Arthritis (also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease) is caused by the breakdown of soft cartilage that covers the end of bones within joints. The function of the cartilage is to cushion the bone ends and, without this protection, painful wear and tear of the bone can occur. In the long term, joints can become chronically inflamed, leading to significant reduction in mobility.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms of Canine Arthritis?
The most common symptoms and signs that dogs with arthritis show are:
- Limping or favoring of certain legs
- Walking stiffly
- Difficulty / reluctance to get up from a lying down position (especially after sleep)
- Swollen or sore joints
- Discomfort when certain areas on the legs are touched
- Changing position when lying down or the inability to lie in certain positions
- Loss of flexibility in joints
- Reluctance to run, jump or climb stairs
How Is Canine Arthritis Diagnosed?
Usually you, as the pet owner, will first notice some of the signs and symptoms above and this will prompt a visit to your veterinarian. After an examination, your veterinarian may take radiographs to look for key indicators of arthritis.
What Are The Causes Of Canine Arthritis?
The most common causes of canine arthritis are:
- Natural erosion of cartilage from ageing
- An inherited condition, such as hip dysplasia
- Immune system problems
- Joint infection
- Trauma (especially in young dogs of larger breeds)
- Wear and tear due to obesity
- Muscle, ligament or tendon injuries
- Bone fractures in joints
Which Breeds Are Most Commonly Affected?
All dogs are susceptible to arthritis because of the many ways it can be caused. Larger breeds are, however, at a higher risk due to the greater stresses and strains on their joints.
What Are The Treatment Options For Canine Arthritis?
Once diagnosed, unfortunately, arthritis cannot be cured and treatment is centered around delaying its progression and reducing your pet’s pain and inflammation. Your veterinarian will work closely with you to manage your pet's condition with both medications and activity management.
Treatment may include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications (usually NSAIDs) that work to reduce pain and inflammation (please only use drugs prescribed by your veterinarian)
- Nutritional supplements aimed at restoring the damaged cartilage
- Weight reduction if your pet is overweight
- Regular low-impact exercise such as swimming
- Regular gentle short walks
- Massage and physical therapy
You can do a few things at home to make your dog more comfortable, such as:
- Using soft bedding
- Raising food and water bowls to avoid neck strain or unnecessary pressure on the front legs
- Gentle massage and movement of joints (your veterinarian will demonstrate this)
- Using ramps in situations where your dog may have to jump up
Can Canine Arthritis Be Prevented?
Nutrition and exercise play a massive role in keeping your dog fit and healthy. These two lifestyle factors also contribute to a lowered risk of developing arthritis. Large-breed dogs, especially, need more controlled exercise and nutrition while they are growing, as they are susceptible to bone growth conditions such as hypertrophic osteodystrophy.
Arthritis is a common condition and with careful management your pet can lead a happy and active life. Take the necessary steps when your dog is young to ensure good nutrition and exercise form part of the daily routine.