Arthritis is the inflammation of a joint or multiple joints in the body. It is usually accompanied by pain and stiffness. This disease name comes from the greek word arthro (joint) and suffix -itis (inflammation). Arthritis not only occurs in humans; it is common in dogs and other animals as well. There are numerous form of artritis. In dogs, the main forms are as follows:
- Osteoarthritis (OA), also called Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD)
- Immune-mediated arthritis (polyarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis)
- Infective arthritis (bacterial, viral or fungal)
Of these main types of arthritis, Osteoarthritis is by far the most common. Therefore, this article will focus on information about osteoarthritis.
What is Osteoarthritis?:
Causes of Arthritis:
Arthritis Symptoms in Dogs:
The symptoms of arthritis in dogs vary from mild to severe. If fact, many owners do not even realize their dogs have arthritis until it becomes severe. This does not mean those dogs do not feel mild to moderate pain in the early stages, just that they do not show it the way a human might. Remember that dogs tend to hide their discomfort as part of their survival instinct. This is part of the reason routine veterinary exams are so important, especially as your dog ages. A vet might detect subtle signs of arthritis during an exam that could otherwise go unnoticed at home. The following are the most common symptoms of arthritis in dogs:
- Lameness/abnormal gait
- Stiffness, especially after waking up
- Reluctance to go up stairs, run or jump
- Difficulty jumping into car or on furniture
- Difficulty sitting or standing
- Decreased interest in walks, games or participation in other types of exercise once enjoyed
- Withdrawal from family members
- Licking area of a specific joint or joints
- Sensitivity and soreness when joints are touched (in severe cases, pet may cry out or even snap)
- Changes in behavior and/or attitude
- Trouble getting comfortable/restlessness
- Sleeping more than usual
- Creaking or grinding of the joint when moved (called crepitus, this is usually noticed on veterinary exam)
Be aware that some of the above symptoms can be signs of other health problems as well. If you notice these or any other signs of illness, be sure to contact your veterinarian.
Diagnosing Arthritis in Dogs:
Treatment and Management of Arthritis:
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but fortunately there are many ways to treat the disease. Some forms of degenerative joint disease, such as hip dysplasia, can be treated with surgery. However, the majority of osteoarthritis cases must be managed in other ways. In general, the focus is on lessening discomfort and slowing the disease progression. In most situations, it is best to approach the management of osteoarthritis from multiple directions. Success depends on the severity of the disease and the individual response of each pet. It is essential that you communicate with your vet about your dog's condition. Often, combinations of all or some of the following therapies are recommended:
Your vet might prescribe specific medications to help manage your dog's arthritis. These medications are fast-acting and can be quite effective. However, they are not without risk. Dogs with other health conditions may not be good candidates for certain drugs. Lab work may be required before your dog can begin certain medications. The following types of drugs might be recommended for your arthritic dogs:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammitories (NSAIDs) are commonly used to bring down inflammation, decreasing pain and stiffness. Common brands of veterinary NSAIDs are Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Previcox and Metacam.
- Corticosteroids like prednisone or dexamethasone may be used instead of NSAIDs. However, this method of treatment is not very common, as the long term effects of steroid use tend to be more serious than with NSAIDs. Corticosteroids should never be given in conjunction with NSAIDs, as serious gastrointestinal damage may occur.
- Other analgesics like gabapentin or tramadol may help to relieve pain but are not anti-inflammitory drugs. Your vet might prescribe these in conjunction with an NSAID, which is generally considered safe to do.
- Adequan injections are sometimes given in addition to one or more of the above treatments. Adequan is polysulfated glycosaminoglycan made from the cartilage of cattle. According to the product website, Adequan "helps prevent the cartilage in your dog’s joint from wearing away. It helps keep the cartilage healthy and intact, so that the bone in the joint cannot touch other bones." Many vets and owners can attest to the effectiveness of Adequan treatment.
There are a variety of supplements on the market that are available over-the-counter and can help support an arthritis treatment plan. These products will not ease acute pain but work slowly to ease discomfort and slow disease progression. Fortunately, these supplements do not pose the same risks to dogs as the above prescription medications. Be sure to discuss the best combination of treatments with your vet before beginning. The most commonly recommended supplements include glucosamine/chondroitin, MSM, and omega three fatty acids.
Acupuncture involves the therapeutic use of tiny needle in specific points on the body. This can be an extremely effective treatment for a number of diseases, and arthritis is no exception. Positive results from acupuncture are often seen right away and can increase with ongoing therapy. Veterinary acupuncture should be performed by a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who is certified in veterinary acupuncture.
There are numerous herbs and homeopathic treatments available to support arthritic patients. Traditional chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM) can be especially helpful. Many owners have seen positive results with these therapies, but results are typically subtle and sometimes only recognized after long-term use.
The best news about alternative therapies is that they are typically safe for pets with other health problems and have fewer, if any, side effects. If you are interested in finding an alternative vet, acupuncturist or TCVM practitioner in your area, visit The Chi Institute online.
Physical therapy and rehabilitation can work wonders for your arthritic pet. There are many forms of physical therapy you can even do at home if you know how. Ideally, you should first visit a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner or Therapist (CCRP or CCRT) to have your pet evaluated for physical therapy. Modalities include water therapy (via underwater treadmill or resistance pool), exercises to promote strength and range of motion, stretching and massage. Your pet's therapist can recommend a treatment plan that will work best for you and your dog.
Changing Your Pet's Lifestyle and Environment
Some of the best ways to keep your arthritic dog comfortable involve simple changes you can make to you and your dog's daily life and surroundings. To help keep your arthritic dog comfortable, you can easily make the following changes to your home and daily routine:
- Focus on weight management. Weight loss and weight management are some of the most important factors in managing arthritis in dogs. Talk to your vet about your dog's weight. Discuss your dog's dietary and exercise needs and make changes as necessary.
- Keep your dog active. It is important to keep those arthritic joints moving to prevent stiffness and decrease pain. Your arthritic dog may have less enthusiasm about walks, as well as decreased stamina. However, exercise is still essential. Instead of one long daily walk, try taking multiple short, slow walks a day. As your dog will tolerate, try short and steady walks up and down steep hills. This will help rebuild loss muscle in the limbs, increasing overall strength and stability.
- Get an orthopedic dog bed. Your dog's joints are sore, so he will probably have trouble getting comfortable in a flat or lumpy dog bed. Fortunately, there are many great orthopedic dog beds on the market today. These beds are more expensive, but they are typically worth the price. Look for orthopedic foam that is at least 4 inches thick and has an area large enough for your dog to stretch out. Avoid elevated beds and nesting type beds that will be difficult for your dog to get in or out of. In colder months, consider a heated bed, which will provide even greater comfort for sore joints. When researching dog beds, be sure to read the reviews from other consumers before you buy.
- Lay down rugs or mats on slick floors. Arthritic dogs may lose muscle mass and become weak, making it difficult to gain traction on hardwood, laminate, marble or other slick floors. Placing bath mats, rubber runners, foam mats or even yoga mats in the areas where your dog walks can give him the footing he needs to get around safely and comfortably. Lay down carpet or rubber treads on stairs. For all-day, all-surface traction, you might also try placing special socks, booties or shoes on your dog's feet that have grippy bottoms. Unfortunately, many dogs will not tolerate something on their feet and will have even more trouble walking in them.
- Use ramps where necessary. If you have a big dog that cannot be easily lifted, consider getting ramps for areas you dog used to jump up to. This includes cars, couches, porches, decks and similar heights. Dog ramps can be purchase through most pet retailers, so shop around for the ones that suit your dog best. A good dog ramp has a surface that provides traction, such as rubber or a sandpaper-type grit. If possible, a ramp for your staircase would be wonderful. However, this is not practical for many homes, so stair treats may be best.
- Keep your dog's nails short. Again, because arthritic dogs may have trouble gaining traction, long nails will make it even arder for your dog to walk. Be sure to regularly trim or grind down your dogs nails, or have your vet or groomer do it.
- Give your dog some assistance. As arthritis progresses, your dog may need some extra support when walking or climbing stairs. Try using a rolled up a sheet, towel or blanket as a sling under the belly or chest. These homemade slings are great for short periods, but are not ideal for long-term use. They can eventually cause friction on your dog's skin as well as fatigue on your hands. For dogs that need regular assistance, there are products made expressly for this purpose. Walkabout Harnesses is one of several companies that makes these types of products. In the most severe of cases, when a dog has completely lost the use of front or hind limbs, some dog owners opt to have a special cart built. Check out Eddie's Wheels or K9 Carts for more information.
- Be patient. Your arthritic dog needs all the patience, support and TLC you can offer. With your help, your dog can still remain happy and comfortable from a long time in the face of arthritis.
- Be realistic. Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. Though treatment can slow the progression of the disease, it may eventually become so severe that your dog's pain cannot be controlled and he will be too immobile to benefit from assistance. Sadly, when other options have been exhausted, the time may come to consider humane euthanasia. As difficult as this decision is, rest assured you will be doing the right thing if it is out of love for your beloved companion.