Chasing a ball becomes a stiff walk; jumping up to your bed no longer happens, and getting up from the floor brings on a groan. Dogs are living longer with advanced veterinary medicine and excellent nutrition, but as they age, things that were once easy now become an effort. And with their increased longevity comes the increased chance that they'll suffer from arthritis.
What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a disease that can affect any joint, causing pain and discomfort. The joints most commonly affected in dogs include:
- Stifle (knee joint)
- Carpus (wrist)
- Hock (ankle)
- Intervertebral joints (backbone)
Causes of Canine Arthritis
Arthritis results from damage to the cartilage within the affected joint. The damage occurs because of wear and tear on the joint from aging, congenital abnormalities, obesity, athletic injuries or traumatic injuries.
In a normal joint, the cartilage acts as a shock absorber, providing a cushion between the bones which form the joint. When the cartilage in a joint is damaged, the cells die and release enzymes that cause inflammation of the joint capsule and excessive joint fluid. Extra bony growths called osteophytes can develop. When the cartilage thins severely, the joint space becomes narrow and the bone beneath the cartilage deteriorates. Without cartilage in place to absorb shock, the bones within your pet's joint become damaged.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
Dogs suffering from arthritis experience pain resulting from the damage within the joint. The symptoms seen are a direct result of the pain but may be subtle, especially in the early stages.
Commonly signs of arthritis in dogs include:
- Abnormal gait
- Reluctance to rise or difficulty rising
- Reluctance to go up and down stairs or jump onto furniture or into the car
- Abnormal behaviors such as irritability, withdrawal or aggression
- Pain when handled
- Licking or chewing at the painful joint
Diagnosing Arthritis in a Dog
A physical examination coupled with radiographs (x-rays) which show changes within the joint is the most common means of diagnosing canine arthritis. In some cases, an analysis of the joint fluid may be recommended to rule out infectious or immune-related disease.
Helping a Dog With Arthritis
There are several things you can do to help alleviate the symptoms:
- In the house: Provide well-padded bedding and a special dog bed for arthritic pets. Keep the sleeping spots away from cold areas or damp drafts. Use padded steps or a ramp for your dog to get on or off the couch and bed. Non-skid flooring is helpful for slippery surfaces, or place yoga mats down. Outside, a sloped ramp is easier than dealing with steps.
- Massage: Muscle massage stimulates blood flow to muscles. Once you learn the techniques from a canine massage therapist, you can continue them on your own. Warm compresses placed on sore joints can also help loosen and soothe muscles. Massage stimulates blood flow to muscles. Once you learn the techniques from a canine massage therapist, you can continue them on your own. Warm compresses placed on sore joints can also help loosen and soothe muscles.
- Laser: Cold laser treatment helps to stimulate blood flow which can improve arthritic symptoms.
- Supplements: Glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, omega-3 fatty acids, boswellia and curcumin are all used to treat arthritis. Talk to your vet about the best combination and dosage.