It has been estimated that one in five dogs over the age of seven is affected by arthritis. Arthritis is a general term for abnormal joint changes or growth, and can be caused by immune disorders, infections, congenital malformations, or from stress and trauma. Since our pets cannot tell us when they are hurting or why, arthritis in dogs can go undetected for long periods of time, causing much unnecessary discomfort for our animals. Be aware of the symptoms of arthritis, and seek a veterinarian’s help to diagnose and treat your dog if you suspect arthritis.
Signs and symptoms of arthritis are often quite subtle in the early stages of the disease. Increased weight gain, sleepiness and lethargy, lack of interest in playtime, or changes in attitude can signal a problem. As the dog’s joints begin to ache from arthritis, he will be more inclined to remain stationary and motionless. A cautiousness may be seen when the animal is climbing stairs or trying to jump onto the couch. Once the animal is limping or favoring a particular area, the arthritis has progressed to a more severe stage.
Causes of Arthritis in Dogs
Causes of arthritis can range from congenital defects, like that of hip dysplasia, to infections or trauma. In hip dysplasia, there is a misalignment within the coxofemoral joint (basically between the back upper leg and pubic bones). Because the bones are slightly misaligned, the cartilage in the joint erodes much faster than it can be regenerated by the body. The bony layer beneath the cartilage becomes exposed and inflamed as the dog continues movement. The inflammation causes the joint capsule to thicken and become more sensitive and less elastic. The elastic tissues within the joint stiffen, calcium deposits build, and the nerve endings in the joint shoot pain signals to the brain. The pain is felt by the animal, resulting in restricted movement, discomfort, and reduction in use.
The increase in body weight initiated by arthritis actually exacerbates the condition. More stress is put upon the arthritic joint as the animal gains weight, causing more pain and discomfort when the animal decides to move. Keeping excess body weight off is extremely important in managing arthritis. Reducing a dog’s weight to a healthy point will commonly result in obvious changes in the dog’s activity level. Light exercise, such as walking or swimming, will help maintain a healthy weight and improve joint movement and flexibility. To ensure that an arthritic dog is comfortable, provide a warm, soft sleeping surface for the animal. Old mattresses work well, or some companies even manufacture heated pet beds specifically for arthritic animals.
There are two main non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) given to arthritic dogs to relieve the pain from the disease. These drugs are specifically meant for dogs; do not give your dog ‘human’ aspirin. Because so many dogs suffer from arthritis these drugs are growing in popularity, and are prescribed more frequently as positive effects are quickly seen. Many times, owners choose to combine the NSAIDs with neutraceuticals, which are nutritional supplements that most commonly contain chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate, and naturally may help produce new tissue in the affected joint. Because even these neutraceuticals may interact with other medication, consult your veterinarian before treatment begins.
For comprehensive treatment, premium dog food companies offer brands of food targeted at arthritic animals to maintain a healthy weight and improve joint mobility. Because these foods are relatively new, their effectiveness has yet to be determined. If still you are unsatisfied with treatment options, consider massage therapy for your dog. A somewhat new treatment for dogs, canine massage therapy uses the same techniques developed for equine massage and applies them to dogs. Massage therapy is a completely non-invasive, natural way to combat the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis, and will provide your pet a little relief!
Arthritis in dogs is one of the most common sources of chronic pain that veterinarians treat. A physical exam and x-ray are enough to confirm a diagnosis of arthritis, which can then lead to treatment and improved quality of life for your dog. Carefully watch for symptoms, especially if your dog is over the age of seven. Exercise your dog daily, avoid overfeeding, and you will keep him healthy for years to come.