Your four legged friend has always bounded around the backyard and trotted easily by your side during walks. But now you’re starting to notice that as your dog ages, some of the spring has inevitably gone out of his step. This isn’t always just old age! If you notice them occasionally having difficulty rising from sitting or avoiding activities he once loved, it’s possible they are showing early signs of arthritis. It is can commonly cause chronic pain in dogs, in fact the joint ailment is among the top ten reasons owners take their dogs to the vet.
Dog’s do not often complain, so it’s important that you keep an eye out for the symptoms of canine arthritis, especially as they get older. Read on to understand the warning signs of arthritis, what you can do to mitigate the symptoms, and how you can help your dog live with the condition in as much comfort as possible.
WHAT IS ARTHRITIS IN DOGS?
Arthritis is the umbrella term for joint pain in dogs. It can mean multiple diseases where swelling and stiffness in the joints results in pain and impaired movement. Any joint in your dog’s body can be affected, but it usually affects the hips, knees, lower back, wrists and elbows.
TYPES OF ARTHRITIS IN DOGS
Osteoarthritis: is by far the most common form of arthritis in dogs. This progressive disease occurs when the cartilage that protects bones and cushions joints begins breaking down. This leads to a loss of the lubricating fluid that protects the joints so the bones in the joints rub against each other, causing inflammation and pain.
Inflammatory Joint Disease: This less common form of arthritis is generally caused by bacterial or fungal infections such as Lyme disease. It can also be brought on by hereditary problems with your dog’s immune system.
RISK FACTORS FOR CANINE ARTHRITIS:
- Age – Older dogs are more prone to arthritis, but it can afflict dogs of any age.
- Congenital or joint disorders – Hip or elbow dysplasia, abnormal joint structure and weakness in the supporting muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue around the joint, can eventually lead to osteoarthritis.
- Obesity – The extra weight an obese dog carries around puts strain on his joints/
- Large dog breeds – Larger breeds of dogs are more prone to arthritis.
- Injuries – Strains, broken bones, and pulled ligaments increase the risk.
- Working/Highly-active dogs – The frequent stress placed on the joints of very active and working dogs makes them prone to arthritis.
TIPS FOR DELAYING OR PREVENTING THE ONSET OF CANINE OSTEOARTHRITIS
- Keep your dog at a healthy weight. Keep in mind that an appropriate diet will depend on their size, activity levels and age.
- Go to a reliable breeder. The breeder should not breed dogs who have exhibited abnormal joint formation.
- Don’t let your dog over-exercise, especially as a puppy. Too much exercise can strain joints.
- Provide a comfortable sleeping space or dog bed for your puppy. With a soft spot to lay their little bodies, your growing puppy is less likely to injure or stress vulnerable joints.
SIGNS OF ARTHRITIS IN DOGS
The first symptoms of arthritis in dogs can be subtle, such as an increase in sleeping, weight gain, and a loss of alertness. New symptoms tend to compound gradually and worsen over time. Early intervention can help lesson the progression of the disease. Here’s what you should watch for:
- Limping or favouring a limb, even intermittently
- Avoiding physical activities once handled easily, such as jumping off the sofa, racing after tossed dog toys or even climbing the stairs
- Difficulty rising or moving
- Stiffness after exercise or periods of stillness
- Swollen joints
- Loss of appetite
- Growling or nipping when joints are touched
- Disinterest in physical activity
- An increase in licking, biting, or chewing of joints
TREATMENT AND MANAGEMENT OF DOG ARTHRITIS
Speak to your veterinarian to have a treatment plan prescribed on top of providing them with loving care at home, depending upon the severity and underlying causes of the illness. Here are the steps you can take to ensure your dog is as comfortable as possible, as well as the medical interventions your vet will consider:
- If your dog is overweight, you’ll need to help them lose weight to prevent further joint damage caused by those extra pounds.
- Look into dog food containing healthful dietary fat such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid which research shows can slow damage to cartilage, reduce inflammation, and lessen the painful symptoms of arthritis in dogs.
- Daily moderate exercise is crucial to keeping your dog’s joints limber.
- Don’t skimp on a good dog bed. A soft dog bed will keep painful joints gently supported while your dog sleeps. Memory foam dog beds are particularly comfortable for senior or arthritic dogs.
- Dog stairs and dog ramps can help your arthritic dog reach the places they love – your bed, the car – without undue pain.
- Raised dog bowls can make meal time more comfortable.
- Your vet may prescribe Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation and pain.
- Glucocorticoids, or steroids, can be given as pills or injections. They are more powerful anti-inflammatories, however their side effects are greater as well, especially if used for extended periods of time.
- Chondroprotectants are prescription drugs delivered through injection that protect cartilage by blocking enzymes that lead to cartilage breakdown.
- If joint damage and pain are severe, surgery may be required to remove cartilage debris in the joint, repair bone spurs, or even for joint replacement.
- Massages can help restore blood flow to ailing joints, helping to reduce pain and swelling. There are certified canine massage therapists, but there are also simple techniques you can learn to do at home.
How to Massage Your Arthritic Dog
Massage is a lovely way to bond with your best friend, especially when your days of catch are behind you. It is most beneficial to massage your dog from 10 to 20 minutes, depending upon breed size, in the morning and the evening. Follow these steps, avoiding excessive pressure directly on the joint and backing off if the pain seems to worsen:
- Pet your dog gently all over.
- Lightly pet the affected joints to improve circulation.
- Lightly knead muscles around the joints that can tighten up from arthritis.
- Rub your hand over your dog’s skin to create friction and further promote circulation.
- Change up between the light petting over the joint and slightly deeper kneading around the joint.
- Gently stretch the joint you are massaging.
- Lightly pet your dog once more all over.
- End the session by giving your dog his favourite treat.
One of the most difficult things about being a dog owner is seeing your dog in pain. But with help from your vet and a dash of patience, you are sure to find a course of long-term treatment that manages your dog’s pain and improves his quality of life. Your best pal may not bound to the door to greet you like they once did, but the two of you will still have plenty of joyful, tail-wagging days ahead.