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 altogether. 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
- Joints 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 this increases their chances of suffering a traumatic injury. 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 pain relief for dogs as well as improving his or her 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
One of the most common things prescribed by your vet for arthritis is an anti-inflammatory for 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 the last resort. Though surgery can greatly reduce your dog’s pain and impr