Does Arthritis Cause Mood Changes in Dogs?

Photo Credit: If you live with osteoarthritis (OA), you’re probably all too familiar with the impact that joint pain can have on your mood. In fact, it is known that arthritis in people has a definite link to mood disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 50 million Americans suffer from arthritis, and many of them also suffer from depression.

Dogs with arthritis

Some researchers at the University of Bristol in England want to determine if the same holds true for dogs. They are in the process of recruiting dogs to participate in a study, the goal of which will be to determine if dogs with chronic arthritis pain experience mood changes.

Study design

Here’s how the study will work. Two groups will be evaluated. The first will consist of dogs over six years of age and 12 kilograms of body weight who are showing signs of OA (stiffness after walks, difficulty climbing stairs and jumping). The second group will contain similarly aged and sized dogs who do not have any evidence or symptoms of OA.

All dogs in the study will be monitored in their home environments where they will be asked to perform simple behavioral tasks they’ve been trained to do. An example will be flipping a cardboard lid covering a bowl in order to find a hidden treat.  The dogs’ motivation will be gauged based on how willing they are to perform the task (interpreted to be a reflection of mood).

Additionally, each dog will be evaluated by a veterinarian who will perform a complete physical exam and use specialized pressure sensors to measure joint sensitivity (reflective of the dog’s level of pain).

Lauren Harris, a Veterinary School PhD student and one of the lead researchers overseeing this study stated:

Osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis seen in dogs and is a very common cause of chronic pain, particularly in older dogs. Dogs with the condition can show reduced mobility, behavioural changes and altered activity leading to a decrease in quality of life. Our theory is that dogs with OA are more pessimistic than healthy dogs and we hope our research will find out the emotional impact of OA on dogs.

Do you think your arthritic dog experiences depression?

Wishing you and your four-legged family members good health and happiness throughout the holiday season,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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3 Comments on “Does Arthritis Cause Mood Changes in Dogs?

  1. I have to agree, a study to see if being in pain makes dogs cranky? Really?! I’m cranky when I feel pain, I have no doubt that my GSD Wyatt would respond the same way.

    Just venting, but when can we as a species get past the old-school thinking that animals don’t feel pain (or respond to it) similarly to how we do, and move forward to better educate the vet community and pet parents alike to their pain management needs? This study seems like it belongs back in the 1980s, not today when we know so much more about animals and pain.

  2. PLEASE tell me that our tax dollars are not funding this ridiculous “experiment”! If so, please tell me where I can apply for funding for my experiments to see if clouds form in the atmosphere. This is such a no-brainer that I question the intelligence of anyone who proposed or funded this scam. Once it was recognized that dogs are not machines as previous philosophers posited, it follows that those with a nervous system certainly experience pain, and pain makes us cranky and depressed. There: I have provided the outcome and findings; where do I get my share of the money?

  3. My almost-9-year-old, 80 lb Airedale mix has severe hip dysplasia and OA in his lower spine. Until we put him on a daily regimen of Previcox and monthly Adequan injections earlier this year, I hadn’t fully realized how much of his goofy, joyous demeanor was gone. I did observe that he was more irritable and reactive at times and slower to get moving in the morning. In addition to generally enjoying life more, his greater level of activity undoubtedly has resulted in better muscle mass and further pain reduction from muscles providing better support to his bones.