You may have noticed that your dog has started to slow down in recent years. He may have started to sleep more, and be less interested in play and walks. While slowing down a bit is normal for older dogs, it can also be a sign of arthritis.
Although arthritis is commonly seen in seniors, it can also affect very young dogs and cause them to experience joint pain. Unfortunately, this is a chronic illness that can affect your dog’s quality of life if not diagnosed in time.
That’s why it is very important that you learn everything there is to know about arthritis in dogs.
What Is Arthritis?
Simply put it, arthritis is inflammation of the joints and a real problem for many dogs. There are several different types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis is most commonly seen in dogs. Although aging is the main contributor to the development of this illness, one out of five adult dogs is diagnosed with osteoarthritis.
As a dog gets older, the cartilage in his joints starts to thin. The purpose of this cartilage is to protect the bones in the joints and prevent them from rubbing against each other. When the cartilage is too thin, the bones rub against each other causing pain, inflammation, and loss of mobility.
Arthritis can affect any joint in a dog’s body, but the most commonly affected are hips, elbows, knees, ankles, and lower back.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
Sometimes the signs of arthritis can be so subtle, that you can’t possibly know if your dog simply isn’t in the mood for play or if he is sick. Additionally, most dogs suffer through the pain without showing any outward signs of discomfort until it is too late.
If you notice any or more of the following symptoms, take your pooch to the vet as soon as possible:
- Difficulty in rising and jumping
- Slow gait, stiffness, and limping
- Lethargy and sleeping more
- Licking of joints
- Changes in appetite – weight loss and weight gain
- Pain – a dog may be reluctant to be petted and touched
- Urination inside the house
Causes of Arthritis in Dogs
While aging is by far the most common cause of arthritis, it isn’t the only one. That’s why it is very important to get your dog checked out by a vet as soon as you notice any mobility issues.
Most common causes of arthritis are:
- Poor nutrition
- Previous injuries
- Infection in the joint
- Trauma after a car accident
- Tick-borne disease (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever)
- Cushing’s disease
- Congenital joint disorders
- Stress on the joints (seen in working dogs)
You may be pretty certain that your dog suffers from arthritis, but only your veterinarian can confirm it without a doubt. He will also identify any underlying issues that may be present.
Your vet will start with a physical exam and look for stiffness and muscle loss. He may also manipulate the joints to feel and listen for grinding and crackling.
Generally, X-rays are the best way to diagnose arthritis, and your vet will perform one while your dog is under anesthesia. Sometimes aspiration of joint fluids is also done, to determine the exact type of arthritis.
Treatment of Arthritis in Dogs
You need to be aware that there is still no cure for arthritis. The treatment involves pain management and aims to improve your dog’s movability. Your vet will also try to slow down the degeneration of the joint if possible.
Some of the treatment options available are:
- Steroids: Corticosteroids like prednisone and dexamethasone are used to reduce swelling and inflammation in arthritic joints. However, long-term use of steroids comes with side effects that can additionally damage the joint.
- NSAIDs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Rimadyl, Metacam, and Etogesic are specially designed for dogs, and are a safer alternative to human drugs like ibuprofen. They reduce inflammation it the joint, thus reducing the amount of pain your dog is in. The downside is that NSAIDs can impact the liver and kidneys, so your vet needs to run a blood test prior to writing a prescription.
- Physiotherapy: Is sometimes recommended to reduce pain and scar tissue, and improve movability. Talk with your vet to see if physiotherapy is a good option for your dog.
- Lifestyle changes: Are an important aspect of your dog’s recovery and should include appropriate exercise and weight management. You should also consider getting special dog beds for arthritic dogs, ramps, and lift harnesses to make your pooch more comfortable. Consult your vet to see if your dog can benefit from taking joint supplements that contain glucosamine and chondroitin with his regular therapy.
Just because your dog is young doesn’t mean that he can’t suffer from arthritis. All dogs can experience joint pain regardless of their age, so you should be familiar with signs of arthritis in dogs.
Although there is still no cure for this condition, your dog can lead a quality life with proper treatment and lifestyle changes. A healthy and balanced diet, appropriate exercise, dog bed for arthritis, and joint supplements are small things that will mean a world of difference to your dog.