No one knows your dog better than you. Because of this, you’re likely the first person to notice changes in your dog’s behavior, such as those that occur when a dog develops osteoarthritis. As many as 1 in 4 dogs suffer from osteoarthritis (OA) — and it’s not just older dogs that are affected. Dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes can be diagnosed with OA.
If your veterinarian does diagnose osteoarthritis in your dog, you’ll be the first to notice how well their OA pain management protocol is working. This is important for you to pay attention to because osteoarthritis pain that is undertreated will worsen over time.
Tracking Pain Progression Through Observations
If you see your dog limping or walking slower than normal, you might just think it’s a sign they’re getting older. But what if it’s more than that?
Look out for the signs that your dog is in pain. Hint: they’re not all physical.
- Hesitation to jump (like into/out of car, or on to/off of bed)
- Slow to rise after sleeping or laying down
- Changes in happiness levels
- Decreased energy
- Not as interactive with you
- Constantly licking at (arthritic) joints
If your dog is showing any of these signs or acting out of the ordinary, it’s worth a trip to your veterinarian. Use this OA checklist to see if your dog is showing signs of osteoarthritis-related pain and email them directly to your veterinarian or take the results with you to your dog’s next vet appointment.
If your dog is diagnosed with osteoarthritis, your veterinarian will likely prescribe a pain medication, such as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Good news: it’s very common for dogs to be much more active and return to their old selves when their pain medication kicks in. For example, with Rimadyl this is usually within 7 to 14 days at label dose.
Video is also an effective tracking tool. If there isn’t a difference, talk to your veterinarian. You may need to wait longer to see a significant improvement or adjust the protocol to best manage your dog’s pain level. The checklist will help you track your dog’s progress over time.
Don't be fooled into stopping treatment because your dog’s behavior plateaus. Always speak with your veterinarian before changing your dog’s treatment plan.
Why Tracking Your Dog’s Pain Matters
Osteoarthritis is progressive in both humans and dogs. This means that without proper pain management, your dog’s pain will likely get worse over time and be felt in areas other than their arthritic joints. The things that were once a walk in the park — both literally and figuratively — may now be very painful. Even a gentle act like petting their back can make them flinch or cry because it hurts.
Pain management is essential to prevent or lessen your arthritic dog’s discomfort and improve their overall quality of life. Not following your veterinarian’s dosing instructions gives pain the opportunity to worsen over time.
Important caution: Because dogs handle (metabolize) medications differently than people do, don’t give your dog any of human medications without first speaking with your vet. Some aren’t effective in dogs, and others are downright dangerous for them. And this is true whether your medications are prescription or over-the-counter.
How To Tell if Your Dog’s Pain Is Returning
Because osteoarthritis pain often progresses gradually over time, it may be difficult to notice that the pain has come back. You can use the OA symptom checklist to assess their symptoms regularly so you and your veterinary team have a tool to help ensure your dog is as comfortable as possible.
Pro Tip: There are wearable smart collars for your pet that measure, amongst other things, their heart rate, respiratory rate, and even activity level. The collar can even alert you to concerning changes. Ask your vet if this would be a good option for your dog.
If you have an arthritic dog, learn how you can make changes around your home to make their life more comfortable.
Important Safety Information: As a class, NSAIDS may be associated with gastrointestinal, kidney and liver side effects. These are usually mild, but may be serious. Pet owners should discontinue therapy and contact their veterinarian immediately if side effects occur. Evaluation for pre-existing conditions and regular monitoring are recommended for pets on any medication, including RIMADYL. Use with other NSAIDS or corticosteroids should be avoided. See full Prescribing Information.
- IASP: Joint Pain in Pet Dogs and Cats.
- Mele E. Epidemiology of osteoarthritis. Veterinary Focus.2007;17(3):4-10.
- Knazovicky D, Hegelson E, Case B et al. (2016). Widespread somatosensory sensitivity in naturally occurring canine model of osteoarthritis. Pain. 157(6):1325-1332.
- Reid J, Wright A, Gober M, Nolan, A.M, et al. (2018). Measuring chronic pain in osteoarthritic dogs treated long-term with carprofen, through its impact on health-related quality of life (HRQL). Vet Comp Orthop Traumato. 31(S 01): A1-A6. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jsap.13500
- Get the Facts about Pain Relievers for Pets. FDA. https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/AnimalHealthLiteracy/ucm392732.htm.