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Help Owners Identify Early Signs of Osteoarthritis in Their Dogs

Help Owners Identify Early Signs of Osteoarthritis in Their Dogs
Canine OsteoArthritis Staging Tool (COAST) is a tool for staging the impact of osteoarthritis on dogs. Since COAST depends on owner assessments, in addition to veterinarian clinical assessments, Elanco says COAST can help educate owners about osteoarthritis. Photo: Soloviova Liudmyla/Shutterstock.com

Adapted from an Elanco Press Release — Canine osteoarthritis (OA) is primarily a developmental disease, but more than 50% of cases are not diagnosed until dogs are between 8 and 13 years of age. Early intervention has the greatest potential for providing the most effective management of canine OA. Although owner assessment of their dog’s discomfort is a subjective evaluation, their perception of their pet’s pain is very important for case management. Elanco Animal Health’s COAST tool is designed to help veterinary teams improve the diagnosis and monitoring of dogs with OA and guide disease management plans, but it can also be used to educate pet owners about OA.

One of the key points to stress to clients: More than one in five dogs are diagnosed with osteoarthritis,1 but unlike humans, they can’t tell us when they’re in pain. Many dogs live with the disease getting progressively worse for years before it’s detected.2

“I always tell pet owners that osteoarthritis pain doesn’t have to be a normal part of their dog getting older. If pet owners identify subtle changes in their dogs’ behavior or movement, like a change in activity level or slowness to jump on or off of the couch, it’s time to talk with a veterinarian,” explains Dr. Duncan Lascelles, Professor of Small Animal Surgery and Pain Management at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “We must be our canine’s caretaker and identify the signs early. Ultimately, early detection helps your veterinarian create a treatment plan that may prevent the long-term decline of your dog’s quality of life from osteoarthritis — essentially, early detection allows us to improve the future life of these beloved companions.”

Educating Clients

Veterinary teams can help pet owners identify their dog’s osteoarthritis pain. Tell your clients that breed, age, high activity level, obesity and previous joint injury have all been identified as risk factors for osteoarthritis. Additionally, pet owners should monitor for signs at home and talk to a veterinarian if they notice:

• Changes in activity level

• Stiffness, limping or favoring a leg

• Difficulty standing, especially after sleeping

• Reluctance to walk, jump or climb stairs

• Whimpering in pain or protecting painful joints

The COAST Tool

The Canine OsteoArthritis Staging Tool (COAST) combines pet owner and veterinary assessments to determine the stage and severity of OA in dogs. Pet owner input is critical, as they are in the best position to evaluate the impact of OA on the dog’s quality of life at home. With COAST, pet owners and veterinarians can partner to decrease osteoarthritis pain from the earliest signs and give dogs with OA the best chance at managing this chronic, progressive disease. Over time, the tool can also help track scores to see if treatment efforts are successful.


An overview of the Canine OsteoArthritis Staging Tool (COAST) process. The criteria for evaluation, grading and staging are depicted.2

Learn More

Read: Veterinary Nurses as Pain Management Advocates

Read: Improve Outcomes in Arthritic Pets


1. Johnston SA. Vet Clin N Am Small Anim Pract. 1997;27:699-723.

2. Cachon T, Frykman O, Innes JF, et al. Face validity of a proposed tool for staging canine osteoarthritis: Canine OsteoArthritis Staging Tool (COAST). Vet J. 2018;235:1-8.