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When To Euthanize A Dog With Arthritis?

Unfortunately, our dogs won’t always be the energetic and bouncy puppies that they once were. As they get into their senior years their mobility deteriorates and they begin to slow down.

It’s heartbreaking to think of our beloved pets as being in pain, even when they perform simple tasks such as getting up and down or going for a walk.

While there are treatment options available for degenerative joint disease, there inevitably comes a point where end-stage arthritis in dogs becomes too painful to manage, and choosing when to euthanize a dog with arthritis is never an easy choice to make; this article should help you come to a more informed decision as to when the right time to put your dog down might be. When to euthanize a dog with arthritis?

The right time to put your dog to sleep is when the symptoms of arthritis have become too severe for them to have any quality of life. If they whine in pain regularly when moving, are unable to go for a walk, or have otherwise lost interest in their favorite activities then it might be their time. 

If your dog is suffering from mobility issues, you’ll likely do anything you can to help them live a happy life. Before you make the decision to have them euthanized there are some simple changes you’ll want to try first.

How Do I Know if My Dog is in Pain from Arthritis?

black labrador on a table

Usually affecting the back legs of dogs, osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints that results in inflammation, pain, and a reduced range of motion. Large breed dogs are more commonly affected than smaller breeds and genetic conditions such as hip dysplasia will often predispose dogs to arthritis in later life.

It is important to know the symptoms of arthritis to look out for as your dog gets older, these include:

  • Exercise intolerance and reluctance to play
  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Lameness or limping
  • Difficulty or discomfort when going to the toilet
  • Pain when performing simple movements or when touched in certain areas
  • Falling down or splaying legs outwards

Some of these symptoms can be managed through changes you can make at home and/or medication. However, for some dogs, their arthritis may have developed to a point where their pain is so severe, even despite medication, that it is no longer fair to keep them alive.

If they frequently collapse, yelp in pain, and have no interest in activities or even food then their quality of life is poor. While it’s the hardest decision for any owner to make, it must be done with your dog’s best interests at heart. Always think of euthanasia as a blessing; it allows an end to be brought to your pet’s suffering rather than them continuing in pain.

How Long Can a Dog Live With Arthritis?

vet injecting medication in a dog's leg

Since arthritis is primarily a disease of the joints and doesn’t affect the vital organs it is not life-threatening – many dogs will pass away due to other diseases before the symptoms related to arthritis become extreme.

Osteoarthritis is estimated to affect 20% of all dogs and the prevalence only increases with age; 80% or more dogs over the age of 8 will develop some degree of arthritis. Dogs can continue to live many happy and playful years with the proper management changes and the addition of medication.

How to Help a Dog with Arthritis at Home

labrador at home

The furniture around your house that once acted as a playground for your younger athletic puppy may now seem more like an unnecessary obstacle course for your senior dog. Simple changes like moving your dogs’ bed and feeding bowl closer together will prevent unnecessarily long trips back and forth and always be sure to keep your dogs’ claws trimmed.

Seemingly impossible tasks such as jumping in the car, climbing the stairs, and getting on and off the bed are a real struggle for an arthritic dog – steps and ramps can help with this. Laminate or wooden floors often prove very slippery for arthritic dogs so simply putting rugs between your dog’s favorite stops will allow them to gain more traction as they move around the house.

Obesity is another predisposing factor to arthritis; overweight dogs have more force going through their joints which speeds up the degeneration process. Short frequent walks will allow your dog to stay active and fit without wearing them out and put them on a diet if necessary.

Joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin have also been shown to have some benefit for dogs with arthritis by keeping the cartilage within the joints healthy.

Can my Vet do Anything to Help with My Dog’s Arthritis?

vet examining a black lab

Dogs showing severe symptoms of arthritis may benefit from medical or surgical veterinary management. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to treat arthritis in dogs and many owners report miraculous improvements in their dog’s mobility after starting such medications.

Other ‘human’ drugs such as tramadol and gabapentin can be used off-license to manage pain in arthritic dogs. There are many options available when it comes to pain relief medication for dogs and unfortunately, most don’t come without side effects, so be sure to speak to your vet for advice.

Even if you think your dog is showing signs of end-stage arthritis, it may be worth trialing them on medication before deciding whether to have them put to sleep.

Many owners often wonder if surgery is available for dogs with arthritis. While not commonly performed, there are specialist surgical interventions that can be carried out by a specialist orthopedic vet.

These usually involve entering the affected joint(s) and cleaning up and loose fragments of bone or cartilage that are contributing to inflammation. In the case of severe hip dysplasia and arthritis affecting a dog’s back legs, a total hip replacement may even be performed.

Final Thoughts

dog on an operating table

If you have tried most of the above options and you think your dog is suffering then talk to your vet. In times where emotions are high, they can help you come to a rational conclusion on whether it is time to have your beloved companion euthanized. It is without a doubt the hardest decision any owner will have to make but you can take comfort in the fact that you are doing it for the right reasons.

About the author: Pablo Pascua created dogbreedsfaq.com because of his interest in all the different breeds, and his desire to learn more. His inspiration comes from the many dogs he has owned throughout his life.