Arthritis in Dogs – Relieving Your Canine of Pain
Arthritis is a degenerative joint condition that affects millions of dogs. Although it tends to develop in older dogs, dogs as young as three years old can start feeling the effects of arthritis. The condition severely alters dogs’ quality of life. Chronic pain is stressful both for dogs and for their families, especially when the condition is so debilitating that the dogs cannot enjoy their normal activities that once made them happy because they are in too much pain.
Although some dogs will develop arthritis no matter what steps you take to prevent it, many dogs develop the condition because of certain lifestyle factors that are preventative. Even dogs who are genetically predisposed to developing arthritis can benefit when you take steps to reduce damage to their joints. The actions you take while your dog is still young and healthy have long-term consequences, and you can ensure that your dog remain active and happy well into their senior years.
It is important to understand what causes arthritis and how to prevent the damaging effects on your dog. An understanding of canine arthritis helps you make key decisions in keeping your dog healthy and in treating her if she develops the condition.
What is Canine Arthritis?
Around 20% of dogs suffer from arthritis. It occurs when the connective tissue in the joints, cartilage, degrades to the point that the bones that form the joint come into contact with each other when the dog moves.
Sometimes the damage to the cartilage is so severe that the tissue covering the bones, called the synovium, is worn away. This leaves the ends of the bones exposed. The bones themselves often fragment at this stage of arthritis, leaving bone spurs in the joint, causing pain that is even more excruciating.
Dogs with arthritis often lose much of their mobility because the pain of the condition and the loss of cartilage leaves them unable to move properly. Dogs with advanced stage arthritis, where the cartilage and synovium are eroded, will typically avoid moving the joint because the pain is unbearable.
What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?
Most dogs who develop arthritis are in advanced age, but age is not the only factor that causes the condition. There are a few other causes that influence your dog’s condition.
Genetics. Certain breeds of dog are more likely to develop arthritis than other breeds, especially if the breed is large, such as German shepherds or Labradors.
Weight. Dogs who are overweight or obese tend to develop arthritis because of the stress the extra weight places on the joints. Dogs who are overweight will experience joint pain years earlier than dogs who are not overweight.
Other joint conditions. Conditions such as hip dysplasia and patellar subluxation cause cartilage erosion that aggravates arthritis.
How is Arthritis in Dogs Treated?
There are several different options for treating arthritis in dogs.
Medication. Prescription pain medications can alleviate the pain and inflammation of arthritis, allowing your dog some relief from the pain. However, they do not treat the cause of the pain: the erosion to cartilage and bone tissue.
Dogs who have chronic conditions need pain relief for the rest of their lives, but many dogs cannot take prescription pain medications on a long-term basis. Over-the-counter medications are dangerous to dogs and can even kill them, so do not give your dog medications such as aspirin or acetaminophen. Surgery. Joint replacement and joint fusion are common operations to treat arthritis.
These operations repair the damaged tissues. Surgery is typically needed in more advanced cases of arthritis.
Supplements. Dogs whose arthritis is in the beginning or intermediate stages of the condition can benefit from glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. These supplements heal damaged cartilage and prevent inflammation, relieving pain and repairing arthritic joints.
Dogs who are overweight need to lose weight to manage their arthritis. This usually involves light exercise and a special diet. Arthritic dogs who are not overweight benefit from exercise as well. Low-impact exercise such as slow walks are best. Swimming is even better for arthritic dogs, since they can exercise their joints without the stress of weight and gravity.
How Can I Prevent Canine Arthritis?
It is important to take preventative actions while your dog is still young, especially if your dog is predisposed to developing arthritis. Keeping your dog’s joints healthy before she develops arthritic pain is much more effective than treating damaged joint and bone tissue.
The most important preventative measure you can take is to make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. This prevents your dog from gaining excess weight and keeps her joints flexible and strong. Giving her a proper diet that provides her with protein and other nutrients but does not encourage weight gain also helps.
Normal wear and tear on your dog’s joints can include small injuries and tears in the cartilage in your joints. As your dog ages and her natural levels of glucosamine and chondroitin are depleted, her ability to repair these small injuries is negatively affected. Small injuries accumulate as she gets older and can be a precursor to arthritis.
Supplementing glucosamine and chondroitin while your dog is young and has not developed arthritis symptoms prevents erosion of joints and bone tissue. Supplements ensure that your dog has a constant supply of these substances, even when her natural levels of these substances begin to deplete. This helps her joints keep repairing themselves even as she grows older.
Although you can find a good deal of information about treating arthritic dogs on your own, it is necessary to speak to a veterinarian to get a diagnosis and advice about treating your dog. A vet can develop a treatment plan with you, including an exercise regimen that is safe for your dog and a diet plan that will help her lose weight if she needs to. If caught and treated early, arthritis in your dog can be managed without surgery.