Osteoarthritis (OA), also called degenerative joint disease (DJD), is the most common form of arthritis diagnosed in small animals, and is the result of damage and erosion to the joint cartilage from excessive wear and tear caused by hard joint use. It can also be the result of a hereditary or congenital joint problem, such as hip dysplasia, that results in premature cartilage damage.

Pain is associated with inflammation of the joint, direct bone on bone contact within the joint and changes in the soft tissues surrounding the joint. Normally the joint surfaces are separated by a film of joint fluid, called synovial fluid. In addition to providing lubrication, joint fluid is the sole source of nutrients for the articular cartilage.

This same condition exists in humans. In fact, nearly 43 million Americans – almost one in every six people, including nearly 300,000 children – have some form of arthritis. According to data gathered in 1999, arthritis costs the U.S. economy $64.8 billion per year in medical care and lost wages.

The number of dogs suffering with arthritis is unknown, but is estimated to be quite high. A 1996 health estimate conducted by Pfizer concluded that as many as 10 million dogs in the U.S. (about 20% of dogs over 1 year of age) are affected by osteoarthritis.

Many arthritic conditions can be treated with a variety of surgical procedures. However, medical management plays an important role in the overall treatment of patients with secondary degenerative joint disease (noninfectious, non-immune-mediated osteoarthritis).

Medical management is composed of three parts: weight control, exercise modification and pharmacologic/disease-modifying medication. Excluding any of these components will result in a poorer response to therapy.

Whenever your pet is showing signs of a health issue your first step is to contact your primary care veterinarian. If it is indicated that your pet may suffer from osteoarthritis or another serious condition, a veterinary specialist is available at an ExpertVet certified hospital.


Generally, your veterinarian will diagnose osteoarthritis after examining your pet and considering medical history such as age, weight, pedigree, and physical stress your pet has endured over its lifetime. Physical examination and gait analysis – observing how your pet walks and runs – will be the primary way of diagnosing this condition.

In addition, your vet may also recommend x-rays to rule out other problems, such as fractures or bone tumors, which also cause discomfort in limbs while changing positions or during physical activity. Even if your pet does not seem to be in pain or is not limping, avoidance of regular activities, such as climbing the stairs or jumping on the sofa, could indicate osteoarthritis.