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Arthritis and Cold Weather: Treating Degenerative Joint Disease in Winter

Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Tasse, DVM on Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Posted March 17, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

In a previous blog I broadly discussed the types of arthritis that may affect your dog. Here, I will discuss in detail osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD), and how it can be worsened by cold weather.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Is your dog slowing down?
  • Is your dog having a tougher time manipulating stairs?
  • Does your dog make the jump onto the couch or bed with less vigor and ease than he used to? 
  • Would your dog now rather have a 5 minute walk than his usual 20 minute walk?
  • Does your dog seem sore first thing in the morning?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, then your dog may be suffering from degenerative joint disease—especially if any of the symptoms seem worse when it's cold.
What is DJD?
DJD arthritis affects joints—making them stiff and painful to move. DJD can affect any dog and almost any joint, including the spine.  

How will DJD affect my dog?
Different breeds, and differently sized dogs, may often feel the effects in different joints:

  • For a smaller dog, DJD is often most prevalent in the spine or knees. Small dogs, who are much lighter on their feet, may not show signs of DJD as obviously as large dogs. Watch small dogs carefully; if you see them occasionally “hopping,” have them checked out by your veterinarian. 
  • For a larger dog, the knees can still be involved, but we often see DJD in the hips or shoulders.

Depending on the joint involved and the dog's genetic predisposition, the onset of the DJD could be as early as two years old.

DJD, sadly, is a chronically progressive disease. Left untreated, it can continually get worse as your pet ages. In some cases, DJD can be extremely debilitating—leaving some dogs (in the advanced stages) with compromised mobility.  

DJD and the cold
One way to combat the effects of DJD is with movement; activity helps the joints combat stiffness—which in turn reduces pain. In the cold weather, joints stiffen up and are less prone to movement. As people with arthritis know, joints feel stiffer in the morning and in the cold. Also when it's cold, we're more reluctant to get up and get moving—the one thing that will help! That's the double whammy of DJD in the winter, the cold actually makes it worse at a time

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Jeff has more than 30 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a licensed veterinarian as well as a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.