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Degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis, is the most common skeletal disease of dogs. DJD is a progressive deterioration of articular cartilage in joints. There are two main categories of DJD: primary and secondary.

Primary DJD

Primary DJD is thought to be the result of long term use as the animal ages and is associated with a known predisposing cause. The most common predisposing causes are developmental disorders.

There are several developmental disorders associated with immature animals that typically result in DJD:

Osteochondrosis — defect in the blood supply to articular cartilage during growth that results in an irregular cartilaginous surface and possibly small cartilage pieces free in the joint cavity. This is most common in the shoulder joint.

Elbow/hip dysplasia — defect in the conformation of these joints resulting in laxity (instability).

Secondary DJD

This is the most common group. Secondary DJD is a result of an initiating cause such as trauma, joint instability due to ligament damage or luxating patella, etc.

Risk Factors for DJD


Working/athletic dogs

History of hereditary disorders in the familial line

Metabolic diseases such as Cushing’s disease

and diabetes mellitus

Clinical Signs of DJD

Intermittent lameness

Stiff gait

Signs may worsen after long periods of activity

and/or rest

Decreased range of motion in the joint

Joint swelling/pain

Joint instability

Animals generally do not show signs of overt pain. Even if lameness, etc. is intermittent, the animal is probably continually painful.

Diagnosis of DJD

A thorough history and physical exam are the foundation for diagnosing DJD. Often, sedation is required to adequately manipulate the joints to check for instability. Radiographs are also helpful to confirm diagnosis as well as rule out other possible causes of lameness like bone tumors, etc. Other diagnostics such as testing for Lyme disease and immune-mediated arthritis may also be indicated.


There is no cure for DJD but there are some things we can do to slow the progression of the disease and make your pet more comfortable. General areas of treatment include:

Exercise: moderate, controlled exercise is important to maintain muscle mass and strength. Swimming is an excellent means of low-impact exercise.

Diet: keeping animals with DJD on the lean side of normal reduces the stress put on the joints. Feeding a high quality diet is also very important. We can help you develop a weight loss program for your pet.

Glucosamine/Chondroitin Supplementation: These agents are effective in slowing the progressive changes associated with DJD. Please note that not all of these supplements do an equally good job. Nutritional supplements do not have strict quality regulations. There is one veterinary product that has undergone extensive testing called Cosequin. Cosequin seems to be a superior supplement in slowing the progression of DJD.

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents): these agents are the cornerstone of treatment for DJD in animals, as they are in humans. Deramaxx, Rimadyl, EtoGesic, Metacam and Zubrin are the most common NSAIDs available today. We use Deramaxx and Rimadyl most frequently in our practice. These agents reduce the inflammation caused by DJD as well as provide pain relief for this condition. As with any long-term medication, there are potential side effects with these agents. We recommend our medical monitoring panel before treatment is initiated, at 2 weeks then every 6-12 months to assess general organ health and function.

A word about aspirin: aspirin is also an NSAID but is not specific for osteoarthritis pain. Aspirin also has a larger potential for long-term side effects such as clotting disorders. We strongly recommend Deramaxx, Rimadyl, etc. over aspirin for relief from osteoarthritis.

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