Osteoarthritis in dogs

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Bowen Therapy for dogs with arthritis

He seems stiff in the mornings

She suddenly seems like an old dog

He is reluctant to jump into the car

She’s a bit grumpy nowadays

I often hear owners make these comments in my Canine Bowen Therapy clinic & they are usually the reason people decide to try Bowen Therapy for their dogs in the first place. Sadly​ these observations are all potential signs that the dog is in pain. 

Chronic pain due to degenerative joint disease such as osteoarthritis is a very common presentation among my Canine Bowen Therapy clients who often come with distressed owners. 

 Dogs are very good at developing coping mechanisms making it hard for the owner to notice the signs of chronic pain until the disease is well established. Owners may suspect that something isn’t quite right & often they will resort to trying a combination of different supplements recommended by friends or family which have little, if any, effect before seeking medical attention from their vet or therapeutic help from a canine professional.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteo-arthritis is a degenerative & inflammatory disease of the joints which can affect one or more of the dog’s joints at any one time. Originally thought of as a disease that affects only older dogs it is now evident that it can also affect young dogs. It is estimated that in the UK 80% of dogs over 8yrs & 20% of dogs over 1yr are suffering with osteoarthritis & it is one of the leading causes of elective euthanasia (caninearthritis.co.uk).

Clinically osteoarthritis is classed as;

  • a progressive deterioration of the joint cartilage
  • loss of collagen in the connective tissues surrounding the joint
  • a thinning of the protective/lubricant synovial fluid within the joint capsule
  • inflammation within the synovial membrane

It is the mixture of chemicals & neurotransmitters produced by the inflammatory response that causes the dog to experience pain, usually chronic in nature. Signs of chronic pain in dogs include, but aren’t limited to;

  • increased stiffness after exercise or when getting up after resting
  • postural changes (eg roach back -spine curved upwards)
  • restricted range of movement (eg looking stiffer than usual)
  • loss of muscle tone (eg thigh muscles looking flatter & less toned)
  • changes in coat appearance (eg dull coat, thick mane of fur around neck)
  • changes in head or tail carriage (eg tail to one side, head lowered)
  • mood changes (eg becoming more withdrawn, appearing depressed)
  • behavioural changes (eg increase in noise sensitivity, increased reactivity)

Most owners are not trained in recognising these signs & dogs are good at developing coping mechanisms so osteoarthritis often goes undiagnosed until the disease is well established.

What causes arthtitis in dogs?

Causes of osteoarthritis are many & often a combination of factors likely contribute to the probability & rate at which a dog will develop the disease. Here are some of the most common factors;

  • over-exercise, especially during puppyhood
  • high velocity & high impact activities (eg ball chasing)
  • obesity
  • early neutering
  • poor dietary choices
  • previous musculoskeletal injury
  • genetics – breed specific or hereditary pre-dispostion

How do I treat my dog’s arthritis?

Diagnosis of osteoarthritis must come from a qualified veterinary surgeon who will use verbal information from the owner, visual assessment & physical examination of joint range of movement & muscle quality to make a diagnosis. However the best diagnosis is with X-ray to assess the extent of the deterioration & confirm any extra bone growth in severe cases.

Osteoarthritis is traditionally treated with painkillers &/or NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication)  to control the pain & inflammation. Nowadays there have been advancements in the use of stem cell therapy or drugs formulated to regenerate cartilage.

 Although the disease is incurable its progression can be slowed down & the dog’s quality of life improved  by a multi modal approach which starts with primary veterinary care. Once the correct medication has been found for your dog a combination of the following can help you to manage the disease day to day;

  • manual therapies such as Canine Bowen Therapy
  • hydrotherapy
  • improved diet
  • weight loss
  • general management of exercise & lifestyle
  • suitable supplements
Canine Bowen Therapy & arthritis in dogs

As a physical therapist working closely with your dog I can help you recognise signs of pain & gather the information you need to refer back to your vet for diagnosis & appropriate treatment, after which i can provide you with practical advice to help manage the disease at home.

I have a passion for helping you make the right lifestyle changes to improve your dog’ quality of life & give


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“My dog had a course of Canine Bowen Therapy sessions with Elly & the effects were remarkable. I hadn’t realised how much his symptoms were affecting him until I saw the changes in his general demeanour & increase in enjoyment of life. Elly also gave us some great advice on how to make practical changes to home life to help manage his condition.”

Jane Doe