Is there anything more loyal than a well-loved older Labrador? It is those soulful eyes, that graying muzzle, and that undeniable love that makes us want the best for our old friends. Because dogs age faster than humans, a Lab is considered “older” at about 7 years of age. At this point certain diseases, including arthritis, become more commonplace. And it’s important that owners know what to look for in their dogs, because early intervention will allow for a slower progression of the disease.

So, what exactly is arthritis and where do we see it most often in our Labby patients?

Arthritis (commonly referred to as OA) occurs when the cartilage in a joint is damaged via congenital problems (hip dysplasia being an example most people know about), trauma/ injury, or even just normal wear and tear in an athletic or obese animal. When the cartilage is damaged, it causes inflammation, which leads to more cartilage damage, and eventually damage to the underlying bone. It can affect any joint, but is more common in the hips, elbows, shoulders, stifles (ankles), carpi (wrists), and spine.

Common signs of OA include: slowing down on walks, stiffness/ limping, licking at joints, difficultly rising, and/or difficulty jumping up. It is important to keep in mind, however, that reluctance to take normal walks, withdrawing from family members, and a change in attitude, appetite, or drinking may be indicators of more serious problems. So, it is important that you visit your veterinarian for a thorough physical exam.

There is so much that can be done to treat OA these days. From special diets to physical therapy and alternative treatments to medications there is a lot of information out there. Your veterinarian can work with you to plan a good treatment protocol for your pet, but here are some treatment options, which may help your pet to be more comfortable:

  • Weight loss: Sometimes simple weight loss can make a huge difference in the comfort level of our pets. Excess weight puts more pressure on damaged joints and may therefore cause more pain. Ask your veterinarian to help you determine a healthy weight for your pet. He or she should have an obvious waist when observed from above and an obvious “abdominal tuck” when viewed from the side.
  • Controlled exercise/ physical therapy: Once your pet has OA, decreasing the intensity and length of his or her exercise will probably be necessary. Slow walks, swimming (careful not to overdo it!), and even short jogs can help maintain muscle mass to help support the joints and therefore decrease pain. Many physical therapy centers will have an underwater treadmill, which is an excellent low-impact exercise. They may also be helpful in developing a therapy regimen for your pet. 
  • Nutraceuticals: Glucosamine and Chondroitin
    as well as MSM, can help to slow cartilage damage as well as minimize inflammation.
  • Joint Diets: Hills Science Diet (j/d), Purina (JM), and Royal Canin make excellent perscription diets to support joint health. Ask your veterinarian if these diets might be right for your pet.
  • Accupuncture/ Massage: May provide additional pain relief.
  • Adequan injections: Adequan is a protective agent to the cartilage and may help to preserve cartilage in the joints.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These medications, prescribed by your veterinarian, include Rimadyl, Metacam, Previcox, and Deramaxx to name a few. They work to reduce inflammation and pain within the joints. **It is important to remember that human NSAIDs (Advil, Tylenol, Aleve, even Aspirin) are toxic to dogs and never should be given in place of a veterinary drug.** Other pain relievers can also be prescribed by your vet in addition to these drugs to provide added pain relief.

Other things to consider is that your arthritic dog may have a hard time walking on hardwood floors, so putting down runners or getting him or her some non-slip booties might make a huge difference. Also, a comfortable orthopedic bed can help to reduce pressure on joints as your pet sleeps.

Have a younger dog?

Its important to remember that exercise, a high quality diet, and a healthy weight will help reduce the risk of your pet developing OA, and give you more years to enjoy playing with your buddy.


Dr. Erin Hernandez Horner, DVM graduated from the University of Georgia in 2004 and then went on to obtain her DVM in 2008. She is currently an associate veterinarian at Brookhaven Animal Hospital   [line-sep]

21 Responses

  1. Maggie Pine on Facebook

    I am an owner of a lovely 4year old choccie lab named hazel, i she is a small labbie and i make sure i weigh her food, but i am fed up with people saying she is underwieight because they are used to seeing chubby ones, the vet says she is an ideal weight but it dont stop people making silly comments

  2. Emma Louise Dodge on Facebook

    my chocolate lab george turns 7 next month and after a visit to the vets a few days ago it looks like he has arthritis which is starting to affect his back legs. He’s now on medication and a diet to lose some excess chubby bits. I’ve spent the last few days tirelessly researching every option to help him along, everything from copper collars to hydrotherapy. Anyone got any advice to share which they have found to help?

    • Linda

      We said good bye to our almost 15 year old at Xmas. He had arthritis for a number of years and we were so thrilled to find the product “Recovery”. Completely natural, and worked amazingly. You can research it online. There is also a human version and a few of my friends take it. They tell me when they have been without it for a few days they really feel the difference and know that it is working miracles when they are on it. He also had acupuncture done which relieved his pain.

      There is nothing more wonderful than our Labs. I cannot imagine life without them!

    • steven armour

      my black lab has arthritis but green lipped mussel extract capsules have her almost back to normal.

      • maggie

        Im sorry to hear that…Im glad you mentioned Recovery in your 1.5 chocolate lab was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, no arthritis gave us some supplements but one friend told us about recovery and we switched my boy without vet consultation.. he hasnt been in pain but after longer walk or play day he has been limping for few minutes ….well, not has been 3 weeks on recovery and no limping, no weakness….im so happy and hope he will live also long, happy life like yours

  3. Pam Thompson on Facebook

    Our 4 yr old choc lab/pit bull has arthritis and I have found that the joint supplements from PetSmart (can’t remember the brand name right off) seem to help her. She takes 2 every day. 🙂 And it’s not too expensive, for a monthly supply it’s about $15-$20 (I have a PetPerks card which saves money some months).

  4. Melanie

    i have a yellow lab thats now 18 months old. He was a large puppy weighing 11 lbs at 2 months. I noticed that when he was around 6 months old when he would get up or even lay down that you can hear his leg joints snap and crack. Hes an active dog and now is 90 lbs. Im wondering since hes such a young dog …what would be the best suppliment to give him that can help with the joint issues that i know will only get worse im afraid as he gets older?

  5. Maureen Oakley on Facebook

    Our choc lab Coco is 1 in 2 weeks and already has osteo arthritis in her front legs. She had surgery 2 months ago as she was limping and xrays revealed she was born with no cartliage between the elbows on her front legs.She also had a fracture in her right leg on the bone that we didnt know about -the vet removed the fractured bone and polished off the remaining bone. For a dog so young to have this is unheard of for me and my hubby-we have to give her cod liver oil capsules everyday but is there anything else we can give her to help???

  6. Erin Horner, DVM

    Maureen, sounds like your dog had a congenital anomaly, FCP (fractured coronoid processes), which are not uncommon in Labs. Your girl was lucky to have the surgery to get it remove the fractured piece! That will slow down the progression of OA in the joint. Fish oil and joint supplements, as well as maintaining a healthy weight will certainly help too! Please let me know if you have further questions.

  7. Maureen Oakley on Facebook

    Thanks very much for your reply Erin- Coco isnt out of rhe woods yet though- when she had her xrays on her feomt and back legs, the xrays also revealed that her left hip isnt quite in the socket yet, she wiggles her back end when she walks, our own vet said hes hoping that as she grows a little the ball of the hip will eventually go
    Into its socket- otherwise that would mean another op to correct it. Shes just had her 1st season and we want to get her spayed, dont want to breed off her as it wouldnt be fair on the pups if they were born the same way as she was , but the ver who did her op at the wonderful animal hospital advised us to wait until shes lost some weight as she would put more on after being spayed. Its a nightmare knowing what to do !!

  8. Erin Horner, DVM

    Poor Coco! Sounds like its a good idea not to breed her, as she may have hip dysplasia, which is congenital. Just a heads up on the spay: spaying earlier may decrease your risk of mammary tumors. In dogs, 50% of mammary tumors are malignant, so spaying before her next heat could decrease her risk of that type of cancer. Weight loss is always a struggle with these lovable chow hounds… 🙂
    Good luck!

  9. Maureen Oakley on Facebook

    Thank you Erin- Coco sees our own vet tomorrow to check her weight so Im going to tell him that I want her spaying sooner rather than later, if she does happen to put weight on afrerwards we will have to tackle it then- spaying her sounds to be the lesser of 2 evils in her case. Hopefully when shes seen our vet tomorrow we can increase her exercise again – following her op she was on strict rest for 10 days then we had to increase her walks by 5 mins each week but as shes been in season we couldnt take her out due to rhe amount of dogs that live round her, so her exercise plan went down the pan for 3 weeks. We wouldnt be without her though, shes loopy crazy but adorable all in equal measure !

  10. Sue

    I have a 15 year old that is very lame.. My hubby and I thought the end might be in site because we didn’t want him to suffer. We took him for a 6 treatment of cold laser and worked wonderful.. I urge anyone that has an older dog that suffer with pain in the joints to seek this treatment. I was shocked at the price. At my area which is in the southern part of New Hampshire the price was a total of 240 for the treatments. He actually smile thru the whole thing and his once stiff front legs would bend.. My lab has the heart of a lion and this will make his final days more comfortable. He is actually in the play mode again. *S*

  11. Lucia

    I had a beautiful white lab named Marley who passed at the age of 2. He was a larger dog, weighing 100 lbs. On his last visit to the vet, he suggested I put him on a low calorie diet about 3 months before his passing and he was starting to lose weight gradually. Marley was my disabled daughter’s companion dog and was loved dearly by all of us…he was a true extension to our family. My daughter and I both witnessed his passing and tried doing CPR on him, but to no avail. My daughter heard him make a loud howling noise and he just fell over. We took him to our vet and they said he passed from something called ‘the bloat’. We were also told that it was common with larger dogs but I had never heard of it before. Since then, I have researched it and are now educated about the disorder but feel there should be more information given to dog owners, especially with so many warning signs. A technician at the vet told me what actually happens to the dog is their stomach flips and twists and keeps twisting until it blocks their airways and passages. I believe, had I been informed early on, Marley would be alive today. Education is key in keeping our dogs healthy 🙂

  12. Cathy

    Do you have any advice on crucial ligament injuries? My vet thinks my dog has this but says it can not be repaired until it is totally torn. She is now 2 years old and weighs about 85#. A fixed female Lab. Have been dealing with it since she was about 9mo. old. Thanks for any insight.

  13. Carol

    Cathy….our lab tore her acl @ about 9 months….she had surgery with a plate. About a month later she tore the other one! Again surgery…….the best thing we could have done for her! she progressed to be a great retriever and was very active until she started slowing down with progressive arthritis in both of those back legs. Libby is now 11 and is very slow but looks forward to 2 or 3 short retrieves every evening….it is so sad for us to see her like this but she is a trooper…..consequin DS works as well as any RX from the vet…..