Can You Give Your Dog Arthritis?

I was recently asked this question by a reader, and decided in order to fully explain it I would write an article.

Can you give your dog arthritis?

Yes, absolutely you can exercise your dog to the point (when he is young and still growing) that it will cause arthritis and pain later in his life.

But it isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Degenerative Joint Disease and arthritis can also be a genetic condition that has little to no bearing on how he was exercised when he was young and in some dogs cannot be avoided.

So What do you Do?

This Must be Terribly Painful! This Dog Needs Swimming and Long Slow Walks!

When He is Young

When your dog is developing and growing his joints and bones are also growing, and during this stage rigorous and repetitive exercise should be avoided; depending on his breed, age and size.

Many large breeds are considered to be “growing” and developing until they are 2 to 4 years of age.  Rottweilers and Mastiff breeds develop very slowly and arduous exercise even at 2 years of age can cause damage.

Yet, small dogs can be done growing at 9 months or so.

If you are unsure about your dog’s structural growth ask your veterinarian.

Avoid structured running on hard pavement, which can pound his joints.  Also avoid repetitively strange exercises, like agility and the weave poles.  Young dogs that were constantly weaving their young bodies around weave poles were creating back, hip and other joint problems as they grew.

Also be very careful what you allow your young puppy to do while he is young and growing.  My oldest dog now (12) jumped off of the top of a military A Frame(which was about 8 feet in the air)  when he was a puppy.  My ex-husband was playing with him and didn’t expect him to jump off of the top of the frame.  He has good hips, but we discovered at about 3 years of age that he had fractured coronoid processes in his elbows.

Fractured coronoid process means that he has floating pieces of bone in his elbow joints.  This can often be genetic and a problem of growing too fast; but I have often wondered if his early jump off of the A Frame caused this problem for my dog!

Exercise is crucial for puppies for their normal development both physically and mentally, but it is essential that you take it easy on their joints while they are growing!

Normal exercise: running on grass, limiting climbing and jumping, swimming, and games are good and much needed exercise for young dogs.

Once he is Fully Grown

When my dogs are fully grown (for my breed 2 years old) I make sure to do full body x-rays prior to any extensive play, exercise and activities.

Before I start in agility class, or being a structured running program, or hook my dogs up to a bicycle and let them run next to it or pull a cart; I have my dog’s shoulders, hips and elbows x-rayed.

This allows me to know what their restrictions should be and how far I can push their bodies.

If my dog already has dysplasia or the propensity for degenerative joint disease, I am not going to put physical stressors on my dog in those structural areas.

Some people argue that most dogs don’t need x-rays or don’t suffer from dysplasia (especially mixed breeds or mutts)

But, that simply is not the case….

When I took dogs from shelters and trained them as Assistance Dogs for adults and children with disabilities, the first stop after a temperament test was to the vet for x-rays.  A large percentage of dogs never passed this stage.

That fact alone, taught me that if I was going to engage in rigorous exercise with my dogs (which I do: hiking, biking, agility, bite and protection work, and running) I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to exacerbate an already genetically existing condition which would make my dog more prone to pain and arthritis.

That is Not to Say That A Dog Shouldn’t Live Life

What You Do with Your Dog Through His Life, Can Help Him Live Longer

Both of my Rottweilers had hip dysplasia, and two of my Malinois have had elbow problems, so I catered their exercise to their specific condition.

First off, let me say that I don’t have what it takes to run fast enough to injure my dogs!  I am no marathon winner!  I have my own knee issues and other things that make me extremely slow so I know that unless I have a geriatric dog, or a dog with severe degenerative joint disease, I am not going to injure my dogs when I go running.

But, if I hook them up to my pedal cart or bike and run them to their ability, I could cause problems!

I also LOVE, LOVE, LOVE taking a dog swimming; young dogs and old dogs alike can enjoy a good swim!

In Short….

  • If you don’t know when your dog will be physically mature enough for strenuous exercise, ask your vet and go easy on his joints while he is growing.
  • Once he is mature, get him x-rayed before you do anything that might make him more painful as he ages (we would give anything to spend just a few more weeks/months with our pets at the end wouldn’t we?).
  • And, let him live life according to his health.

Exercise can be catered to fit any dog and their human!

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  1. I strongly urge my clients not to overexcercise their young dogs, definitely no repetitive compressive exercise, no running down stairs and landing hard, no jumping in and out of vehicles, et.. I highly appreciate your publishing this article, which I will, as with other articles of yours, put in my puppy packet. I also strongly urge people if they notice a limp or an off-gait in a pup or a dog, to crate them immediately, not let them have any vigorous exercise and if the dog does not improve in a couple of days to take them to their Vet for an examination. Many times a minor injury can be exascerbated into a major problem if not addressed immediately.


  2. Pearl says:

    if my Munsterlander pointer dog’s hips pop occasionally, is it an indicator of potential hip problems I have to be careful of? or is just that he is still growing? we used to live in a basement apartment his first whole year of life, I tried to carry him as much as i could up & down the stairs, but he got too big to continue it. we have since moved out of the situation, but he likes to run up & down the stairs at our new place now. he is now 56lbs at a year & a half. he is on a home made diet & I do put a couple pounds of chicken feet in their food mix. he did run alot & jump through tall grass hunting in his first season, and I have held back biking too much with him because I was concerned with the popping.


    Minette Reply:

    Hips popping out of joint is never normal, if you think this is happening I would get him xrayed!


  3. nancy keenan says:

    i have taken my dog to an animal chiropractor who has helped him immensely. there are very hard to find,what are your feelings on animal chiropractors. vets could not find anything wrong with him but do not think he would have survived without the adjustments made by the ch.


    Minette Reply:

    I would use a veterinary chiropractor but I would not allow just anyone to pop my dogs bones.

    Humans have to go to med school to adjust other people and learn the dangers and the need for xrays and other tests.

    I would be just as leery for my dog as I am for myself! I am all about finding a veterinary specialist if my dog needs one!


    Minette Reply:

    here is more information on finding a good dr.


  4. Great advice, it is important to educate people about repetitive and strenuous exercise. It’s important to have fun and exercise your dogs, but let’s remember that a dog’s body is just as prone to injury as ours.


  5. Anita says:

    My german sheperd-mastiff(?) cross is 12 years old and he has quite severe arthritis with attacks when he freezes. We take him on short walks and he is on arthritis medicine and pain killers. He is also panting heavily almost all the time except in rest. Are there any more I can do for him?


    Minette Reply:

    There are all kinds of therapies and drugs that can help. I would recommend swimming and visiting your vet or a veterinary orthopedic surgeon.

    when I was a vet tech I went to a CE with a specialist that said a pet should never be euthanized for pain or arthritis alone, there are many prescription drugs that can potentially help!


    Anita Reply:

    I have tried three different vets and they can´t do more for him and that the day will come when he can´t get up anymore, like how it happened to another dog of 16 that I had. I would never put to sleep a dog as long as he is happy and enjoys his food, but I would neither let him suffer it it can be avoided. What is important is that the dog has a quality life!!!


    Minette Reply:

    I totally agree, but that is pain and another problem (not being able to get up).

    There are specialist who are use to dealing with K9 pain and other therapies, like using plasma to help deal with pain.

    Adequan a shot that was developed in the equine world has been a wonderful treatment for some dogs with arthritis and pain.

    Quality of life is most important, and no dog will live forever, but there are lots of options to consider.

  6. k9handler says:

    Great article. I’d like to add one more tidbit, if I could. I recently attended a workshop for working dogs, where we learned stretches and exercises to increase fitness and flexibility for our K9s. While at this workshop, one of the most important factors to start off the discussion about body condition of any healthy dog – is weight. One of the worst things you can do is allow your dog to become overweight. It’s a HUGE stressor on all the joints (as well as organ systems), but especially when talking about arthritis. The vet recommended keeping a good trim body condition, and even suggested keeping them slightly on the lean side of “ideal” for those dogs who are very active or participate in hard pounding activities or competitive sports.


  7. Pam Inman says:

    I wholeheartedly vouch for an animal chiropractor who is properly trained. I have taken our dogs to a man who also treats humans and horses.

    He loves what he does. His mercy and gentle kindness are so evident! He gets excited when he knows his patients are geting relief!


  8. julie roberts says:

    Also important, getting the right dog food. Not letting them get fat.
    And, shouldn’t they also be prevented from running and sliding on slippery floors,as well? I used to raise Newfoundlands, which are prone towards hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, so, I kept them off slippery surfaces. Since the training classes were held on a very slippery, smooth concrete floor, I put a product called “Sticky Paw” on paws when I took them to classes. Also, I never encouraged them to jump. Although, Newfoundlands naturally play “bump and run”, where they run towards you and jump up, bumping you with their shoulder. And, you had better have your feet braced, ha. Fortunately, none of my dogs ever appeared to suffer from joint problems during their lifetime,(Not to imply that they didn’t have some degree of orthopedic problems that I wasn’t aware of, but, that they never appeared to limp, or have discomfort.). I’d like to think that being careful gave them a better life.


    julie roberts Reply:

    Actually, I think that stuff was called “Tacky Paw”, not, “Sticky Paw”.


  9. jose says:

    Hi i was just wondering i have a 6months old pitbull what is the amount of exercise that my pit could manage right now? could you give me an example?
    i take him out and i throw a ball so he runs to get it but we just do like 15reps max but it is in concrete and it is a bit uphill is that ok? how could i know when is too much?
    if he jumps to get something i have in my hand is that too stressful for the joints? how many jumps could be detrimental?

    thanks alot i have no idea of any of these issues

    he is a bully type pit but is not extreme big he is a ok bully i dont like fat dogs he is around 23 kg at 6 months



    Minette Reply:

    Exercise him in grass. Concrete is hard on his joints. It is not about the how many times you throw the ball as it is about how hard the surface is bouncing back on his joints.

    Running and jumping and playing is normal, however repetitive motions (consistent jumping or running hard for long periods of time is what is stressful on the joints).

    I allow my dogs to play, and run on a hiking trial and swim and jump in and out of the car. But I don’t hook them up and let them run on concrete until I have checked their hip and joints in xray. And, I don’t have them jump to reach something until they are full grown either.

    But regular exercise is important to having a mentally stimulated and tired dog.


    jose Reply:

    thanks alot i will follow your guidelines. 🙂


  10. lisa says:

    i have a yorkie who is 7.5lbs and willl be 10 yrs old in october, she has always been active as far as wlking,( she loves her wlks) LOL….after each wlk i massage heer whole body… which she love it, by me doing this does it help her with with her getting dysplaect..?


    Minette Reply:

    Activity helps keep muscle mass, which helps to keep joints in place and where they need to be! So activity is great to keep her young.

    Massage can help her with tight muscles and is great for your relationship! I truly believe daily massage is in order for all dogs!!


  11. Susan says:

    My dog is 12 years old and has been suffering with severe arthritis in his knees. He could not get up or down for several months. he fell down and hurt his good knee and I changed vets and went to a vet that does chiropractics on dogs and in one adjustment he was like a new dog. He has been able to get up and down by himself and tries to run. I am limiting his exercise so to help his newest injury heal. Never give up without trying a chiropractor….



    My 11th month old working cocker will run all day if Iwouldallow him.Should I be limiting his exercise, Ialways take him on grass.


    Minette Reply:

    I am assuming as long as it is on grass at 11 months for a cocker you are probably okay.

    An 11 month old Mastiff may be a different story.

    Puppies need exercise for their minds and bodies, just make sure you are adding cushion to his joints and he is getting rest also. If in doubt ask your vet 🙂


  13. Dina says:

    Do you recommend giving dogs joint supplements? If so, what kind? I have a 12 year old German Shepherd – rottie mix (only ~50 lbs) who I rescued when she was 2 from a family who admitted they never exercised her and beat her with a belt (they gave me the leather belt with her). I noticed early on that she would have some difficulty getting up after lying on a hard surface so I started giving her a glucosamine + chondroitin + MSM + hyaluronic acid joint supplement and still give it to her today. At 12 she still runs with me in the morning (I don’t let her do more than 2 miles then I do 4 more) and takes long walks in the afternoon/evening without a problem. I now have a 10 month old rescued lab – border collie mix (~30 lbs) who I’ll start training to be my running partner in a couple months and I’m contemplating giving her joint supplements too as a preventative treatment. Do you recommend supplements or think giving them to a young dog could be harmful?


    Minette Reply:

    I don’t think there is a need when they are very young, but I do like glu/chondrotion and an Omega fatty acid supplement made for dogs called 3V Caps which are also high in Vit A and D.

    You would have to ask your vet for specific dosages since they know your dogs 🙂


  14. Annette says:

    My 6 month old working cocker is restful in the house but naturally bobs, twists, jumps and weaves when on grass and playing with other dogs. I wonder if I should cut her walk time short? She walks calmly on pavements and wants to be lifted into the car (maybe she is protecting her own joints). What about giving dogs cod liver oil etc.?


    Minette Reply:

    Normal play is fine. There is always a chance that a dog will hurt himself doing the bob and weave but we can’t control everything all of the time!

    I would rather my dog learn how to play interactively than restrict this natural behavior.

    I like fish oils, but my favorite (from working at a vet and knowing what other vets, specialists and veterinary dermatologists recommend) is 3V caps. But omega fatty acids are great for dogs as well as us!


  15. RUTH says:



    Minette Reply:

    Give her a great treat like a bone to chew on that she only gets when she is outside. Take it away when she comes in.

    Dogs are social animals and some don’t want to be outside long term without you.

    I know my dogs want to go out, do their business and come back inside to hang out!


  16. Annette says:

    Thanks for your reply Minette, very useful. So the what about the hemp,pumpkin, virgin olive etc. oils we put on our salads to increase our omegas, are these good put on top of the dog’s food?


    Minette Reply:

    I am not sure, about those…I guess I am not that healthy yet 😉

    Ask your vet since not everything that is good for us is good for them (for instance did you know nutmeg can cause seizures and death?)!

    I know mine love their omega 3s and 6s 🙂


    LittleMiss__ Reply:

    I know that pumpkin seeds are a natural de-wormer and I have seen pumpkin flavored treats at petco, so I would think that actual pumpkin would be fine. Not saying you should give your dog pumpkin based on this, but it seems to be a logical assessment.


  17. Gentra; says:

    Hi. I have a 8mo. old poodle mix,at what age is he considered grown, and what kind of exercise should I give him, I been walking him some time a mile, but not every day, and on pavement. also should I be giving him supplements. help… Gentra


    Minette Reply:

    It depends what size poodle you have. A Standard Poodle would still be growing at 8 months and would need less strenuous exercise. A Toy Poodle would be mostly grown by 9 months.

    However, walking is good for any dog of any age as long as you are not hiking and putting stress on the joints. And, a mile is fine, actually several miles would probably be good.

    I wouldn’t worry about supplementing a puppy, however omega 3 and 6s are good for their joints and their coat at any age 🙂


  18. Karen says:

    I have a Border Collie/Koolie cross – he is about 10months (could be a little older not sure as we adopted him through a shelter) he is very healthy, vibrant and true to his type – super energetic being a work dog. We live on a property and he runs non stop, walked daily and loves to fetch a ball or toy endlessly.
    He is well muscled and strong but I question how much ball throwing we should do as he runs flat out and then does the abrupt stop/skid to get the ball – your thoughts on this with regards to developing arthritis?


    Minette Reply:

    If you are worried then I would recommend you add more control and less of the crazed running and skidding.

    Exercise is important, but training is also important!

    You know how exhausting it is to go to an all day class, when you are an adult? Using your brain all day can be exhausting!!

    Dogs are the same, so instead of throwing the ball over and over again make him do something for you like sit or lay down or stay or ignore the ball when you throw it or heel and give you eye contact. What you do will depend on your level of obedience with your dog.

    You can throw the ball, just make him do cool obedience stuff for his ball, by engaging his mind it should slow his body down a little!


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