Arthritis, or degenerative joint disease, affects humans and dogs alike and is all too common as part of the aging process. Arthritis occurs when the cartilage in our joints is lost. Cartilage, which has no nerves, cushions the movement of the joint, allowing it articulate without causing pain.
Once the cartilage degenerates, movement of the joint begins to cause pain, irritation and inflammation. In addition, new bony protrusions may form, called osteophytes, at the joint site, which leads to additional irritation and pain.
In dogs, degenerative joint disease may occur as a result of the aging process, but is often secondary, or preceded by an orthopedic condition such as hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament disease, or orthopedic injury that results in loss or damage to cartilage. Symptoms of arthritis in dogs include a decrease in range of motion of joints, stiffness, lameness, lethargy as your dog avoids painful movements, indications of pain when moving, and loss of muscle tone as decreased activity results in loss of muscle mass. You may notice your dog will not jump into the car anymore, use stairs, or jump onto furniture and may notice a decline in your dog’s general activity level.
Causes of Arthritis
Arthritis can occur in dogs for idiopathic reasons, that is, the cartilage in the joint degenerates for unknown reasons. Genetic predisposition may be a factor in some dogs. More often, arthritis is secondary in nature, or caused by an orthopedic condition such as cranial cruciate ligament disease or hip dysplasia. An injury or strain to a joint can also result in damage to cartilage in the joint and result in decreased function of the cartilage in cushioning the joint.
If an orthopedic condition exists, getting treatment or corrective surgery as soon as possible to correct the condition can prevent arthritis from developing in the affected joint. Physical therapy and massage may help in recovery from orthopedic conditions and reduce the effect of the condition on joints.
Orthopedic injuries can contribute to the development of arthritis. To prevent arthritis caused by injuries:
Receive prompt medical treatment for injuries, such as surgical correction or splints.
Avoid injuries by keeping dogs secured when outside on a leash, or in a fenced in area, to avoid motor vehicle accidents, dog fights, and falls.
Use good footing for your dog in your home--smooth surfaces can result in your dog slipping, and lead to an injury, especially in the shoulder and hip, where arthritis is likely to develop. Carpeting and mats provide better traction than hard floors.
Discourage your dog from jumping up to high places; jumping is very stressful on a dog's joints.
Physical therapy, and massage may help your dog recover from an injury
Medical Care and Conditions
There are some steps you can take to avoid arthritis, whether from primary, idiopathic, aging, or secondary causes.
Provide your dog with warm, soft bedding. Exposure to cold drafts, or hard surfaces is not conducive to good joint health in your dog, and can aggravate joint conditions.
The biggest risk factor to dogs that contributes to the degeneration of joint tissue, and the development of arthritis is obesity. An overweight dog puts increased strain on joints, making them more susceptible to degeneration. Providing your dog with a healthy diet and appropriate portions to prevent obesity is critical to preventing arthritis. Avoid human food, and foods high in carbohydrates, that your dog may not be able to metabolize efficiently. Make sure you know what the proper amount of food required by your dog for his breed, size and activity level is, and then ensure they only get the correct portion to meet their needs. Avoid boredom eating by providing toys, activity and attention to your dog.
Ensure your dog is active and gets plenty of appropriate exercise. It is important not to over-exercise your dog or make them subject to injury from overexertion, however, appropriate activity and exercise contributes to a healthy weight and healthy muscle development to support joints. Both healthy weight and muscle in your dog decrease degeneration of joints that could result in arthritis. Some activities that involve jumping, such as frisbee, can be hard on your dog's joints. Be sure to make sure your dog does not strain his joints, and cause injury while exercising.
Provide dietary supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin and fatty acids to improve joint health. These supplements help in the formation and maintenance of healthy cartilage at joint sites.
If your dog begins to develop signs and symptoms of arthritis, massage, acupuncture, physical therapy, natural joint remedies, and traditional arthritis medications such as anti-inflammatories may help slow down the progression of arthritis. In some cases, surgery may help relieve symptoms or slow down the degeneration of joints.
Importance of Prevention
We all want our dogs to be healthy and happy for as long as possible. This includes them being pain-free and able to stay active well into old age. Steps that can be taken to medically address injuries and conditions at an early stage usually result in less expense in the long run from untreated conditions progressing and contributing to other conditions, such as arthritis. Avoiding injury will save on both short-term and long term treatment of conditions such as arthritis and decrease overall veterinary bills. Keeping your dog at an appropriate weight, and well exercised, will help avoid a multitude of unwanted medical conditions including arthritis. An added benefit is decreased expense of unneeded food, and an increase in your own activity level while providing your dog exercise benefits you too!
Taking Good Steps
Although arthritis is common, it is not inevitable, and many steps can be taken by pet owners to avoid or minimize arthritis in their dogs. Providing prompt, medical treatment for injuries and conditions, keeping your dog a health weight, and well exercised, and feeding your dog a high quality diet with joint supplements will all reduce the incidence and severity of arthritis in your dog. Many of the steps taken to reduce arthritis in your dog will also benefit his overall health and reduce the likelihood of other disease and conditions occurring as your dog ages. A little prevention is well worth it in terms of keeping your dog healthy and happy for a long as possible so you can both enjoy each other's company well into your dog's senior years.