Many dogs suffer from arthritis as they get older. Arthritis, a degenerative joint disease, tends to affect the hips and knees. Like humans, dogs with arthritis experience inflammation and pain in the affected joint.
Arthritis doesn’t have to destroy your dog’s quality of life. If you have a dog with arthritis, working closely with your veterinarian is important. Your veterinarian may recommend weight loss, changes in diet and exercise routines, different bedding and medication to help control your dog’s stiffness and pain.
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Types of Canine Arthritis
Several types of arthritis can afflict dogs of all breeds and sizes. The most common forms of canine arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a form of degenerative joint disease. The disease may have genetic causes, and symptoms are often progressive with age. It can involve the deterioration of and changes to the cartilage and bone.
In response to inflammation in and around the joint, the body responds with bony remodeling of the joint structure. This process can be slow and gradual with minimal outward symptoms, or it may progress rapidly with significant pain and discomfort.
Osteoarthritic changes can also occur in response to infection and injury of the joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of inflammatory arthritis in which the dog’s immune system produces antibodies against the body’s own protein. The result is severe inflammation that damages cartilage and surrounding tissues. RA can affect all of your dog’s joints and may cause debilitating pain if not properly and promptly treated.
This type of arthritis is caused by a bacterial, viral or fungal infection in your dog’s joints. The infecting organism is carried from an infection occurring in another part of the body through your dog’s bloodstream to the affected joint. See your veterinarian immediately if you observe any joint pain.
Hip dysplasia is a common example of degenerative joint disease. The amount of osteoarthritis that results from having hip dysplasia can vary and it is generally more typical in large and giant breeds of dog.
The degree of laxity in the hip joint is genetically determined and, in general, the looser the hips, the higher the likelihood that osteoarthritic changes will result.
Why Does My Dog Have Arthritis?
Like human arthritis, canine arthritis is widespread and diverse in its causes. Dogs develop arthritic conditions as a result of:
- previous injuries or accidents
- immune system problems
- excessive strain through repeated activity and exercise.
Symptoms of Arthritis
Veterinarians have developed a list of signs that might indicate that your dog has arthritis. Look for the following symptoms:
- reluctance to lie down or get up
- trouble running and climbing stairs
- an audible “clicking” when walking
- change in behavior that seems to indicate pain
- swelling and inflammation of the joints
- limited movement and reluctance to exercise.
Should your dog regularly exhibit one or more of these signs, don’t hesitate to take her in for a veterinary checkup.
At the Veterinarian’s
Your veterinarian will check your dog’s medical history, since some forms of arthritis may result from previous injuries. X-rays might be used to check for bone and joint deterioration. She will listen for crackling and popping sounds or crepitus in your dog’s joints, a common sign of arthritis.
Your veterinarian will then suggest a treatment plan that best matches your dog’s condition.
Canine Arthritis Drugs
Veterinarians are increasingly using drug therapy for the treatment of canine arthritis. The type of drug your dog receives largely depends on the type of arthritis he has. Your veterinarian can provide detailed information regarding why and when certain drugs are used.
Common arthritis drugs include aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol®), carprofen, ectodolar and prednisone. All of these are used to reduce inflammation, and some act as analgesics.
Note that ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®, or Nuprin® is NOT recommended for dogs or cats, although it works for humans. Furthermore, acetaminophen is toxic to cats, so products such as Tylenol should not be given to any pets other than dogs, and only under the advice of a veterinarian.
As beneficial as drug therapy is, it can cause problems for your dog. Some of the most common side effects include:
- kidney & liver problems
- hair loss
- excessive urination.
These side effects are usually associated with prolonged use of medication; short-term drug therapy is relatively problem-free for most dogs. If your dog is on medication, be sure you know what side effects to look for that could indicate a problem.
Recently, the use of nutraceutical products containing glucosamine has increased, with good results reported. Discuss this option with your veterinarian.
Pain Management: How Can I Help My Arthritic Dog at Home?
Try the following methods to reduce the pain and discomfort that arthritis causes:
- Manage your dog’s diet to prevent obesity.
- Eliminate strenuous exercise routines. Typically, regular, non-impact exercise is beneficial and helps maintain mobility.
- Find ways to help her avoid going up and down stairs or in and out of the car or truck.
- Give your dog a gentle massage or take him to a professional who specializes in canine massage.
Your Dog’s Bedding and Mobility
Dogs suffering from arthritis have difficulty finding a pain free sleeping position. If your dog is too heavy to lift, consider buying your pooch his own orthopedic bed. Ironically, many arthritic dogs seek hard, cold surfaces for sleeping. Generally, these pets are probably tolerating the hard surface for the relief afforded by the cool temperature.
Dogs who sleep on their owner’s bed may have trouble getting on and off the bed. Even when you lift them on, they may feel distress at being unable to get down when they wish.
Another helpful device for owners with large dogs is a portable dog ramp. This device allows your dog continued access to vehicles and other locations when he’s no longer able to jump and climb.