What are Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is sometimes called degenerative joint disease (DJD) or degenerative arthritis. OA is the most common type of canine arthritis, affecting 1 in 5 dogs in the United States. Approximately 20% of dogs over one year of age have OA. It is also the number one cause of lameness in canines.
Osteoarthritis is more prevalent in seniors, large breeds, athletic and in working dogs. However, puppies that have suffered from elbow or hip dysplasia will develop OA at a young age. As the disease progresses bone spurs and thickening of the tissue around the joint can occur, causing more pain and stiffness. Since cartilage has no nerve supply the disease is able to advance for some time without outward indications. So even the most observant owner may miss the first signs of OA. If your pet does show visible symptoms, it is imperative to take him to the veterinarian to be diagnosed and treated.
Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the articular cartilage protecting the bones gradually deteriorates. As the cartilage wears down, it causes joint inflammation, pain and eventually the loss of motion.
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Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs
The symptoms of osteoarthritis will vary depending on the severity of the disease. Signs may include:
- Reduced mobility
- Abnormal gait
- Clicking sound when walking
- Difficulty getting up from a resting position
- Soreness when touched
- Whimpering or yelps in pain
- Acting withdrawn or aggressive
- Having a hard time jumping in or out of the car
- Loss of appetite
- Weight gain
- Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease of the movable joints not due to any trauma
- Secondary osteoarthritis is triggered by a reason such as hip or elbow dysplasia or by trauma to the joint
Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs
Causes of osteoarthritis in dogs can be congenital (inherited at birth) or acquired.
- In older dogs OA is usually the result of long- term wear and tear on the joints
- Osteoarthritis can be triggered by trauma, injury, hip or elbow dysplasia
- Abnormal joint development, congenital joint deformation or and inherited joint condition
- Obesity can put excess stress on joints, possibly causing an early onset
Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis in Dogs
Your veterinarian will take a thorough history of your pet. You will be asked questions regarding your dog’s condition. The veterinarian will then perform a complete physical exam. He will see if your dog shows discomfort when the affected joints are manipulated. He will check to see if there is an accumulation of joint fluid (effusion). If the veterinarian feels that there is fluid in the joint, a sample of the fluid will be abstracted. Your veterinary caregiver will also check for muscle atrophy. In older canines, bloodwork and a urine sample will help provide valuable information on the dog’s geriatric baseline health.
X-rays are an effective tool for identifying OA. They can show bone changes, narrowing of joint spaces, and other physical changes that are known to be associated with arthritis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) can help visualize joint incongruity and physical cartilage changes.
Treatment of Osteoarthritis in Dogs
Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease that cannot be cured. However, there is much that can be done to slow the progression of the disease, ease the pain, and improve your pet’s quality of life. Treatment for OA usually involves a combination of different approaches and are based on the individual patient.
Non-medical and Alternative Treatments
- Weight Control - Weight loss in obese dogs can improve his mobility and help minimize further joint damage
- Hydrotherapy - Swimming is an ideal non-weight bearing exercise; swimming also helps to maintain muscle mass
- Physical Therapy - May include ultrasound therapy, electric stimulation, massage, application of cold and heat to help relieve pain in the joints
- Acupuncture, laser therapy and physical therapy - Can help relieve joint pain
- Diet – Research has shown that foods that provide high levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid, can help decrease inflammation
- Natural Supplements - Pills and foods that contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, have shown to ease arthritis symptoms in dogs
- Surgery - Depending on the stage of OA, severity of the condition, pet’s weight and the age of the canine’ your vet may recommend surgery (Arthroscopic surgery and joint replacement are two of the options)
- Glucocorticoids - Given by tablets or injections, these drugs have higher anti-inflammatory effect than non-steroidal, but the long-term use can cause serious side effects to your pet such as kidney issues
- Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - Can reduce pain and inflammation but have serious long-term effects, especially in geriatric dogs, such as gastrointestinal problems
- Chondroprotectants – These drugs help by inhibiting enzymes that contribute to cartilage breakdown
Recovery of Osteoarthritis in Dogs
Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease that requires continuous treatments. It is extremely important to keep dog’s weight under control and to stick with your vet’s advice. Routine blood work will be necessary to monitor and check for side effects of the medication being taken by your pet. If your pet undergoes surgery, your surgeon will give you specific post-surgical instructions. Most canines will make a full recovery within six months of the surgery.
Osteoarthritis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have an 11 year old old English sheepdog and about a year ago she was running and jumping around and within two days she started walking slower and not jumping as much, I took her for x-rays and according to the vet her joints were in good shape, back and spine also looked good in fact he said if he didn't know she was 11 he would think it was an x-ray of a younger dog so where else could she have arthritis at if not the joints or bones, I want so much to help her but don't know what else to do to confirm arthritis. When standing bends back legs.
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When is necessary the surgery regarding osteoarthritis in dogs?. My dog is limping a little bit (well, to be exact, his leg has a strange movement when he walks). He have little troubles to stand up when he is seating
I will like to show you the x-ray study
Diagnosis of osteoarthritis is based more on physical examination with an x-ray to confirm the diagnosis as the x-ray itself is static and gives very little information; it is more important to see how the condition is affecting a dog’s motion. Initially the condition may be treated conservatively with a weight loss program (to bring a dog to the low end of it’s weight class), low impact exercise (like slow walks on a lead) and pain management to make them comfortable. Surgery is indicated in severe cases or in cases where surgery may stabilise a joint; this would be based on how Rex is managing his pain and his movements. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
Excellent your approach and thank you so much for your help! Such a quick and complete response :)
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