence increases with age, to 4 in 5 in older dogs, therefore it is sadly very likely that your dog has it or will get it in their lifetime.

For this reason owner education is vital, and there is so much you can do for your animals to prevent or delay the occurrence, or to improve quality of life if OA is already present.


What causes Osteoarthritis?

OA can be developmental, meaning that the animal is born genetically likely to have poorly formed joints and this becomes apparent as the dog grows, or acquired, meaning they were not born likely to get OA, but circumstances have changed this.

The development of OA can be related to genetics or age, other contributing factors include; body weight, gender, exercise and diet. Large to medium breeds are more likely to be affected, and OA often occurs secondary to other conditions such as hip dysplasia or cruciate ligament rupture.


What's really happening inside the joint? (the science bit)

A joint is a point where two bones are brought together and held in place by surrounding tissues. OA affects various structures within joints. In a healthy joint, the ends of the bones are covered by cartilage which is a smooth and resilient material, that allows friction-less and pain free movement. The whole joint is surrounded by the joint capsule, which includes a space which is filled with synovial fluid. This is a thick, slimy fluid, that works as a lubricant to make the movement at the joint even smoother.

In an osteoarthritic joint, the cartilage is impacted by ageing and begins to thin. As it wears down, more pressure is placed on the bones. The joint reacts by producing extra synovial fluid for lubrication, but this can cause swelling, pain and stiffness, because the joint capsule has stretched. The ends of the bone also respond by thickening and the surface can become rough and bumpy. All of these processes limit motion of the joint, which is why we see inflammation and changes in gait. In severe cases, if the cartilage wears away completely, bone on bone contact can occur at joints, which is extremely painful.



Dogs with OA will show a wide range of symptoms, and each case may present differently. Signs to look for include:

- Depression or low mood

- Difficulty getting comfortable

- Pacing at night time

- Changes in physique and muscle

- Changes in posture

- Sleeping more than usual

- Lameness/limping

- Unwilling to walk/exercise

- Licking joints

- Changes in behaviour/temperament

- Weak hind limbs and trouble going to the toilet

It is important to remember that arthritis causes chronic pain, which is consistent and low intensity, which means it can be hard to spot in our dogs. Our animals cannot tell us how they are feeling, so it is key that we can identify changes in their behaviour. Spotting OA early, leads to better long term outcomes.



Unfortunately OA is incurable and progressive, so treatment aims to manage the problem rather than fix it. A multi-modal approach is advised for OA cases, with the primary goals of reducing pain and maintaining a good quality of life.

This diagram touches on the key aspects of multi-modal management, please speak to myself or your vet for more information. Canine Arthritis Management is also a great source of help for owners and they can be found on Facebook, or online at


How can physiotherapy help?

Physiotherapy is a key part of the multi-modal approach to managing OA. When joints become sore and painful, our dogs adapt their movement. The full range of motion at their joints is reduced, and they begin to use their muscles less effectively. This causes a decrease in muscle mass and weakness, as well as undesired increases in muscle mass and high muscle tension in areas that are working harder to compensate. Dogs with OA can also become uncoordinated and lose their balance, as their core muscles weaken. Physiotherapy helps to target the key problem areas associated with OA.

For more information on how physiotherapy could benefit the OA patient, please do get in touch - // 07795163445.



With effective management and owner commitment, dogs can live comfortably with OA for many years. Due to the nature of the disease, eventually the time will come when your dog can no longer cope with the chronic pain. At this point it is time to make a decision about what is best for the animal, considering their quality of life and pain levels. In some cases it will not be the OA that causes this decline, but another condition.


That brings me to the end of the Osteoarthritis Owner Fact File - if you want to learn more about this condition, do get in touch and I can point you in the direction of some research.

I am hoping to discuss one new condition each month, and if there's anything in particular you want to learn about please let me know in the comments.

If you want to know more about my services and how I could help your animals, drop me a message and I will be happy to help - Nancy

M: 07795163445



Find me on social media - Facebook or Instagram @vetphysionancy

95 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page