When to Euthanize a Dog With Arthritis? All You Should Know

When to Euthanize a Dog With Arthritis? Photo of an old dog with arthritis and his old collar after he was euthanized.

You love your dog more than anything, but there will be a time when you need to consider euthanization if your dog has arthritis.

If you are considering it, here is the crucial information that you must know about when to euthanize a dog with arthritis and if you should take that decision.

Making the difficult decision to euthanize a dog with arthritis will be mostly about valuing their quality of life. If a dog has stage 4 arthritis, this is often the point of no return. If a dog can no longer move without extreme pain or even move at all, you must make the call to euthanize your dog. This is a decision that you can reach with your vet and other professionals to ensure that it is the correct one.

What are the risk factors of arthritis?

Just like humans, dogs are at risk of developing arthritis. In some dogs, it’s only a situation where they are senior citizens, and their body is starting to break down (as you’d expect). However, there are other risk factors to arthritis to be aware of, including:

  • Genetics
  • Size/breed
  • Nutrition
  • Obesity
  • Injury or surgery

Genetics

A dog is more prone to arthritis if his parents have dealt with it too. It gets passed down in their genes the same way that fur type and personality does. When choosing from a breeder, be sure to ask about the parents’ family history so that you can know if you have to be dealing with a predisposition (more on that in a bit).

Size/breed

Certain dog breeds are going to be much likely to deal with arthritis. For instance, large dogs are often known for developing hip or elbow dysplasia. Smaller dogs are known for patellar luxation. Both of these can make arthritis more likely, or even trigger flare-ups. 

As well, certain breeds of dogs are just going to be more likely to deal with arthritis, even if they don’t have any of these complicating factors.

Nutrition

Arthritis develops when the cartilage breaks down or is otherwise weakened. This can happen if a dog is not fed the right amount of what it should be. For instance, they are underfed, fed a diet lacking in omega-3, and more. A proper diet helps keep that cartilage as strong as possible for as long as possible. While this doesn’t prevent arthritis, it helps with preventative care.

Obesity

Whether they are fed too many treats, generally overfed, not exercised enough, or a combination of all of those things, obesity puts more strain on the joints and makes them more susceptible to a breakdown of the cartilage.

Injury or surgery

Whenever a dog is injured or requires surgery or treatment anywhere around a joint, that joint immediately becomes compromised and much more likely to become arthritic before anything else in the body. While this can’t be helped, of course, it is something to be aware of if your dog has surgery or an injury.

How to tell if my dog is in pain from arthritis?

As responsible pet parents, we want to do everything in our power to ensure that our dogs aren’t in pain. There are some common signs of pain that you look for; however, that may mean it’s time for a trip to the vet to see what’s going on. These include:

  • Stiffness when getting up
  • Slow movements and panting
  • Licking or paying attention to a specific joint
  • Discomfort when scratching or grooming a particular part

If you notice these signs of pain, mainly if they’re concentrated to specific joints, it’s a sign that he might be dealing with some arthritis. Read more on the various stages below!

Photo of an old dog with arthritis and his old owner.

Stages of arthritis in dogs

There are four stages of arthritis in dogsThey can start at any age, and those larger dog breeds may have an earlier onset than the medium or smaller-sized dogs. Each case is different, however.

Stage 1

This is sort of like the “just in case” stage. This is more about preventative care, and this can be “diagnosed” at any point because it’s more about predisposition. For example, if your dog has risk factors such as luxating patellas, or a torn ligament, they’d be considered Stage 1. It’s like a “warning” where the vet and pet parent know that they have to be on the lookout for arthritis in the future.

Stage 2

This would be seen as a “warm-up” stage. Your vet would diagnose this by taking a close look at your dog’s joints using x-rays and other specialized methods to check them carefully. This stage would be before any noticeable issue with pain or even mild symptoms. The checks would show that there is a problem “simmering” that would become obvious with time.

Stage 3

This is the point where vets and pet parents would start to see symptoms set in. Perhaps they will sleep more or be slightly more reluctant to move. Maybe they are struggling to get up on the couch or the bed more than they used to. These are all warning signs that your pet’s comfort is starting to slip. At this point, the focus would be more on dealing with it since it has “set in” as a chronic condition.

Stage 4

This is the most severe stage, and it is the last one, as we mentioned above. It is called severe arthritis or even end-stage arthritis for this reason. It is when your pet is unable to move comfortably and is in constant, severe pain. They will have little range of movement or may even have no movement in the worst areas.

What is end-stage arthritis in dogs?

As the name suggests, this is the most severe form of arthritis diagnosed with severe quality of life problems and a significant amount of pain. Like the end-stage of any human condition, the implication is that your dog starts in on their final months as far as quality of life is concerned. 

How long can a dog live with severe arthritis?

Your dog can technically live for quite some time with severe arthritis, with the help of regular vet care and pain medication (more on that in a bit). As fr as how low they can live, it is a blend of personal/professional preference and the ability to eat, control their bowels, and more. When a dog can’t move or relieve itself on a pee pad or outside, many professionals will say this is the point where the dog’s quality of life is no longer there.

Treatment for arthritis in dogs

The stage of arthritis that your dog is diagnosed with will determine what the best treatment is. Take a look below for many of the standard treatment practices!

Stage 1

To make sure that your vet and you, as the pet parent, are ready to “jump into action,” you’ll need to take every mild twist, muscle pull, or injury seriously. Have your vet check out the joints and limbs and scan for any degradation of the joints. You’ll also want to put them on an omega-3-rich diet and keep them on a low-impact exercise routine. These changes and monitoring their weight to stay as stable as possible for as long as possible can help a lot.

Stage 2

At this point, your vet is noticing some signs of wear and tear to the joints, even though your dog isn’t noticing any symptoms. This will be mostly the same as above. But, you can consider the added benefit of a dietary supplement for omega-3s and perhaps massage therapy or even physiotherapy.

Stage 3

Now that the symptoms have set in for your dog, the goal becomes keeping them as minimal as possible. This means physiotherapy, focusing on low-impact exercises, and even changing their lifestyle from their ordinary walks and play sessions (to protect their joints). You can also consider pain medications in case of flare-ups or something like acupuncture or laser therapy to help with the most-impacted joints.

Stage 4

This is where the intervention really becomes about keeping your pet comfortable. Pain medications are often increased in their dosage, and physiotherapy and exercise changes to be more focused, such as underwater therapy. The goal is no longer to stretch their range of movement but instead to just keep them comfortable.

When is it time to put down a dog with arthritis?

This leads us to this challenging question, then. The actual decision comes down to factoring in some of the most important details involved in making that decision from multiple angles:

  • Your dog’s quality of life
  • Professional recommendations
  • Vet bills and care

Your dog’s quality of life

We often get so wrapped up in our own emotions about euthanizing our dogs that we forget to think about our dog. Since they can’t communicate in a way that we can always understand, it’s easy to forget that our dogs feel a lot of pain and poor quality of living. You must keep that quality of life in mind when considering whether now might be the best time to take their pain away.

Professional recommendations

By the time your dog is in stage 4 arthritis, you’ll be seeing your vet fairly regularly. If your vet recommends that you consider euthanasia, you’re going to want to seriously consider this recommendation. They are the professionals and are going to be the best-qualified person to make that decision.

Vet bills and care

Not a fun part to think about, but an important one. Vet appointments, physiotherapy, a specialized diet, supplements, pain pills…all of this adds up to a final number that can often be hard to manage with other financial expectations. If it’s gotten to the point where you are struggling, or you’re over-extended. In that case, it’s time to consider one final charge for euthanasia for your pet. Not only is it going to be a kindness to your dog, but it’ll be a way to help you keep their quality of life up as high s possible even if you are financially strapped.

Photo of an old dog with arthritis laying down on his bed at home.

How to help a dog with arthritis at home

If you are dealing with a diagnosis of arthritis in stages 1-4 and you aren’t at the point of considering euthanasia yet. In that case, there are a few ways to help your dog, as introduced above. These include:

  • Omega-3 supplements and pain medication
  • Injections and acupuncture
  • Physiotherapy

Omega-3 supplements and pain medication

Both of these help with keeping the joint as healthy and pain-free as possible. This is both preventative and retroactive, depending. These are easy to add to dog foods and other treats.

Injections and acupuncture

Localized injections of pain medication and acupuncture treatments will offer targeted relief of symptoms and encourage a better range of movement in those impacted joints.

Physiotherapy

Whether it’s used on its own or with massage therapy and more, it can help extend their range of movement for as long as possible. This will keep their symptoms down and make sure that they keep their quality of life for as long as possible!

Should you walk a dog with arthritis?

You can safely take your dog for a walk if they have arthritis in stages 1-3. You’ll want to keep an eye on your dog, though, as far as watching for signs of pain or soreness. Aim for level terrain and a slow pace.

If your dog is struggling in stage 3 or has stage 4 arthritis. In that case, you’ll want to stick with low-impact exercises and water physiotherapy. This will give him the exercise he wants but will protect his joints.

In the end

You should consider euthanasia in a dog that has stage 4 or end-of-life arthritis. Their quality of life will be severely impacted, and there are also a lot of financial implications to think about as well. Euthanasia is often the choice when you and your vet consider it to be an act of kindness.

Deciding to euthanize a dog with arthritis is a hard decision at the best of times, but it becomes a matter of weighing the pros and cons of your dog’s health.

Know someone who is struggling with this decision right now? This guide could help them. Consider sharing it with them.

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Hi, I'm Andre and I'm the owner of Sula the Border Collie. I love writing about this amazing dog breed here. I joined the Council to be able to reach and educate more people on the joy of having a pet dog.