Arthritis arrives through most commonly, simple wear and tear in your pet’s joints.
With dogs, arthritis is a common problem especially as your dog gets older. At some stage, with older dogs, you’ll end up having to deal with it. This article has no miracle answer but will help you understand more about the symptoms and more importantly, learn ways you can help your dog.
Arthritis arrives through most commonly, simple wear and tear in your pet’s joints. They simply wear out over the years. You will hear veterinarians refer to arthritis as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease.
With the dog’s joints, the bone surfaces have a thin layer of very smooth cartilage. This is lubricated with a small amount of joint fluid which then the surfaces to glide freely. As a dog starts to age, this very smooth cartilage becomes less smooth and erodes, which results in the bones rubbing each other. This then causes discomfort and inflammation to the dog.
Arthritis is technically non-inflammatory compared to the immune-mediated form of the condition, there is some inflammation involved in arthritis. Inflammation is simply characterized as the body’s response to injury or infection. In the common form of canine arthritis, there is normally damage to the joint cartilage. So the inflammation arises as a response to the damage. It is an attempt to heal the cartilage. But if the cause isn’t removed, the damage and therefore inflammation, followed by pain, continues.
Over a further period, this inflammation causes new bone to be laid down which is not precisely where it should be, causing yet more pain. This is called remodelling and it is a vicious painful cycle. This then limits the dogs movement even more – a condition vets will refer to as degenerative joint disease. This is simply what arthritis is.
Same as with humans, signs of arthritis can vary throughout the animal’s life and the results of a trauma in the early stages of life can onset joint problems as the dog gets older. If a particular joint is damaged through an accident i.e. car accident, or the dog was born with joints misaligned, this may not be able to repair itself. In cases where the animal is born with abnormally shaped bones or abnormally lax joints (dysplasia) , arthritis tends to appear a lot sooner and at a much younger age.
Once arthritis is there within your dog, no matter how, the treatment options are generally the same. The good news is, there are safe and effective ways to ease the pain without resorting to drugs or medications.
One thing to remember before you purchase a puppy – Arthritis can run along family lines and you should be careful to check the parents when purchasing a puppy. If the parents do not develop arthritis until much later in life years, chances are your pet wont either. Large dogs, however, do tend to develop arthritis a lot sooner than the smaller breeds. If a puppy grows too quickly, this can also lead to early onset of arthritis.
Lots of articles say the same thing about the symptoms; discomfort, stiffness, lameness, no longer keen to exercise, continuously licking the joints where the pain is, worse when damp or cold, but rarely do these affected joints appear hot or swollen; the changes are quite subtle and undetectable to the naked eye. Dogs tend to differ; some show obvious signs of pain, whereas others just become slower or grumpier.
One of the most common problems is arthritis coming from excess force on the joints. By this, we mean obesity. The excess weight means that the joints are over used and the extra weight means that the joints are over used causing an earlier onset of arthritis. If the dog is able to lose weight early on, the disease can even be stopped. It’s very difficult to spot an early onset so by the time you realise the dog is arthritic the condition could have been there some time.
The veterinarian profession is very good at diagnosing arthritis in dogs. They can often tell immediately which joints are affected through subtle signs such as simply flexing the joints and seeing the worried look in the dogs eyes; the dog flinches and growls when touching certain joints. The vet may notice that muscle has reduced in your dogs legs and spine have shrunken (muscle atrophy) due to the lack of use. They may ask you to walk around and observe the gait, but, to investigate it further; they will normally suggest further tests such as x-rays. These help to locate the arthritis and could even identify further underlying causes.
The surgeon may often take a small fluid sample from inside the joints to rule out any medical conditions associated with arthritis – like joint infection as an example, but the key test is the X-rays.
If your dog is elderly and you suspect your dog already has arthritis, your first option is to speak to your vet veterinarian who will rule out other health problems that commonly affect older dogs and although there is no cure for ageing there are effective treatments for arthritis and many of the health problems of older dogs suffer from.
Your veterinarian may prescribe an anti-inflammatory therapy for a few weeks or months, with long-term drug therapy proving very useful to relieve the pain. The most common of these painkillers used are called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
There are three main families of drugs used to treat canine arthritis.
The first is nutraceuticals (primarily glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate). These are basically building blocks for the cartilage. By adding these to the dogs food, it can enable the cartilage to repair, which then allows relief from arthritis.
The second is pentosan polysulphate, hyaluronic acid, and polysulphated glycosaminoglycans, which are designed to reduce the cartilage degeneration, as well as help to repair joints and reduce painful inflammation.
The third set is anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These are ideal for managing inflammation associated with arthritis. These drugs can be very effective but as with most drugs, there can be side effects if used over a long term, saying that, NSAIDs do have an excellent track record for safety. In the short term, these drugs are often the first choice, but using them for medium or longer term may prove detrimental to the dog so alternatives must be sought. There are new drugs coming into the market all the time and this is why its very important to see the veterinarian on a regular basis. This way they can develop a successful management plan and review the current medication.
These drugs are all very effective in lessening the pain of arthritis, and both the vets and drug manufacturers will say that talk of the side effects and negative effects on your dogs stomach and intestines are rare, if not exaggerated, however, this is of little comfort when its your dog that has to go through the added pain.
The use of any drug is a give and take between the risk and benefits – the use of NSAIDs are no exception. To only way to avoid the risk of these awful side effects is to use what veterinaries refer to as alternative therapy or otherwise referred to as the natural way.
- For pre and post-surgery dogs, having a booster style lifting aid will assist your dog hugely. This will not only help them to walk further as you assist by taking some of the weight off the joints but you’ll also find that walking further will also create a happier and more mobile dog – be sure to protect your own joints! I would say to try using a towel, but this simply does not work! www.quincysdogs.com offer a variety of products specifically designed for arthritis in dogs which range from speciality harnesses to lifting straps. These are designed specifically to the dog and to help prevent injuries to the owners.
- You may also find that having a softer bed or a raised canvas bed will benefit the dog immensely as this way they can find a comfortable position to have a restful sleep.
- Reducing the weight of the dog will certainly help. This may involve a change in dog food brands, increase exercise or a combination. However, increased exercise means more impact which means more pain for the dog – unless you consider swimming. No dog is too old to swim.
- Swimming with the use of a dog life jacket is the best form of exercise. Not only is it weightless and will muscles at a faster rate with no impact on the bones, it’s a great aerobic workout and the heart gets a great cardiovascular workout. The use of a dog life jacket is of paramount importance here. The reason is; without a jacket the primary muscles being worked in the spine and core (stomach). This is because they first have to stay afloat. The secondary becomes the front legs, chest, shoulders, hips and back legs. Once you put on a life jacket, the primary reverses to front legs, chest, shoulders, hips and back legs and the secondary becomes the spine and core. This allows the dog to swim for longer and in turn this allows for quick muscle growth.
- Fish Oil Supplements have been known for their overall health benefits in addition to improving joint function and it’s a very cost effective way, something you should definitely consider in addition to a healthy diet.
- Most dogs love a good scratch and belly rubs. Done by someone certified, a massage can achieve some amazing results – almost the same as a chiropractic or acupuncture treatment.
- Low level laser therapy is where light at specific frequencies are absorbed by the cells. The aim is to relieve the pain, and improve the motion within the joints. Its has very similar benefits to acupuncture.
The above is a start. Unfortunately, treating arthritis will mean on-going costs. No treatment is guaranteed to work as nothing same works on one dog and then another. Having a walking aid is a must as this will assist both you and your dog. As to the other treatments, this should start with a trial. With swimming, we found that there were massive improvements (muscle growth, better breathing, reduced limping and in most cases – no limping at all) showing within a period of 5 weeks of 2 two swims a week.
It’s hard seeing your dog getting older and watching them being in pain – but don’t despair, there are many ways you can help. Hopefully this article has given you a few ideas.
This article was written by Quincysdogs. The founder has been involved in canine hydrotherapy for 14 years when writing this article and over the 14 years has treated some 4000 dogs plus, a vast amount being rescue dogs.
Quincysdogs is not a veterinary organisation and is unable to provide general or case specific veterinary advice. If you have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this article then please contact a local veterinary practice for further information.