10 Questions about Arthritis in Older Golden Retriever Dogs

If you own a Golden Retriever or plan on adopting a puppy, major health concerns that seem to run common are: various skin problems, hypothyroidism, eye disease, elbow and hip dysplasia and Von Willebrand disease (VWD).

Even though health problems are somewhat common with Goldens, you can do a lot to prevent them by ensuring your dog is healthy.

In general Goldens are a healthy breed, though like us humans they can get ill from time to time for similar reasons – poor diet, lack of exercise and ignoring the early signs of arthritis.

1. What is canine arthritis?

In both dogs and humans, arthritis technically refers to the inflammation of the joint and is characterized by swelling, stiffness and pain. Arthritis is certainly more prevalent in older pets, since joints degenerate as they age and the cartilage lining of the joints gets damaged.  The joints most commonly affected include: elbow, knee, ankle, shoulder, hips and spine.  Hip dysplasia is a debilitating form of arthritis which refers to the abnormal development of the joint and socket of a Golden’s hip. 

The prevalence of hip dyslpasia in Golden Retrievers was found to be present in 73% of all dogs tested in one USA study (Paster et al 2005). 

Hip Dysplasia 

2. Is there a genetic predisposition for arthritis in Goldens?

Yes, Golden Retrievers have a known predisposition to hip dysplasia. While it's true that any breed of dog can be potentially affected by orthopaedic conditions, Golden Retrievers are one of the most commonly affected breeds. It’s important that a vet assesses and gives a proper diagnosis by taking x-rays, since if left untreated it can lead to osteoarthritis causing further problems down the road. Purebred Goldens should be screened early in life for genetic conditions like dysplasia that can cause disease later in life.  

3. What are the chances that my Golden Retriever will develop arthritis?

Unfortunately, hip dysplasia is one of the most common health problems affecting a Golden Retriever. If left untreated, this can lead to degeneration of the hip, inflammation, intense pain and the possibility of being unable to walk again.

Other dog breeds with a high incidence rate of hip dysplasia are German Shepherds, Labradors and Rottweilers.

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4. Is there some way I can prevent my Golden Retriever from developing arthritis?

The general consensus is to choose a puppy whose parents have been screened for dysplasia and have healthy joints.

Early diagnosis makes a difference, so act quickly at the first clinical signs of arthritis in your golden by arranging to see your vet.

Some overzealous owners push their pets beyond their limits by over-excising them. This is a common problem with pet owners of active dog breeds. Repetitive strain on the hips, ankles, knees and wrists causes wear and tear on a joint leading to inflammation and thus damage.  So owners should avoid playing too hard with their dog and over-exercizing them. Instead allow them to rest in between days of play, resting the joint allowing for it to heal.

Administer nutritional supplements to your dog as a preventative for arthritis and to save you money in vet’s bills further down the road. These supplements include: enzymes, glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, fatty acids and antioxidants. However, owners should only administer it under veterinary supervision. Supplements come in the form of tablets, liquids, chewable pills or powder form that can be sprinkled on a dog’s food.

Being overweight can put extra strain on a dog’s joints. Overtime this can cause damage which eventually leads to arthritis. Feeding Golden Retrievers a nutritious diet and carefully selecting treats and cutting out leftovers is important for both prevention and treatment purposes.  Choose a premium and nutritious balanced dog food to keep him at a healthy weight.

5. How do I know if My Golden Retriever has arthritis?

  • Is your dog stiff when getting up or lying down?
  • Does he limp when walking or favour one or more of his legs?
  • Does he refuse to jump on furniture, getting into a car, going up or down the stairs?
  • Is he urinating indoors?
  • Does he express pain when touched?
  • Is he lethargic and tires quickly?
  • Is he more irritable than usual?
  • Does he have a leg which looks thinner than a normal leg (muscle atrophy)?
  • Does he have loss of appetite?

If the answer is yes to one or more of these signs associated with arthritis, consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis

6. What should I do if I think my senior Golden Retriever has arthritis?

Do not wait!

The longer the time before treatment is administered, the worse the prognosis. 

Arrange to see your vet immediately and make plans to see him that very same day. We cannot emphasize enough that you work with your own veterinarian to determine a course of treatment for your arthritic golden retriever.

7. What is OFA and How Does it Work?

Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) is the oldest hip-improvement scheme in the world and is a non-profit organization whose aim is to aid breeders to help reduce hip dysplasia.

Any owner can request an OFA evaluation of their dog’s hips to properly assess the presence of dysplasia which is done by three certified radiologists. Your Golden has to be at least 2 years old and the cost is roughly $30 and you'll know whether or not hip dysplasia is going to affect your dog later on in life.

For more information visit their website at www.offa.org.

8. Can Arthritis be treated?

Though arthritis cannot be cured, there are various remedies and procedures that can help ease the pain of arthritis for your golden. A short course of NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can help with inflammation, relieve pain, increase mobility and much more.

These include:

  • Adequan, a prescribed anti-inflammatory drug that helps rebuild cartilage.
  • Rimadyl, is an effective NSAID for chronic canine arthritis.
  • Previcox prescribed by a vet, helps with reducing inflammation and is a pain-reliever.
  • Tramadol, is from the “opioid” family and is a pain-killer. 
  • Galliprant, is a newer NSAID drug released in 2016 as a suitable treatment for arthritis in dogs.

WARNING:  All these drugs should only be administered under the strict guidance of your vet since they all come with serious side effects.

Following the prescribed course of treatment, your Golden can still lead a full life, but they require extra care!

Dogs with severe arthritis need surgery either to the hips, elbows or spine.

9. What are some of the Lifestyle and Dietary Changes for Arthritic Dogs?

Golden retriever in a PVC pet wheelchair


Regardless of how mildly or severely, your Golden has been effected, the impact of the condition is major and life changing.  The truth is the pain can be quite severe and debilitating for them, causing them to be in pain even with small everyday movements such as standing up.

Since the quality of life can be adversely affected by the disease, here are a few tips on how to cope with an senior arthritic dog:

Undertake less strenuous exercise like a short stroll through the park or swimming to minimize the stress on the joints, elbows and hips. Swimming is an excellent non-weight bearing exercise so it’s a great low impact activity for overweight arthritic dogs.

A dog stroller is great for long walks when your dog is getting tired and needs to rest his joints and ligaments.

A dog sling helps support a dog’s weight and should be used to help him move around, rise from a lying position or if experiencing stiffness.

Keep his weight low, buy nutritionally balanced foods from a premium brand. Seek joint health or senior formulas if your Golden is aged, since these contain glucosamine and chondroitin, the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and antioxidants like vitamin E to help reduce inflammation and ease the pain.

Since they’re lethargic, rest is imminent, make sure he has a comfy bed that he can lie in and is easy to get in and out of it. Look for an orthopedic or memory foam dog bed since these provide the cushioned support your arthritic Golden needs.

Products like pet ramps, dog steps or a lift harness can also help. There are both commercial dog ramps and stairs available, but you can also make some DIY dog stairs if you’re handy with carpentry.

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10. What are some of Alternative Therapies for Treating  Arthritis?

A holistic veterinarian prefers to “treat a pet” rather than the disease or the symptoms. In other words they consider the total wellness of the pet not just the problem at hand. They choose the best treatment that serves a pet’s best interest. Alternative therapies for treating arthritis include acupuncture, canine physiotherapy, massage, laser therapy and herbs. These help ease the pain and stiffness.

In addition Goldens with hip dysplasia and mild secondary osteoarthritis respond well to nutritional supplements including glucosamine, chondroitin, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids to provide nourishment for the cartilage.

Use several supplements to get an additive benefit for arthritic Goldens. As pets age they require additional support for their joints and mobility. It may take 2-3 months before your dog can show a positive improvement. Make sure you know and use the correct dosage and that the supplement has the seal of approval from the National Animal Supplement Council.

With so much junk out there camouflaged as high-quality supplements, it’s easy to end up buying the wrong products.

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