Arthritis is a chronic disease and affects dogs as well as humans. In the United States, 1 in 5 dogs are afflicted with it. It is a degenerative joint disease that is often caused by joint injuries or genetic conditions such as hip dysplasia. Arthritis cannot be cured, but with early diagnosis and treatment, your dog can live a happy and fulfilling life.
Symptoms of arthritis
If you notice any of the following changes in your dog, have him evaluated by a veterinarian for arthritis:
- Sleeping more
- Problems sitting or standing
- Limping/unable to walk on a limb
- Feeling of stiffness
- Hesitant to run or jump
- Lack of activity
- Lack of interest in play
- Decrease in alertness
The symptoms are varied, but the most common one is stiffness. You may notice your dog rising slowly after a nap or limping after exercise. Arthritis usually strikes in the morning, with your dog warming up by mid-day.
Your dog may be sleeping more or not moving as much as he used to, which can lead to weight gain. He may refuse to run or participate in once-favorite activities, such as fetch. Your dog may cry out in pain when moving a limb, or you may see joint problems in the limbs. Your usually calm dog may suddenly start becoming irritable and aggressive. Your dog may not be eating as much as usual. He may also seem lethargic and depressed.
In severe cases, your dog may be using his hind legs very carefully, refuse to climb stairs or jump. Some dogs walk with his pelvis tucked under them. If one limb is affected, the dog may stop using it altogether and use only three limbs to get around. Because these limbs will end carrying all the dog’s weight, they will end up being affected by arthritis as well.
Types of arthritis
Osteoarthritis – This is a degenerative joint disease that mainly affects larger breeds. It is common for dogs with osteoarthritis to experience joint pain in the early morning and after taking a nap. Their behavior may change, with increased irritability as the arthritis progresses. Dampness makes the pain more evident.
Rheumatoid arthritis – This type of arthritis is caused by antibodies attacking the dog’s tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis is erosive and causes joint surfaces and cartilage to be destroyed. It occurs mainly in smaller breeds. Stiffness and swelling are the main symptoms associated with this type of arthritis, with some dogs experiencing fever and a decreased appetite as well.
Infectious arthritis – This type of arthritis is caused by infectious diseases. Lyme disease and Rocky Mounted spotted fever are two common diseases that can lead to canine arthritis. A fungal infection can also cause infectious arthritis.
The veterinarian will perform a physical exam on your dog. X-rays may also be done to see where bone spurs are forming. For immune-related types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, laboratory tests may need to be done, including fluid analysis.
Canine arthritis causes, prevention and treatment
Although many dog owners simply believe that canine arthritis is caused by old age, there are many other factors that can contribute to it. Wear and tear on joints as the dog ages is a common cause. Dislocation of a joint can cause arthritis, as can a fracture of a bone that involves a joint. An infection or immune system problem is a common cause. Arthritis can also be brought on by injury or trauma to a joint. Hereditary conditions, such as hip dysplasia, can develop into arthritis as the disease progresses. Obesity can also put pressure on joints, causing them to become arthritic.
Although any breed of dog can get arthritis regardless of age, larger dogs such as Great Danes and mastiffs are more susceptible to the disease. Larger dogs that suffer from joint injuries during their growing period are especially prone to develop arthritis in their later years.
For the most part, arthritis is a genetic disease and cannot always be prevented. However, since obesity is a common cause of arthritis, keeping your dog healthy is extremely important. Dogs should eat a nutritious diet (see dog nutrition) and exercise regularly.
Preventing joint injuries is also a good way to prevent arthritis. This can be accomplished by supervising your dog’s activity and keeping him away from sharp objects, holes and other situations where injuries can occur. When out in public, dogs should be walked on a leash.
Dog breeders can help prevent future instances of arthritis in puppies through selective breeding. Dogs with known genetic defects should never be bred. If there is any evidence of arthritis or hip dysplasia in a dog’s family, dog breeders have a responsibility to not breed the dog.
There are many types of treatment available for canine arthritis treatment. A healthy lifestyle that combines diet and exercise can help your dog lose or maintain his weight, which will keep weight off his swollen joints and make him more comfortable. Swimming is a good way to get your dog some much-needed exercise, as it is low-impact and increases muscle mass without affecting the joints. Vitamins containing glucosamine or Omega fatty acids can relieve the symptoms associated with canine arthritis.
Medications are the most common form of treatment for canine arthritis. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin, Carprofen and Etodolac, are popular medications used. Adequan and Rimadyl are two medications that can help alleviate pain and manage symptoms. Chemotherapy and corticosteroids are often used for rheumatoid arthritis. For infectious arthritis, tetracycline and doxycycline are frequently employed.
For dog owners seeking alternative treatments, acupuncture is an option. When combined with diet and exercise, it has proven to be effective in treating canine arthritis.
In some cases, surgery may be the only option available to manage pain caused by canine arthritis, especially when a genetic disease is a factor. Fusing the affected joints surgically has shown great promise in some dogs, as it restores motion in the limbs and decreases pain.