What are Arthritis?
Studies show that one in five dogs suffer from arthritis. As a pet owner, you may feel that your aging dog is slowing down and becoming less active due to maturity. In fact, he may be experiencing joint pain. Arthritis is a chronic illness and can become debilitating. There are many ways to approach relieving your dog of arthritic pain. As pet owners, we must remember that canines are brave creatures who will often mask their discomfort. We have to be proactive, and take the initiative in caring for a dog who may have arthritis.Arthritis is the most common source of pain for our canine friends as they age, but the condition can also be seen in very young dogs. A degenerative disease, arthritis most often results from everyday wear and tear on the joints. In order to preserve your pet’s quality of life, visit the veterinarian to receive advice and arthritis therapy.
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Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
The signs of arthritis in your dog may be very subtle. The most common indications are listed here.
- Lameness and stiffness (especially after rest)
- Slow gait
- Difficulty in rising from rest
- Lethargy and tendency to sleep more
- Urinating indoors
- Muscle atrophy (wasting away)
- Swelling or heat may be evident
- Pain, which may be vocalized when touched
- Licking of joints
- Gain or loss of weight
- Nervous or aggressive behavior
- Reluctance to jump, or to be active
There are five types of arthritis in dogs, with two primary forms being most common.
- Degenerative Joint Disease
- This is also known as osteoarthritis
- The condition occurs when there is friction between the bones because of the erosion of cushioning cartilage
- Purebred dogs are known to have an increased tendency for DJD (for example hip dysplasia in German Shepherd)
- Bone spurs can develop
- Inflammatory Joint Disease
- This can be caused by an infection
- Single and multiple joints can be involved
- It can also be the result of an inherited immune system flaw
Metabolic (bleeding into joints), crystalloid (crystals form in the joints), and neoplastic (joint cancer) are much more rare.
Causes of Arthritis in Dogs
Arthritis can be very uncomfortable for your pet. With a variety of causes for the condition, you should always consult the veterinarian with concerns of lameness or behavioral changes in your dog.
- Cartilage deficits
- Previous injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament
- Poor nutrition
- Trauma after a car accident, penetration of joint by a sharp object, or bite
- Infection in the joint
- Stresses on the joint, such as those that may occur with a working dog
- Disruption of cartilage, bone, synovial membranes, and ligaments that support a joint
- Bacteria spread through the blood supply
- Tick-borne disease
- Cartilage and lubricating fluid between the joints is damaged
- Congenital joint disorders like elbow dysplasia
- Cushing’s disease
Diagnosis of Arthritis in Dogs
Arthritis may be hard to detect at home because your furry family member can hide his pain and discomfort so well. The veterinarian has the knowledge and expertise to diagnose the problem, in addition to identifying any underlying disease processes that may be present.
The visit to the clinic will start with a physical exam. The veterinarian will look for the following signs of arthritis.
- Crepitus (grinding of joint)
- Abnormal bone formation or a roughness to the bone
- Joint pain, tenderness, and swelling
- Poor range of motion, possibly accompanied by pain
- Muscle atrophy
A radiograph, done while your dog is under general anesthetic, can confirm arthritis. It must be noted that at times, contrast dye should be injected into the joint and then x-rayed for the best visual perspective.
Another useful diagnostic tool is the force plate analysis. In this test, a mat that has plate sensors is placed on the floor. Hooked up to a computer, the mat can analyze the force on each plate as the dog walks across it.
Aspiration of the joint fluid could be done to determine of the arthritis is of the degenerative or inflammatory type.
Treatment of Arthritis in Dogs
The treatment for arthritis will involve a complete lifestyle change for your dog. Diet and exercise will be key in the maintenance of a good quality of life.
In the meantime, your veterinarian may start the treatment with a prescription for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). These will reduce pain and inflammation. An injectable medication, such as cortisone, could be recommended to reduce swelling and pain. Visco-supplementation is the action of injecting a gel-like substance into the joint to lubricate the cartilage, which then improves flexibility, and thus, lessens pain. Steroids are another option that the veterinarian could discuss. Glycosaminoglycans are often used as an aid for reducing the breakdown of cartilage.
Physiotherapy may be suggested to decrease scar tissue, improve mobility, and reduce pain. Studies have shown physiotherapy, chiropractic, and massage therapy have benefits for our canine friends suffering from arthritis.
Water therapy, known as hydrotherapy, involves treadmill work while the body is underwater. Putting no pressure on the joints and ligaments, the increased movement and the mobility achieved is wonderful for your pet.
Additional treatment plans that might be discussed are acupuncture, ultrasound therapy, laser therapy, magnetic therapy, and stem cell therapy. The veterinarian will have her preferred choice of protocol, and can advise you on which treatment will be the most effective to get your dog back to a more comfortable day to day existence.
Surgery is sometimes required, for instance in the case of a torn ligament. An arthroscopy may be done to clear up cartilage from between the joints. Of course, a primary treatment for arthritis will be identifying if there is an underlying disease which needs to be addressed along with the joint pain.
Recovery of Arthritis in Dogs
Dietary management will be an important part of the arthritic care for your pet. Making sure that your canine family member is at a healthy weight for his bone structure is imperative. Excess weight will put unnecessary strain on the joints. Purchase food as recommended by the veterinarian; this will most likely be a food that has additional Omega 3 fats added.
Moderate exercise will help to reduce the pain that your dog is feeling. Increased mobility is paramount to pain resolution as the muscles supporting the joints will become more supple, and give greater support. This will, in turn, prevent further joint damage also. It must be noted that small increments of 15 to 20 minutes of exercise are recommended over extended sessions. Swimming is an excellent nonweight bearing activity for your dog. Just as important as exercise is assuring that your dog also enjoys significant rest periods each day, in an atmosphere conducive to healing. A warm, soft bed should always be available, and if needed, provide ramps for access in and out of your vehicle or as an alternative to stairs.
The veterinarian may ask you to bring your dog to the clinic every six months or so, in order to do blood tests. Monitoring of the efficacy of the medications, in addition to any side effects that may occur, is part and parcel of arthritis management. If the veterinary care team has a schedule of therapies to be administered, like water or laser therapy, be certain to attend all appointments. This will be the best way to see improvement in your beloved pet’s quality of life.
Arthritis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My 13 year old lab mix rescue started having joint pain and what looks like arthritis symptoms. People always comment on how young he still looks, he's been in great physical shape for the last 6 years, showing slight signs of aging just in slower pay and more sleeping. The pain seems to come on out of nowhere, we are in NYC and the weather has been very very cold. He is eating and still is good spirits, but when he gets up from sleeping or lying down he has trouble walking and lays back down. I gave him tylenol yesterday hoping to help with the pain and made him a homemade tumeric paste that I added to his food this morning. I plan to make an appt with the vet for this weekend. Any tips? Suggestions? It is unbearable to see him in pain!
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My dog has never been seen by a vet before. She was found at an abandoned house and we took her in but never thought to take her to the vet. For the past couple of months, whenever she lays down for a period of time, she has difficulty getting up. At first we paid no attention to the situation because she would walk it off and be fine but with time, it has gotten worse and she is even reluctant to jumping on the bed and she drags her hind leg quite often. I don't know what's wrong or what to do. Please help me
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