Arthritis in Dogs
As Jack & Maggie get older, we are on the lookout for signs of arthritis in their joints. We don’t know if they were active in their previous lives, but for the last few years with us, they both get a lot of exercise in the form of walking, running and additional strengthening exercises. But even so, I worry about arthritis.
All of our dogs have developed arthritis, some more severe than others. Becca had it the worst with paws twice the size of a normal Labradors paws due to the arthritis. She also had sensitive pads and walking on rough surfaces was very uncomfortable for her.
What causes arthritis ?
As with humans, canine arthritis (or osteoarthritis) is a degenerative joint disease caused by the breakdown of the protective cartilage that covers the joints. Once the cartilage wears away, the bone on bone friction creates inflammation. Many different factors may contribute to the opportunity for arthritis to develop including:
- Trauma to the joint through prior injuries, breaks or sprains to the bone or ligaments
- An inherited condition, such as elbow or hip dysplasia
- Aging and natural erosion
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
Arthritis will most often manifest itself in limping or an abnormal gait. Dogs can be very stoic and experts at hiding weakness, so you must be observant and diligent in monitoring their activity. Your dog may also react when you massage or hold the affected limb. Becca would never let us touch her front paws – the ones most affected. She would immediately flinch away because they were so sensitive.
You may also notice difficulty in getting up or lying down. This may indicate pain in the spine or neck. Your dog may also find it difficult to get into the car or up and down from the sofa.
Constant or obsessive licking of a joint or paws may also be a signal of pain. We discussed licking behavior a few weeks ago. Becca frequently licked at her paws to help soothe herself and although I hate to admit it, I see Jack starting to do the same.
How do you treat arthritis?
If you are fortunate, you may be able to manage your dog’s arthritis with some simple adjustments.
- A healthy diet and proper weight. The more overweight your dog is, the more difficulty they will have with arthritis and carrying around that extra weight.
- Try nutritional supplements such as fish oil or glucosamine/chondroitin to decrease inflammation.
- Keep exercising, but use low impact exercises like swimming and walking.
- Depending on the severity, pain-killers and other prescription anti-inflammatory medications. (NOTE: Never give your pet human medication without your vet’s approval).
- Becca and Sally (who developed arthritis as a result of elbow dysplasia) were also treated with acupuncture, electrotherapy, physical therapy and water therapy. All of these rehabilitation treatments were extremely beneficial and certainly worth the time and money.
Other adjustments you can make in order to help your dog be more comfortable:
- Be sure they have a warm, dry place to sleep with softer bedding. Many dog beds are now made with orthopedic foam which certainly will help the pressure points that can develop.
- Raise their water and food bowls so they aren’t straining to reach them.
- Provide gentle massage to the affected areas and groom them if the dog can no longer reach.
- Think about stairs or a ramp to facilitate access to the car, sofa or bed.
Exercise and the Treatment of Arthritis in Pets
Benefits of Strength Training for Your Dog
Dealing with Arthritis, Joint and Back Pain in your Older Dog
Dog Joint Health: Pain, Osteoarthritis, and Other Joint Problems
Causes and Management of Arthritis & Other Joint Diseases in Dogs