It’s painful to watch as your dog begins to slow down and in pain too. He no longer jumps around your bedroom the way he used to. Playing fetch is no longer as fun. And even lying down is, oftentimes, accompanied by a groan. Arthritis is a really horrible condition both in humans and in pets. And that’s why today we are coming to you with everything you need to know about arthritis in dogs: how you can detect it, how you can treat it in your dog, and the different ways you can make life generally easier for him in the meantime.
But first off…
What is Arthritis?
In very simple, straightforward terms, arthritis refers to a condition in which the joints are inflamed. It is a common problem in many dogs with the textbook symptoms of stiffness, pain, and discomfort.
In the normal physiology of a dog, the surface of each bone is usually covered by a layer of cartilage. This cartilage is typically thin and smooth. And to allow bones glide smoothly with very little friction, these surfaces are lubricated by a little amount of joint fluid.
In dogs suffering from arthritis, things are a bit different. The cartilage we mentioned above suffers damage or a small change which makes them a bit less smooth. This, in turn, causes the bone surfaces to rub against each other producing so much friction. When this happens, the cartilage gets destroyed even further and your dog consequently begins to experience some form of pain and discomfort. Again, the friction created by the damage of the cartilage causes new bone to form around the affected joint which will make the joint stiff. This condition referred to as a degenerative joint disease, impacts negatively on your dog’s ability to move, and, of course, causes pain.
Causes of Arthritis
Even though arthritis is a condition usually associated with senior dogs, it can as well begin to develop in some dogs at an early age, usually as a result of joint and bone development problems. Arthritis can affect any number of your dog’s joints but it all depends on the cause of the condition in the first place.
That begs the question: what causes arthritis?
In most cases, arthritis develops when there’s joint instability (for instance, a damage to the ligament) which leads to an abnormal rubbing in the joint; an abnormal development of a cartilage or damage to it; or a damage to the bones/joints caused by a trauma (like a fracture for instance).
Arthritis often presents varying symptoms throughout the life of pets and it also causes an early onset of problems with their joints when they reach old age.
Signs that your dog has Arthritis
One big question that most pet owners ask is: “how do I know if my dog has arthritis?” Well, there are different ways to, actually.
First off, if your dog doesn’t express as much eagerness to exercise like before, he might be having arthritis. As you know, arthritis causes stiffness, discomfort, and pain, and movement will only worsen the case, hence your dog might not be too excited about exercising.
Also, he may show signs of stiffness or lameness, most times, after an extended period of rest. Exercise usually helps to improve on a case of stiffness but damp, cold conditions can worsen it considerably.
In pretty bad cases, if the joints are so painful, the dog might begin to lick at it continually. However, upon closer examination, you’d hardly notice a swollen or hot joint. Changes to the joints are usually unnoticeable to the human naked eye.
Finally, some might show more obvious signs of being in pain, while others might just appear grumpier or slower than normal.
Diagnosis of Arthritis in Dogs
Usually, with joint extension and flexion, your vet should be able to tell which of your dog’s joints are arthritic. However, your vet will still have to confirm by conducting more tests like x-rays for instance. These tests will help him to confirm the presence of arthritis and then find out the arthritic change, as well as find out underlying causes as well.
Once in a while where an infection of the joint is suspected, for example, your vet might take a joint fluid sample in order to run a few tests. A blood sample might even be required sometimes to be certain that your dog doesn’t have any of those other medical conditions often linked to arthritis.
Treatment of Arthritis in Dogs
There are so many therapeutic options in the market today, so you must consider it a top priority when treating your dog for arthritis to match the most suitable treatment with the corresponding underlying cause or affected joint(s).
In dogs that are overweight or not very fit, arthritis is usually a lot worse, so most times, the best way to go for such kind of dogs is to combine weight loss plans and exercise routines. This will help to reduce the body weight that the joints have to carry and at the same time help to broaden to the possible maximum, the movement ranges, as well as the fitness of the joints and their surrounding muscles.
Most patients will be prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs which they will have to take continuously for a few weeks, running for months in some cases.
Drugs used for arthritis treatment are grouped into three large families. In the first family, we have the cartilage protectors. As their name sounds, they are used to reduce cartilage degeneration and damage. They also help to trigger joint repair and relieve pains coming from inflammation. Examples of drugs in this family include pentosan polysulfate, hyaluronic acid, and polysulfated glycosaminoglycans).
Then there are the nutraceuticals which are more like supplements than actual drugs. Joint supplements like Seraquin are beginning to enjoy many recommendations from a good number of vet doctors especially in the UK because they contain glucosamine and chondroitin which are two essential substances that occur naturally in joints.
Another great thing about joint supplements is that they can be used as treats as you use other prescription drugs from the vet.
The last family contains the most common drug options, and they are the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Please, not that you should never administer human NSAIDs (or any other drug at all) without a prescription from your vet. There are safer doggy NSAIDs that are better for your dog than aspirin, so go for those instead. But then again, even though these ones are made for dogs, they still come with some side effects, so you must use them only as prescribed by the vet.
Is Arthritis Curable?
Well, we hate to be the bearers of bad news but it’s rarely ever the case that joints repair themselves fully after suffering arthritis. However, there’s a bit of good news; the condition can be managed such that they live a pain-free life for a long time.
Depending on the severity of the conditions, some dogs might not even need any intervention from the vet at all and still go on to live active lives while some will require some form of intervention, ranging from something as simple as minor changes to their lifestyle to something as complex as a surgical procedure.