Just like people, dogs age. As they age, they can suffer from a variety of diseases and health issues. A common disease that many dogs suffer from is Arthritis. Although there are many different types of the disease, the most prevalent form of arthritis in dogs is osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease.
If you think your dog may be suffering from this condition, make sure you talk to your veterinarian right away. The more educated you are on the disease, the faster your dog will be able to receive treatment. This article will go over the possible causes, symptoms, and treatments for arthritis in dogs.
What is Arthritis in Dogs?
Arthritis occurs when the cartilage of a dog’s joints begins to thin and weaken. When this happens, it no longer serves to protect and cushion the bones of the joint like it is designed to do. This cushion begins to fail and as a result can cause significant discomfort for your dog.
This canine arthritis pain and friction can create a noticeable difference in your dog’s ability to move freely. The breakdown of cartilage associated with arthritis can occur due to your dog’s age, or even as a result of old injuries acting up. Primary arthritis is considered age-related arthritis and is considered to be a normal part of an aging dog’s life, progressing slowly and usually involving multiple joints.
Arthritis can also be a secondary issue related to health conditions like canine diabetes or obesity in dogs. A dog that is overweight puts more stress on their bones and joints. This makes them more susceptible to the painful friction and weakening of cartilage that characterizes arthritis in dogs.
Secondary arthritis can also be related to lameness, and this type can occur in a dog of any age. Typically, secondary arthritis will affect only a single joint, and can be seen in dogs of all ages, breeds, and genders.
With arthritis, the constant rubbing of bone against bone also triggers inflammation in dogs, and this inflammation can cause bone spurs. Bone spurs are when your dog develops hard, bony growths on his body. These bony growths may or may not cause your dog additional discomfort and pain. It will usually depend on where and how they are growing. Sometimes they may not bother your dog at all.
The most common areas affected by osteoarthritis in dogs are the major joints, like knees, elbows, wrists, hips, shoulders, and elbows. Osteoarthritis can also affect a dog’s lower back. Unfortunately, there can be a plethora of underlying health conditions that cause your dog’s joint pain and inflammation, which makes the true source difficult to pin down.
Things like fungus, infection, canine malnourishment, bacteria in your dog’s blood supply, tick-borne diseases, and Cushing’s disease can all be triggers for arthritis. Typically, the most affected by arthritis are adult dogs and senior dogs.
Sadly, arthritis in dogs is thought to affect one in every five canines, making it more common than not. This means that if you are a dog owner, chances are high you will be forced to deal with this health condition at some point in your dog’s life.
That’s why it’s important to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis and do your best to be proactive in preventing and treating it. Sometimes, if it is caught early enough, you may be able to slow down the onset of arthritis. This can greatly improve your dog’s quality of life as he enters his golden years. Even if you can’t slow its onset, you can still improve his life and provide significant relief from chronic pain.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
There can be a variety of symptoms of arthritis that often tend to appear and worsen over a gradual period of time. The problem with the clinical signs of arthritis, is that they can also be signs of other conditions as well, so pinning down osteoarthritis as the problem may be difficult at first.
Often the initial symptoms will be so mild, you may miss them all together. Dogs are often stoic, which makes them very good at hiding their pain and discomfort. This can make diagnosing them even more challenging, because you may not even notice anything is wrong until the disease has progressed more than you realized.
Eventually, however, as the condition worsens and his pain and stiffness increase, you will begin to notice that your dog doesn’t appear to be functioning at 100%. This may be especially noticeable on days that are cold or rainy, as inclement weather can cause arthritis to act up.
Signs of Arthritis in Dogs Include:
- Depression in dogs
- Irritable behavior
- Aggression, especially when you touch them near or on a painful joint
- Stiffness, especially if they are stiff after a long period of rest or vigorous exercise
- Reluctance to get up as well as move around
- Intermittent lameness
- Weight gain
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping more than normal
- No interest in exercise or physical activity
- Exercise intolerance
- Joints that are swollen
- Joints that feel warm and tender
- Joint that are painful to touch
- Joints that have visible deformities
- Abnormal stance when they walk
- Joints that grind (also called crepitus)
You may notice that your dog takes a little longer than normal to get up after a night of rest or takes a little longer to get moving after his nap during the day. Unfortunately, because dogs with arthritis may spend more time at rest, weight gain can be a problem and make their symptoms worse. Another thing that is common with arthritis and dogs is even if only one joint is affected, the lameness in one joint can cause additional weight to be put upon your dog’s other joints because they are favoring the one that hurts. This can lead to arthritis in his other joints as well.
Risk of Arthritis in Dogs
While there is no predisposition for certain breeds or genders of dog to develop arthritis, age is definitely a big risk factor. Also, breeds that are prone to other health conditions like canine hip dysplasia, elbow osteochondrosis and dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament ruptures, and patellar luxation may have an increased risk for arthritis to develop as a secondary condition.
Dogs that are free to roam are at greater risk of developing arthritis because their chances of suffering a traumatic injury increase. This is also true of working dogs, athletic dogs, and dogs that are overweight. Dog breeds that are naturally large and heavy also are at a higher risk of arthritis and even genetics is thought to play a role in a dog’s predisposition to the disease.
Goals of Treatment for Arthritis in Dogs
Arthritis can be very painful for an animal, and cause quite a bit of suffering, especially if it is severe. If you believe that your dog may be developing arthritis, getting an assessment from your vet is important so that proper care and treatment can be started.
While arthritis is not curable, it can be managed and controlled. Treatment goals include relieving your dog’s pain as well as improving his ability to move freely. Treatment goals also include slowing down the disease’s progression if possible and stimulating your dog’s own ability to repair the affected joints.
There are both surgical and nonsurgical treatment options to help dogs suffering from arthritis. Depending on your dog’s specific situation, some of these treatments and procedures can improve your dog’s quality of life to a significant degree.
Conventional Treatments for Arthritis in Dogs
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications are often prescribed to help reduce the inflammation in your dog’s joints as well as reduce the pain they are experiencing. It’s best to consult your vet, and make sure your dog is healthy enough to tolerate NSAIDS, because they can be difficult on your dog’s kidneys and liver.
Sometimes cortisone shots may be recommended to help reduce pain and swelling, as well as other types of steroids. However, steroids can be dangerous, especially if used for a long period of time, and can cause quite a bit of side effects. Again, you should have your dog evaluated by a vet so that you can fully weigh the pros and cons for each treatment option.
Other Medications to Relieve Arthritis in Dogs
Sometimes dogs may be prescribed opioids to help reduce their pain, such as Butorphanol – or drugs like Tramadol that operate similarly. Medications like this can provide some relief but may come with their own set of undesirable side effects.
If your dog suffers from severe pain or joint damage, surgery is often a last resort. Though surgery can greatly reduce your dog’s pain and improve his mobility, it does come with its own set of symptoms and side effects, including creating additional pain for your canine.
Natural Treatments for Arthritis in Dogs
If you are a naturalist, you may be reluctant to give your dog conventional pain medications or resort to surgery. That’s okay, every dog and dog owner’s situation is unique. You have to do what you feel is best for your canine. There are many natural remedies for dog arthritis that you can try. Some of them may work better than others, so it’s important to monitor your dog closely to see if what you’re doing is having the desired effect.
One natural treatment option is dietary changes. If your dog is diabetic and/or overweight, often modifying his diet and helping them to lose excess weight can significantly decrease your dog’s pain and discomfort. It’s hard on a dog’s joints to carry around extra weight. This is why dogs that are obese appear to be more susceptible to developing arthritis than their leaner counterparts.
Regular Moderate Exercise
Though your dog may be reluctant to move if he is suffering from arthritis pain, moderate exercise on a daily basis can be quite beneficial. Moderate exercise can help to stimulate your dog’s own cartilage repair processes and may help to slow down the degeneration of his joints. Additionally, exercise can help keep your dog’s muscles from experiencing atrophy through lack of use. Swimming and other forms of water exercise are an excellent and low-impact form of exercise for dogs with arthritis.
Support for Self-Repair
Sometimes a vet may prescribe chondroprotectants. Supplements like glucosamine, MSM, omega-3 and omega-6, all fall into this category, among others. These types of treatments work by inhibiting the enzymes that contribute to the breakdown of your dog’s cartilage, which helps to protect it as it attempts to repair itself.
Some pet owners like to try treatments like acupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic adjustments to help ease their pet’s pain. These alternative treatments may help your dog by increasing circulation, relieving his pain, and speeding up this natural healing processes. Keep in mind that chiropractic adjustments for dogs is very controversial, so you should only consider it if you have a vet with extensive experience in orthopedic medicine.
Tips on How to Treat Arthritis in Dogs at Home
There are other ways you can help your dog and potentially relieve his suffering, things that you can do right at home to make his life easier. For instance, when it is cold or wet out, this can aggravate your dog’s condition. So, it is important to keep your dog in an environment that is warm and dry. Keep him indoors as much as possible and try pampering him a bit with warm compresses to his joints. This can bring pain relief and make him one happy dog indeed.
You can also make tweaks to your dog’s environment, such as building ramps to help him navigate in and out of the car or onto a favorite couch or chair. You can get your dog cushy yet supportive bedding, and make sure your home has carpeting or plenty of rugs that don’t slip and slide.
Secure rugs and thick carpeting help to give them plenty of support while they walk. Wood and tile floors not only make them cold and cause achy joints, but they make it easy for your dog to fall and possibly injure themselves or aggravate his condition.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to treatments for arthritis in dogs, but with some careful experimentation, you can alleviate their pain and improve their quality of life.