When To Euthanize A Dog With Arthritis

If you have a senior dog with arthritis, you may wonder what to look for when it is time to say goodbye.

Arthritis in dogs can be managed for years when offering your dog proper support, but some dogs may begin to struggle as the years go by.

So how do you know when to euthanize a dog with arthritis?

In this article we will discuss the details of arthritis in dogs, and help you better understand when your dog may be suffering.

Can Dogs Get Arthritis?

When To Euthanize A Dog With Arthritis

Just like humans, dogs can develop arthritis. Canine arthritis is a degenerative condition that leads to inflammation within the joints, causing chronic pain and joint damage over time.

Arthritis can impact any joint within a dog’s body, often worsening as time goes on. Canine arthritis is most common in senior dogs, but can develop as a result of injury or stress to a joint.

Though arthritis is most common in senior dogs, we know now that age is not the definitive cause of the condition.

Factors ranging from breed to previous injury make a dog more at risk to developing canine arthritis, most of which have nothing to do with age.

Some of the most common causes of arthritis in dogs include:

  • Obesity
  • Being a large breed
  • Having other joint conditions
  • Having previous orthopedic injuries
  • Receiving inadequate nutrition
  • Having parents that also have arthritis

No matter the cause of your dog’s arthritis, the condition can deeply impact their life over time. With arthritis being a degenerative condition of the joints, this means a dog will require long term care to offer them the comfort they need.

Stages Of Arthritis In Dogs

Like many other medical conditions in dogs, arthritis can range in severity from patient to patient. Canine arthritis ranges from stage 1-4, all of which rate a dog’s current joint deterioration and visible symptoms.

To help you better understand your canine friend, let’s discuss the stages of dog arthritis below.

Arthritis Stage 0-1

This stage of arthritis describes a dog that is not displaying any obvious signs of arthritis, but is considered high risk for developing the condition.

This refers to dogs with previous joint injuries, large breed dogs, breeds prone to joint conditions, and any other attribute that puts them at risk.

Arthritis Stage 2

This stage of arthritis describes a dog that is beginning to display subtle signs of arthritis in their day to day lives.

This could mean mild stiffness when waking up in the morning, slight decrease in flexibility, or any other subtle onset of symptoms.

Arthritis Stage 3

This stage of arthritis in dogs refers to a dog that is displaying obvious signs of the condition.

This means a dog’s daily activities will be significantly impacted by their arthritis, as well as the condition being detected with a range of motion exam and diagnostic x-rays.

Arthritis Stage 4

This stage of arthritis in dogs refers to a dog with life altering symptoms of the condition. This can mean they experience difficulty getting up and down, severe lameness, changes in their gait, decreased muscle mass in the hind limbs, and other significant changes. Their arthritis will also be easily detected upon physical exam, as well as on x-rays.

One of the most challenging parts about canine arthritis is that our dog’s do not often display symptoms of the condition until they are experiencing significant discomfort.

Signs of arthritis in dogs can be subtle, making it important to keep up with yearly physical exams with your veterinarian. Not only can your vet discuss your dog’s daily activities and behavior, but can also assess their range of motion and joint flexibility upon physical exam.

A physical exam becomes more important for larger dog breeds and breeds that are more prone to arthritis.

Treatment Options For Each Stage of Arthritis

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis in dogs. While this degenerative condition cannot be cured completely, it can be managed in most canine friends.

The most effective way to offer your dog comfort is by addressing the issue early on, and working to prevent joint damage and inflammation over time.

Though every dog will require an individualized approach to their pain, there are a few standard treatment options available.

Arthritis Treatment For Stages 1 & 2

Dogs with stage 1 or stage 2 arthritis may not be struggling significantly in their condition, but they will require treatment to help slow the progression of their arthritis.

This involves starting your dog on an approved joint supplement, making sure their diet is approved by your veterinarian, and by keeping them at an ideal weight.

Each of these factors combined can help to prevent further joint damage in your dog, and potentially offer them longevity they would not have otherwise.

Arthritis Treatment For Stages 3 & 4

Dogs with stage 3 or stage 4 arthritis are likely beginning to experience daily discomfort. Not only is it important to offer your dog as much relief as possible from their daily pain, but to slow the progression of their joint damage as well.

This means continuing with a daily joint supplement, keeping your dog at an ideal weight, as well as potentially starting your dog on a prescription joint diet.

Some additional ways to control your dog’s pain is through speaking with your vet about prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs, exploring physical therapy options (laser therapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture), and adjusting your home to fit their needs.

This can mean giving them a supportive and padded dog bed, installing rugs on any slick surfaces, raising their food bowl, and any other changes that benefit your pup.

Where Do Dogs Get Arthritis?

If there is a joint present, arthritis can develop. Our dogs can experience arthritis in any area of their body, meaning no joint is safe.

Though arthritis in dogs can occur anywhere, let’s list the most common sites of arthritis below.

Arthritis In A Dog’s Legs

One of the most common sites of arthritis in dogs is within the legs. Arthritis in a dog’s legs can involve deterioration of the knee joints, the elbow joints, the shoulder joints, and even the carpal joints.

Arthritis in any of these zones can lead to serious discomfort in our canine friends, even resulting in lameness if the condition is not addressed.

Signs of arthritis in a dog’s legs include:

  • Stiffness
  • Change in gait
  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Limping
  • Hesitance to exercise

Arthritis In A Dog’s Back & Neck

Arthritis of the spine is much more common in dogs than in humans, and can lead to serious complications over time.

Arthritis in a dog’s back is just like any other form of the condition, and will lead to a deterioration of the vertebrae over time.

Not only can the vertebrae be damaged by spinal arthritis, but it can also lead to swelling of the nerves in the area.

Arthritis is already considered a painful condition in our canine friends, but spinal arthritis is especially uncomfortable.

A dog with spinal arthritis may experience:

  • Stiffness of the neck
  • Weakness of the limbs
  • Pain during physical activity
  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Crying out when touched or picked up

Arthritis In A Dog’s Hips

Arthritis of the hips in dogs is a painful condition that can deeply impact their day to day lives. Arthritis of the hips is often due to underlying joint conditions like hip dysplasia, but can develop as a result of other factors as well.

Arthritis of the hips can make it challenging for a dog to participate in normal activities, as they rely on the ball and socket joint movement that a healthy canine hip offers.

Arthritis in the hips can not only cause pain around the hip joints, but throughout the legs as well.

Arthritis in a dog’s hips can lead to:

  • Stiffness
  • Decreased flexibility
  • Change in gait
  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Limping
  • Hesitance to exercise
  • Muscle wasting of the back legs

How Long Can A Dog Live With Arthritis?

If your dog has recently been diagnosed with this degenerative joint condition, you may wonder, “can a dog die from arthritis”?

Arthritis in dogs is not life threatening in a direct way like many other medical conditions, but it can deeply impact a dog’s quality of life.

Arthritis attacks a dog’s overall comfort and mobility, often causing owners to make a tough decision when their dog becomes too uncomfortable.

While arthritis is not a direct cause of death in dogs, the long term effects certainly play a role in quality of life discussions.

Dogs can have a normal lifespan with arthritis, as long as the condition is managed properly. Proper management of arthritis in dogs can offer senior dogs longevity in their condition, and prevent as much discomfort as possible.

Arthritis in dogs is not a death sentence by any means, as there are a list of tools that can improve their quality of life as the years go on.

When To Euthanize A Dog With Arthritis

Dogs with arthritis can be supported for long periods of time, but their joint pain can become severe enough that it can no longer be managed.

Stage 4 arthritis in dogs can deeply impact their overall comfort and happiness, leading many owners to say goodbye due to their chronic pain.

While you should always discuss your dog’s situation with your veterinarian, there are a few signs of a dog suffering from arthritis.

It may be time to say goodbye to your dog with arthritis if they are experiencing any of the following:

  • Difficulty getting around, or relying on owner for mobility assistance
  • Inability to get up from lying position on their own
  • Severe muscle loss in the hind end
  • No longer getting up on their own to urinate or defecate 
  • Decreased appetite or anorexia
  • Chronic lethargy or weakness
  • No longer interested in activities they once enjoyed 
  • Signs of severe pain such as crying out, limping, lameness, etc.

If your dog is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it may be time to discuss quality of life with your veterinarian.

Every situation is different, and your veterinarian will always know your dog best.

Canine arthritis is a painful condition that can deeply impact a dog’s life. By knowing when they are in constant pain, you can better understand when it may be time to say goodbye to your dog with arthritis.

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