can arthritis be prevented?

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Arthritis is a progressive condition, identifying clinical signs and acting early could help slow down the disease.

Until recently, arthritis was associated with older dogs and thought to just be an inevitable part of ageing. However, arthritis is commonly due to developmental disease, trauma or abnormal forces. The condition is progressive, leading to lifelong management for the owner, which can be costly and emotionally draining.

Developmental joint disease leads to abnormal joint configuration early in the dog’s life. It is often genetic.
Examples of developmental joint disease include:

  • Elbow and hip dysplasia (where the joint structures are the incorrect shape and therefore not a perfect fit, which causes abnormal wear and tear on the joint)
  • Cruciate disease (where the ligaments inside the knee become damaged and fail to stabilise the knee joint)
  • Patella luxation (instability of the knee cap allowing it to track abnormally within the knee joint)
  • Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) an inflammatory condition that occurs when the diseased cartilage partially or fully separates from the underlying bone.

Healthcare schemes exist to screen dogs for developmental joint disease such as hip and elbow dysplasia in the hope that they will not pass on the underlying genes to their offspring. It is hoped that ultimately selective breeding from dogs with good joints, and therefore good genes, can eradicate developmental joint diseases. However, this is a slow, laborious and incomplete process. Supporting the schemes through purchasing low risk breed puppies from reputable breeders that utilise these phenotyping processes is certainly a way towards minimising arthritis.

Trauma to the joint can be either due to surgery or due to damage incurred due to accidents.

Abnormal forces that a joint must contend with which may influence the development of arthritis include:

  • Repetitive actions which cause sudden acceleration/deceleration and twisting (such as ball throwing)
  • Excess weight (this includes “puppy fat”)
  • The environment that dogs live in, including early access to slippery floors and stairs, jumping onto/off furniture and into/out of cars

Identifying clinical signs of joint disease early, and diagnosing plus acting on musculoskeletal and joint problems will contribute to minimising the development of clinical arthritis. It will also offer more treatment options, and more time for you to influence the course of the disease.

Practical ways to reduce your puppy’s chances of developing arthritis later in life

consult professionals

Use your veterinary team

  • Ask your vet to do a full orthopaedic health check both when you first take your puppy for their vaccinations, and at every regular health check thereafter. If you have concerns but are not scheduled for an annual check-up, please make an appointment to see your vet.
  • Use your vet nurse team for regular weight checks and help with learning to body condition score your dog.
  • Consider regular musculoskeletal checks with a veterinary physiotherapist to identify any problems early on. This is particularly important if you are considering an active lifestyle with your dog, and plan to participate in activities such as flyball, agility or canicross.

weight management

Keep your puppy and juvenile dog lean

  • 63% of all dogs are overweight - this means it is more normal to see an overweight dog than a healthy weight dog! And 90% of owners cannot see their dog is overweight!
  • Not only does excess weight influence the development of arthritis it also reduces their lifespan by an average of 2 years.
  • Overweight dogs often show arthritic changes earlier with one study showing a group of overweight Labradors had signs of arthritis 6 years earlier than their slim comparatives.
  • Through learning to body condition score your puppy and dog and doing it regularly you can ensure your dog maintains an appropriate weight.
  • If you find it hard to be objective, ask a friend or vet nurse to help you with this.
  • Aim for a lean 4.5-5 out of 9. Here is a blog about weight management and how to body condition score your dog.
  • There is no evidence at present that any particular type of food (e.g. kibble or raw) prevents arthritis. Buy the correct food for the age and stage of development of your puppy - your vet or vet nurse can advise you.
    If you choose to make your own food, it is incredibly difficult to get the correct balance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and this is a huge concern in a growing puppy. If you go down this route please consult with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure you are meeting the nutritional needs of your dog.

be aware

Be aware of injuries to joints in the home environment

  • Evidence and observation leads us to suspect particular aspects of a puppy’s environment growing up may be linked to future skeletal problems. What we know from the human world is also likely to be related to our dogs.
  • Limit access to stairs - studies show puppies who have had access to stairs under 3 months old have an increased risk of hip dysplasia. This point also includes limiting jumping up and down-onto furniture, into and out of the car etc. Stairs can be dangerous so consider minimising your puppies access.
  • Slippery floors - puppies kept on slippery floors have 1.6 x the risk of developing hip dysplasia - playing and skidding on slippery floors is just not fun! Make sure slippery floors are covered with non-slip flooring such as rugs, especially around play areas and feeding bowls, on either side of thresholds (into and out of the house), along corridors, and next to your dog’s bed.

exercise caution

Be considerate of how much you exercise your pup

  • Research shows that the type of exercise a puppy or dog is exposed to is likely more important than the duration of exercise.
  • Avoid trauma to the growing joints - especially high impact, sharp starts or stops, twisting and repetitive movements such as ball throwing.
  • Never exercise to the point of fatigue - consider using buggies or carriers on longer distances.
  • Consider the type of environment you exercise in. Your puppy will benefit from experiencing lots of different surfaces as this will aid developing their proprioceptive skills. Proprioception is super important for safe balanced and coordinated movement.
  • Ball throwing in a repetitive manner is likely to increase the risk of joint trauma at any age, however the high impact forces through growing limbs should be avoided.


If you plan to neuter your dog, do so with guidance regarding the most appropriate age for their breed

  • There is some evidence that early neutering can increase the risk of arthritis in certain large breed dogs - this risk is greater in females compared to males. However, it is not clear cut and there are pros and cons of neutering different breeds at different ages, so speak to your vet who can advise you further.


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