Can Dogs Get Arthritis?

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Arthritis is, simply put, inflammation of a joint, and is common in humans, especially as we age. Pets are also susceptible to arthritis and, like in humans, it is common in older dogs, but may also occur in younger animals. Degeneration of joint tissues can occur due to aging tissues, congenital defects in structure, or injury, infection, or immune system disorder. Disorders in the joint which result in arthritis are characterized by swelling and pain in the joint. Degeneration and disorder in the joint occurs when smooth cartilage designed to allow smooth joint movement becomes scarred or thin, not allowing it to function as intended. The resulting friction in the joint causes inflammation, movement of the joint becomes limited, the joint capsules becomes thicker, and rough new bone called osteophytes develops at the joint capsule. The resulting pressure on nerves causes pain for humans and dogs alike.

Can Dogs Get Arthritis?

YES!

A dog may develop arthritis due to aging as young as 8 years old, which is becoming an advanced age for a dog, especially depending on the breed. Because this seems young in “human years” we may be surprised when the condition develops in our dog, as it is associated with much more advanced ages in humans. But, we need to remember that the aging process in our dogs takes place in a much shorter timespan. Sadly, our pets are with us for a much shorter time than we would like. While they experience the effects of aging the same as we do, it is relative to their shorter lifespan.

Does My Dog Have Arthritis?

There are several types of arthritis common to both humans and dogs. The most commonly recognized is osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disorder. However, septic conditions, injury, and immune mediated disease where the body attacks its own joint tissue also result in arthritis.

A dog developing arthritis may exhibit signs such as stiffness, limping, difficulty rising, decrease in exercise, pain, and reluctance to perform certain activities requiring joint exertion such as jumping and climbing.

Arthritis, which is inflammation of the joint, degeneration of smooth cartilage, and development of abnormal thickened tissues in the joint capsule can be caused by, or exacerbated by:

  • Soft tissue disease, such as damage or disease of ligaments, tendons and muscles; anterior cruciate ligament disorder is one of the most common in dogs.

  • Fractures in the joint

  • Infection in a joint, septic joint tissue

  • Structural development issues such as hip dysplasia

  • Congenital disorders such a Wobblers disorder

  • Immune system disorder

  • Dietary, metabolic, and hormonal disease such as obesity and thyroid issues

  • Neoplasia/cancer

  • Osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disorder

  • Inflammatory joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lyme disease from tick infestations

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough examination of your dog and perform radiographs to confirm degeneration of cartilage, development of rough bony structures, and swelling in the joint capsule to make a diagnosis of arthritis. Other diseases and conditions will need to be ruled out, and further examination and tests may be ordered to determine if other conditions are present.

 

Learn more at Arthritis in Dogs.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Arthritis?

As a pet owner, you can do several things to help your arthritic dog.

  • Maintain a healthy weight in your dog through appropriate diet and controlled exercise. Remember that an arthritic dog may be limited in their physical abilities. Do not encourage exercise that causes them discomfort.

  • Keep your dog warm and dry, provide soft bedding.

  • Provide carpeting, so your dog does not slip, and easier ways for them to reach favorite furniture spots such as steps.

  • Warm compresses to affected joints may ease discomfort.

Your veterinarian can provide nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs (DMOADs) to counteract symptoms of arthritis and slow disease progression. In addition, if advanced joint disorder is present, surgical options may be available--your veterinarian can advise you.

A certified canine massage therapist or acupuncturist may be able to provide treatment to reduce your dog's arthritic symptoms. Joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin may aid your dog as may homeopathic remedies. These should be administered under the supervision of a veterinarian as some remedies are not appropriate for dogs.

See our guide to Arthritis in Dogs for more information and advice from an in-house veterinarian.

How is Arthritis Similar in Dogs, Humans, and Other Pets?

Arthritis, which occurs in dogs, cats, humans and other animals, includes swelling in the joints, reduction in joint movement, and pain. The condition has many things in common regardless of the species affected:

  • It is more common as we age, but can occur when young due to injury and infection.

  • It is difficult to treat, and a combination of medical therapies and other treatments may be most useful in addressing the condition in those afflicted with arthritis

  • Many medications for arthritic pets are the same as for humans.

  • An adjustment in activity, diet and environment may be necessary for pets and people suffering from arthritis.

How is Arthritis Different in Dogs, Humans, and Other Pets?

There are some differences in arthritis in humans versus that in pets:

  • As pets cannot verbalize their discomfort and explain what is wrong with them, discovering the condition may take longer.

  • Cats, especially, are harder to diagnose as they are not as active and interactive as dogs and spotting physical deficits in an older cat may be more difficult.

  • Sometimes alternative treatments such as massage, acupuncture and natural remedies are not as readily available for pets as they are for humans.

Case Study

A pet owner discovering arthritis in their pet is especially sympathetic as they are afflicted with arthritis themselves. A pet owner with a retired racing greyhound noticed he was limping and immediately took him to the vet for diagnosis. Her dog turned out to have osteoarthritis of the knee, which may have been contributed to by stress during his racing career. As the owner also has arthritis in her wrist from several injuries, it was easy to sympathize with and understand her dog's discomfort. Both owner and pet were treated with NSAIDs, although the owner uses over-the-counter medication and her pet receives prescription! While the pet owner may ignore her discomfort she always attends to her pet’s discomfort. Since he can't tell her how he feels, she is very observant for signs of his discomfort and does whatever she can to ensure his well-being.