Arthritis can be as uncomfortable for our dogs as it is in humans, but there are ways of managing the disease to ease your pet’s pain.
Firstly! What is arthritis?
Arthritis simply means ‘inflammation of the joints’ and is a common problem for many dogs. Inside a dog’s joints, bone surfaces are normally covered with a thin layer of a very smooth cartilage, lubricated with a small amount of joint fluid that allows the two surfaces to glide freely over one another with minimum friction. In dogs with arthritis, cartilage within the joint undergoes change or damage, c=becoming less smooth and resulting in the bone surfaces rubbing together. This causes discomfort to your dog, as well as further dame to cartilage. As a direct result of this increased friction, new bone starts to form around the joint making the joint stiffer, which limits its movement even more – a condition known as degenerative joint disease.
What causes arthritis?
Typically arthritis is a problem seen in older dogs, but the condition can develop from an early age following problems with bone and joint development. Depending on the cause, arthritis may affect one or any number of your dog’s joints. So what causes it? Most cases develop as a result of abnormal rubbing within the joint caused by joint instability, damage to or abnormal cartilage development, or damage caused by trauma. Like humans, signs of arthritis can often vary throughout the animal’s life and result in the early onset of joint problems in older age.
What are the signs of arthritis in dogs?
The disease nearly always causes pain and stiffness, dogs may not be as keen to exercise as they were in the past and may show lameness or obvious stiffness. Commonly this stiffness improves with commencement of exercise, with cold and/or damp conditions usually worsening symptoms. Some dogs may even lick continually at an underlying painful joint – occasionally causing unwanted patches of saliva staining – but rarely do joints appear hot or swollen; more commonly changes are subtle and undetectable to the naked eye. Some patients will show obvious signs of pain, whereas others may just become slower or grumpier.
How are dogs diagnosed with arthritis?
If your vet suspects your dog is suffering, they can sometimes tell which joints are affected by any pain and/or discomfort by examination, including joint flexion and extension. But to investigate properly they usually suggest further tests, which help confirm and locate arthritic change, and sometimes identify any underlying causes too.
How is arthritis treated in dogs?
With so many therapy options available nowadays, it’s paramount to match any treatment with their underlying cause and joint(s) involved. Arthritis is commonly worse in overweight and unfit dogs, so the most important therapy is the combination of weight control and exercise management: minimising load on the joints, and maximising the range of movement and fitness of the muscles around those joints. Hydrotherapy are often advised and proven to help.
Many patients benefit from anti-inflammatory therapy for a few weeks or months, with long-term drug therapy proving very useful.
Can arthritis be cured?
In terms of prognosis, unfortunately it’s the case that once cartilage in your dog joint(s) has been damaged it rarely repairs itself completely. But the good news is many pets can successfully be made pain free by appropriate long-term use of medication and sensible management to control further deterioration.
With so much variety in severity of arthritis between patients, many dogs cope well, leading full and active lives without any veterinary intervention at all.
To get the best advise regarding arthritis in dogs, please consult with your local vet.