This article is contributed by guest writer, Vicki Smirvova (Senior Content Editor at ThePets.net).
Signs of Arthritis in Dogs — Symptoms and Treating
Arthritis is very common in dogs. Older dogs, obese dogs, and some breeds are more prone to arthritis. Osteoarthritis and arthritis are generally assumed to be the same disease.
Arthritis can be defined as inflammation of the joints. Joints are present throughout the body, so one or more joints can be affected, but most high-pressure joints are the most affected, such as the hips, shoulders, knees, and elbows.
Many factors can affect your dog’s joints and cause arthritis, but you should be able to identify and manage it, as this condition is very painful for your dog.
A scientific report by NCBI suggests that osteoarthritis affects 11.4% of affective individual’s life span and further impacts canine welfare at an individual and population level.
In this article, we will discuss the signs of arthritis, its causes, the predisposing factor, and the treatment regimen.
What is arthritis?
As mentioned above, arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. The joints of dogs are usually covered with a layer of cartilage to protect the bones from friction. A joint fluid allows the two surfaces to slide on each other with minimal friction.
In arthritis, the cartilage wears down and tears over time or for some other reason, causing friction of two bone surfaces. The joint will become stiffer, and your dog will experience pain and discomfort.
As this condition progresses, it can lead to osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. It is also a slowly progressive condition that can cause cartilage degeneration, synovial fluid and membrane changes, and bone margins.
What are the signs of arthritis in dogs?
Your dog may show different signs of joint pain, discomfort, and stiffness due to arthritis. You need to be very careful to monitor your dog’s daily activity, and movement or any behavior changes for early detection of illness.
Here are the common signs of arthritis in dogs, but your dog doesn’t need to show all symptoms simultaneously.
- Walking stiffly
- Difficulty getting up and laying down
- Reluctance to stairs whether up or down
- Lameness in one or more legs
- Swollen, sore and stiff joints
- Reluctance to jump onto or off the furniture
- Reluctance into or out of a vehicle
- Loss of stamina
- Reluctance to be touched on some parts of the body
- Behavior changes like unexpected aggression towards other humans and pets
- Licking of the affected joints
What causes arthritis?
There are several factors that can cause arthritis in dogs. Here are some of them:
Injury to ligaments
The leading cause of arthritis in dogs is damage to the ligaments. The joint ligament that got damaged is the CCL (cranial cruciate ligament). It is present in the knee, and its wear and tear can cause injuries in dogs.
When the ligament is damaged, it causes instability and excessive wear of the cartilage. If cartilage damage is diagnosed early, it will aid in treatment and recovery.
Joint instability is another arthritis problem in dogs. The symptoms of joint instability are similar to those of arthritis, so it is essential to diagnose them and eliminate the root cause properly.
Sometimes the cartilage present in the joint thickens and results in a condition known as osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD). Dogs affected by OCD can tear cartilage and lead to lameness.
It is more common in giant dog breeds and is present on both the front and rear legs. It is also present in overweight dogs. The first sign of OCD may appear around 4 to 8 months of age.
An infection in the joint can also lead to arthritis in dogs. Infection can occur due to any injury or wound in the joint area. Antibiotics can treat these infections.
Autoimmune diseases are rare in dogs, but they can cause rheumatoid arthritis and lupus in dogs and lead to inflammation, pain, and lameness. These conditions usually occur as an overreaction of the immune system and can affect more than one joint and completely shed the cartilage. Immunosuppressive drugs are used to treat autoimmune diseases.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
If you think your dog has any joint pain, take your dog to the vet clinic, they can tell you by examining the joint and why the dog has this pain or discomfort. The most widely used method is flexion and extension. Also, X-rays are done to locate and confirm any arthritic changes. At some point, X-rays can also confirm the underlying causes.
In suspected joint infection, your vet will recommend a blood sample or a joint fluid sample from inside the joint to examine the cause. These fluid tests will rule out any medical conditions.
How do you manage arthritis dogs?
There are a few critical areas to focus on to treat arthritis and help your beloved dog get out of pain.
Bodyweight of dogs often plays a vital role in the direction of arthritis in dogs. If your dog is overweight, he will automatically put more weight on his joint and cause irritation and inflammation. As a result, in overweight dogs, the chances of arthritis increase even more in them. Weight loss clinics are the best for overweight dogs.
Arthritis is more common in dogs who spend all day on the couch. Regular exercise like leash walking and swimming is excellent for keeping the joints mobile and active, and the muscles work well.
Uncontrolled exercise, such as walking up and down stairs or chasing the tennis ball, can put extra pressure on your dog ligaments and cause permanent damage to your dog muscles and joints. For obese dogs, moderate exercise is best for weight loss.
If your dog is suffering from a mild case of arthritis, a few simple steps at home can reduce the level of discomfort and pain. The best thing you can do for your pet is to provide a warm and comfortable place to sleep. You can provide a ramp as an alternative to stairs, and a little help getting in and out of the car can affect the dog’s health.
There are various ways to treat arthritis in dogs, but treatment depends on several factors, such as the severity of the signs, your dog’s age, and development of the arthritis condition, and other secondary infections. The most important thing on which all treatment depends is the diagnosis; if the correct cause is identified, it will be easy to treat your dog.
The different treatments are:
- Use of disease-modifying drugs for osteoarthritis in dogs: This treatment is a series of treatments, and the injections are given week by week for almost four weeks. These injections are repeated every 6-12 months. The most important function of these injections is to help the joint and cartilage, stabilize the joint membranes, and improve the joint’s lubrication. The result of these injections is very useful, and they have minimal side effects.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are used to treat inflammation and pain in dogs. This treatment will be specifically prescribed by your veterinarian. NSAIDs do their job by decreasing pain and inflammation in and around the joint and bringing a sigh of relief to your dog. Your vet will regularly monitor the condition of your dog’s liver and kidneys and adjust the dose rate accordingly.
- Specific dietary changes can help your dog overcome arthritis. Using particular vitamins, minerals, and supplements can help protect your joints, and if these supplements are used long-term, they will help reduce inflammation over time.
What if treatments don’t work?
If medications can’t cure arthritis, your next options are surgery and physical therapy.
Several surgical procedures can be performed if medications do not work; these procedures include total hip replacement. But this treatment depends on the state of health of the patient and his joint.
It is done to improve the mobility and strength of the joints in dogs. Physical therapy will not put any additional stress on the dog’s joints. Physical therapy is also done when your dog loses weight or after surgery is done.
Is there a complete treatment for arthritis?
Unfortunately, the prognosis for arthritis is poor, and once your dog is affected by this disease, it is very difficult to recover. Because the cartilage that is present in your dog’s joint, if damaged, it rarely heals on its own. But the good news is that with the help of medication use and management, you can improve your dog’s state of life.
How can you make the life of an arthritic dog more comfortable?
Certain simple procedures can be performed by which you can increase comfort in an arthritic dog’s life. These include
- Padded soft bedding
- Non-skid floor surface
- Raised water and food dishes
- Use supplementation in feed and water
- Assistance in entering and leaving a vehicle
Arthritis is a very painful condition, so you need to know the signs of disease for early detection and treatment so that your dog can lead a healthy and happy life.
- https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-23940-z – Anderson, K.L., O’Neill, D.G., Brodbelt, D.C. et al. Prevalence, duration and risk factors for appendicular osteoarthritis in a UK dog population under primary veterinary care. Sci Rep 8, 5641 (2018).
- https://www.banfield.com/pet-healthcare/additional-resources/article-library/conditions-illnesses/arthritis-in-dogs – What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?, Banfield Pet Hospital®
- https://www.pagepress.org/journals/index.php/vsd/article/view/5931 – Canine Osteoarthritis and Treatments: A Review, Stephanie D. Bland, Thu, 16 Jul 2015 in Veterinary Science Development
- https://www.petco.com/content/petco/PetcoStore/en_US/pet-services/resource-center/health-wellness/Common-Signs-of-Arthritis-in-Dogs.html – Signs and Treatment for Arthritis in Dogs, Petco
- https://thepets.net/dog-is-getting-old/ – My dog is Getting Old, Dr. Kathryn Dench, ThePets