Dog Arthritis
Symptoms & Treatment

Arthritis is a condition which causes the joints to become inflamed; the inflammation is also accompanied by pain, heat, and swelling in the joints. As it worsens, it results in increased stiffness and, eventually, immobility. Arthritis not only happens to humans, but all animals; this includes your pets. The effects can range from uncomfortable to painful and can directly affect quality of life. There are available medications, therapies, and ways to accommodate an afflicted pet to more comfortably enjoy life. There are 4 steps involved in targeting and treating arthritis:

1) Diagnosis

The first step in caring for an arthritic pet is to make sure that the disease is diagnosed correctly. It may be difficult to even see warning signs, since your pet has no way to describe the pain, and their physical response to the condition may be the only clue. Some indications that arthritis has begun setting in is an expressed disinterest in activities they once enjoyed, decrease in movement (especially running and jumping), depression and/or slightly aggressive behavior when touched or handled. The depression may also lead to a change in eating habits or personality. It is important that arthritis is properly diagnosed because, although these symptoms are synonymous with arthritis, they can also be related to other, unrelated disorders.

Your pet’s medical history, along with the additional information collected from physical exams, X-rays, blood tests and MRIs can help determine if it is arthritis, and which type it is. Though it is a relatively uncommon occurrence, arthritis can sometimes be caused by an autoimmune disorder or a bacterial infection within a joint; these can be treated with medication. Arthritis caused by hip or elbow dysplasia can sometimes be corrected surgically.

Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most commonly occurring form or arthritis, in both humans and their pets. Over time, the cartilage, which acts as a cushion between bones, eventually wears down, causing friction between the ends of the bones; as this continues the rubbing can damage the bones themselves. The condition can occur anywhere there is a joint; the most common locations are the shoulders, hips, elbow, knees and ankles. Osteoarthritis is incurable, but manageable through medical treatment, diet and exercise.

2) Treatment

Once diagnosis occurs, you and your veterinarian will know the severity of the disease and can decide on which treatment will be most effective. Steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to decrease swelling and make movement easier; dog supplements to help fortify the damage may be administered. All medications should be approved by a veterinarian; human anti-inflammatory medication and supplements can be dangerous for animals.

Surgery is an option for some animals with arthritis, particularly younger ones. Arthroscopic surgery is conducted to remove chips of damaged bone; large dog breeds may have an entire joint replaced. In some extreme cases, where joints are very painful, unstable and immobile, a veterinarian may perform arthrodesis, where the joints are fused together. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you how practical surgery is for your animal, depending on your pet's age and general health and the progression of the arthritis. Surgery may or may not be an option.

Another route for treatment is a holistic approach to reduce painful symptoms. For example, acupuncture is becoming an increasingly popular treatment for chronic pain; herbal supplements and antioxidant vitamins are also commonly used, while massage therapy can relax and soothe sore joints and muscles.

3) Adjustment and Accommodations

Even with the aid of treatment, arthritis can make physical movements challenging. To help ease your pet through this transition, there are a number of adjustments and accommodations you can make around your house. Dog food and dog water dishes should be easily accessible and kept at a comfortable height; a non-slip surface would be ideal, as well. A well-cushioned dog bed should be provided and located in a warm area, free from drafts. Dog ramps can help your pet easily make it up and down stairs, on and off the porch or anywhere that a jump may be too far for sore joints; make sure that the angle is not too steep. Heat can bring a lot of relief to an achy animal, so consider wrapping a hot water bottle in a towel or using a non-electrical heating pad in your pet’s bed.

If your pet is used to spending time alone in the yard, be sure you have a clear view to keep an eye on her; pets with arthritis are vulnerable to attacks from other animals or they can fall and injure themselves easily. They can also become very stiff in cold or damp weather. You should also groom your dog regularly. As animals lose flexibility in their joints, they can't reach around to scratch or groom themselves the way they previously did. Brushing your dog regularly will help your pet feel comfortable and allow you to spend some quiet time with them.

4) Continuing Movement

Along with modifications to the environment, changes should also occur in your pet’s lifestyle. Light activity, play and exercise can help strengthen muscles, keep ligaments and tendons flexible and promote circulation. Many arthritic animals move with greater ease and less pain after they warm up with a brief period of walking or gentle play. It’s important to not push your pet if they are in physical pain, but offering a little incentive may help them along.

Balance is important; although moderate exercise is vital to your dog’s health, exercise that is too strenuous can cause further joint damage. Try to be aware of signs of discomfort and always supervise your pet during activities like this. Balance in diet is important as well. Obesity makes arthritis difficult to manage, so a healthy high-quality diet will be beneficial.

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  • Published:
  • Updated: 10/7/2018: 8:50:59 PM ET
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