Arthritis is a common, debilitating, and often painful condition in dogs. But, there’s plenty you can do to help your furry friend manage its progression, despite it being incurable.
Some breeds are more prone to arthritis but there can be many other factors at play such as general wear and tear, being overweight, and past injuries.
Find out how to improve the quality of life of your pet should they show signs of arthritis as we examine the impact of the condition and the treatments available.
What Is Arthritis?
Also known as osteoarthritis, this condition affects joints causing them to get swollen and painful. In healthy joints, bones have even surfaces that allow them to glide against each other smoothly.
In dogs with arthritis, the cartilage within the joint alters or gets damaged. It no longer acts as a cushion that would normally allow the joint to move evenly. As a result, the surfaces of the inflamed joints become worn. Bone surfaces then begin to rub against each other leading to pain and swelling.
Although any joint in the body can develop osteoarthritis, the condition is most common in the limbs and lower spine.
How to Recognize if Your Dog Has Arthritis
Osteoarthritis can be hard to detect in its early stages. Symptoms may not become apparent until the affected joint becomes badly damaged. Some dogs may also hide their pain until it gets extremely severe.
It’s important to keep an eye on your dog for these kinds of signs of arthritis:
- Stiffness, difficulty getting up, and lethargy
- Lameness and limping
- Fur stained with saliva around sore joints
- Disinterest in playing, running, or climbing stairs
- Changes in behavior and irritability
- Displaying pain when petted
- Problems getting into position to urinate or defecate
- Limbs or spine showing signs of a loss of muscle mass and narrowing of the hips
Your dog’s weight is the one to watch. Obesity is absolutely a risk factor for the development of osteoarthritis. Like humans, dogs can gain weight gradually without you perhaps noticing. You should weigh your dog regularly so you can act if necessary and begin to make changes to their diet and the amount of exercise they get.
What Puts My Dog at Greater Risk of Arthritis
Certain breeds of dogs tend to be more prone to arthritis in particular parts of their bodies. For example, Springer Spaniels and Labradors will often get arthritis in their hips and elbows. Other breeds that are more likely to develop osteoarthritis include:
- German Shepherds particularly in the spine, hips, and elbows
- Golden Retrievers in the hips
- Rottweilers and Bernese Mountain dogs in the hips and elbows
Other factors that may make a dog predisposed to the condition are:
- Being overweight or obese
- Wear and tear in middle-aged and senior dogs
- Genetics and the type of build a dog has
- Repetitive stress due to certain physical activities or games
- Historical injuries like fractures or tears to the ligament
- Previous diagnosis of hip or elbow dysplasia
- Infections that affect the joints like Lyme Disease
- Poor nutrition
Many dogs may experience more than one of the above before developing arthritis.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Arthritis
If you think your dog may have osteoarthritis, you should consult a vet. They will carry out a physical examination to assess your dog’s range of motion.
They may recommend X-rays of the affected joints in order to rule out other conditions that might cause similar symptoms. These can also help your vet see the degree of damage to the joint.
Anti-Inflammatories and Joint Supplements
Treatments tend to include anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and pain. These can have side effects. If they don’t give enough pain relief, your vet may discuss other options.
Joint supplements work for some dogs but not all. Follow the advice of your vet because some products marketed for arthritis may be inappropriate or there may be little or no scientific proof that they work.
Massages can be effective as can hydrotherapy as it doesn’t put too much strain on joints. In more serious cases, your vet may recommend surgery if the arthritic pain becomes impossible to control.
Physical Therapy and Exercise
There is a range of physical therapies that your vet may recommend. These could include applying heat to affected areas, stretching, ultrasound and swimming.
Moderate exercise is typically very beneficial to dogs with arthritis. This could mean 3-4 daily walks of 10 or 15 minutes that avoid high-impact activities.
Managing Your Dog’s Weight
Whatever your dog’s joint health, it is important they maintain a healthy weight and active lifestyle. Carrying excess weight on damaged joints is not only painful but can also accelerate cartilage breakdown in dogs with arthritis, accentuating the problem.
Obesity can put dogs at greater risk of developing osteoarthritis earlier in their lives than they would if they were at their optimal weight. If your dog is overweight or obese, your vet will be able to help you switch your dog’s diet to one that’s healthier. They’ll also suggest an exercise plan.
Making Your Dog More Comfortable
You can add a few easy modifications to your home to make it easier for your dog to move around and feel less pain. These include:
- Having non-slip rugs to avoid falls in well-used areas
- An orthopedic dog bed with a heat pad underneath
- Blocking off stairways
- Ramps to get up on furniture along with raised food and water bowls
- A dog-lift harness to help your pet, depending on their size, get around the house
- Getting your dog dry quickly if they’re wet
Prevention and Outlook of Arthritis in Dogs
As well as keeping your dog at the right weight, specialist protectors can reduce cartilage degeneration and inflammation, as well as promote the repair of joints.
Feed supplements designed to support the healthy function of dogs may also help if they have the right kinds of ingredients. Ask your vet about the options.
With the right care and management, dogs with arthritis can and do have a normal life expectancy.
Talk to A Qualified Vet
If you think your dog may have arthritis, the sooner you consult a vet the better so that you can take immediate action to ease some of the symptoms. We have a team of vets ready to offer help and advice. Book your slot today!