Arthritis is common in pets, especially as they age. These tips from Dr Martin Feldberg will help both you and your dog cope with dog arthritis…
Everything you should know about dog arthritis
Dogs are living longer with advanced veterinary medicine and excellent nutrition, but as they age, things that were once easy now become an effort. Chasing a ball becomes a stiff walk or jumping up to your bed no longer happens and getting up from the floor brings on a groan.
This article will help you to understand everything you need to know about arthritis starting from the basics and continuing with explanations on why and how.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a very common disease both in humans and dogs. As lifespan grows – arthritis becomes more and more common. Arthritis is not a single disease, it is just a way to refer to joint pain or joint diseases. There are many types of arthritis. It can cause permanent joint changes either in one or more joints depending on the cause.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. It is a degenerative disease in dogs and is a major cause of disability. OA is mainly characterized by activation of inflammatory processes at a molecular level, ultimately leading to a gradual deterioration of the cartilage. When cartilage – the natural cushioning surface on both ends of bones – wears away, bones start to rub against each other. The resulting friction causes pain and loss of mobility. Inflammation in the joint can also lead to the development of bony growths called spurs.
It is estimated that one in five dogs suffers from this debilitating disease, which significantly reduces their mobility and causes severe pain. Typically, arthritis is a problem seen in older dogs (a problem for every second dog), but the condition can develop from an early age following problems with bone and joint development.
What Causes Arthritis?
For a long time, it was believed that arthritis is caused by “wear and tear” of joints over time. However, now it is regarded as a disease of the joint. Development of OA can be contributed by many factors.
Weight can be large contributor to development of OA since being overweight puts additional pressure on hips and joints. Many years of excess weight inflicting extra pressure on cartilage will cause it to break down faster. Excess fat tissue also produces more inflammatory chemicals that contribute to damaging the joints.
Injury or overuse also lead to having an increased risk of OA. Repetitive movements or occurred injuries such as fractures, surgery or ligament damage can speed cartilage breakdown process. Most cases develop because of abnormal rubbing within the joint caused by joint instability after ligament damage, damage to or abnormal cartilage development, or damage caused by trauma such as fractures.
Signs of Arthritis in Dogs
Any joint in your dog’s body can be affected by OA, but usually, OA develops in hips, elbows, knees, wrists, shoulders, ankles and the lower back.
Since osteoarthritis is a progressive condition, the initial symptoms can be tricky to spot. Over time, you may find that your dog is less keen to be active. It may also have lameness in his limbs. These symptoms may get worse when the dog is inactive for long periods of time or in the colder, damper weather.
The clinical signs of dog arthritis usually appear gradually and slowly worsen over time. The first joint pain dog symptoms are often so mild that the owners often miss them.
So how do you recognize Arthritis in a dog?
Here are some signs, which could indicate that your dog has arthritis:
- Intermittent lameness
- Reluctance to rise or move
- Stiffness (especially after vigorous exercise or prolonged periods of rest; “bunny-hopping” gait)
- Swollen joints; may be warm and tender
- Visible joint deformities
- Painful joints (when touched/palpated or moved)
- Prolonged periods of rest (sleeps more than usual)
- Exercise intolerance; disinterest in physical activity
- Weight gain
- Aggression when joints are touched
- Appetite loss
- Abnormal stance when walking (pelvis tucked under; using hind legs with exaggerated care)
How to Diagnose?
It is best to seek the help of your veterinarian to diagnose arthritis. Since arthritis may not be the only cause of the symptoms – only a veterinarian can make diagnosis of osteoarthritis.
Your veterinarian might:
- Look at thorough medical history including when the current symptoms started and if they have increased in intensity.
- Perform a Physical examination paying attention to its limbs, back and joints. Veterinarian will be looking for swelling, heat and signs of discomfort.
- Perform radiograph analysis (X-ray). This is very effective tool for identifying and assessing arthritis. It can show changes in the joint capsules, soft tissue thickening, narrowing of joint spaces, joint fluid build-up, cartilage changes, bone changes, mineralization of soft tissues, intra-articular calcified bodies (osteophytes) and other physical changes that are known to be associated with arthritis.
- Perform analysis of the joint fluid to understand the severity of disease.
- In some cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) are performed as well to get additional information about arthritis.
Managing Arthritis in Dogs
Unfortunately, currently there is no definite cure for osteoarthritis and most treatment regimens focus on symptom management and pain reduction through prescription drugs and the use of supplements. Since osteoarthritis is a progressive condition, you should act to prevent the speed of its development.
However, some treatments can help to regenerate some of the already existing damage.
Regenerative medicine can help you with repairing, replacing or regenerate damaged tissue.
It is the combination of physical therapies, right nutrition, supplementation, and exercise that can go a long way toward keeping your dog active, agile and happy. And, while arthritis can’t ever be completely cured, these remedies for dog arthritis can help maintain your dog’s quality of life and, with the help of regenerative stem cell therapies there is even a possibility to stop the progression of this degenerative disease.
Therefore, there is an urgent need for alternative therapy with effective disease-modifying effects.
About the author:
Dr. Martin Feldberg is a passionate small animal vet with a deep interest in dog orthopedics. He is always looking for new and innovative ways to help animals and often writes about these topics.
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