Arthritis in dogs is a common condition, especially in large breed and senior dogs. Just as with humans, age, use, and stress on the joints can cause various symptoms of arthritis such as limping, stiffness, and a reluctance to run or jump. Arthritis is a progressive condition, but identifying the problems in their early stages and seeking appropriate treatment can help keep your dog active and improve his quality of life.

What is Dog Arthritis?

Arthritis, or osteoarthritis, is known in veterinary medicine as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD).  DJD is a progressive condition, where the spaces between the joints become inflamed, caused by the deterioration of cartilage.  Cartilage is the connective tissue that acts as a cushion to allow the joints to move smoothly, but in cases of arthritis, this cartilage cushion breaks down due to wear, age, injury, repeated load stress, or degenerative disease.  As this protective cushion breaks down, pain, swelling, limited range of motion, and the formation of bony growths can emerge.

Are Specific Breeds at Risk for Dog Arthritis?

Although any dog can develop arthritis, particularly as they age, some factors can predispose your dog to develop arthritis.

  • Large and Giant Breeds: Breeds such as Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, Great Pyrenees, or German Shepherd dogs are predisposed as a result of their size.  The bigger the dog, the more stress and wear-and-tear are placed on the joints.
  • Age: Just as with people, the older the dog, the more likely he is prone to developing joint and back issues.
  • Improper nutrition: For dogs, especially puppies and younger dogs, who are not fed a proper diet rich in minerals and nutrients, this can adversely affect joint development and lead to issues later in life.
  • Repetitive stress: Dogs who are very active, or compete in agility, are predisposed to arthritis due to wear and tear on joints and ligaments.
  • Fractures or Ligament Tears: Dogs who have suffered trauma to bones, such as hip fractures or long-bone fractures, are likely to face issues as they age.  Also, dogs who have suffered soft tissue injuries to ligaments and tendons may be predisposed.
  • Infections: Dogs that have suffered infections affecting the joints, caused by such disease processes as Lyme Disease are also at risk.
  • Conformation: Dogs who have congenital issues, such as hip or elbow dysplasia, may face arthritis in those joints down the road.
  • Genetics: Certain dog breeds such as Dachshunds are prone to DJD in the spine, and English Bulldogs are prone to elbow issues as a result of genetic selection for certain physical traits.

If your dog is predisposed to developing arthritis, be sure to schedule regular exams with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help ensure that your dog maintains a healthy weight and active lifestyle, and most importantly, your veterinarian can notice issues before they become debilitating.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Dog Arthritis?

Arthritis is a gradual and irreversible condition, and it can be difficult to detect in the early stages.  Most often the signs and symptoms of dog arthritis are not obvious until the joint has undergone degenerative damage. As a result, it is important to keep an eye on senior and larger breed dogs for early signs of joint disease. The signs of arthritis in dogs can include:

  • Lameness, limping, generalized stiffness, or difficulty getting up from a resting position
  • Lethargy or reluctance to participate in activities such as walks or playing
  • Reluctance to run, jump, or play
  • A gradual loss of muscle mass around the limbs and on the spine
  • Changes in mood or behavior, irritability
  • Licking of the affected joints
  • Obesity or weight gain
  • Yelling out in pain when petted, or when jumping up or down off of furniture
  • Having difficulty posing to urinate or defecate, or incontinence

If you suspect your dog may have arthritis, contact your veterinarian and schedule an exam.  The veterinarian can perform a full examination of your dog’s joints and assess the range of motion. X-rays might be recommended as they can reveal the degree of degenerative joint disease, and can rule out other health issues.

How is Arthritis Managed?

Arthritis in dogs is a progressive disease, just as in humans. Preventing the development of osteoarthritis through diet, exercise, and the use of medications, physical therapy, or protective joint supplements can be a good way to keep your dog comfortable. The goal of managing arthritis includes minimizing pain and inflammation and keeping your dog as comfortable as possible. With this in mind, there are several ways to manage arthritis in your dog.

Joint Supplements
These supplements usually come in the form of a tasty chew and can help improve function, reduce inflammation, and slow the progression of joint damage. Glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) are popular ingredients and they work to reduce inflammation, promoting healing, and increasing cartilage fluid which can provide more cushion for the joint.

NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) are prescription-only medications that can reduce pain and inflammation. However, with regular use, NSAIDs can put a load on the liver and kidneys, so your veterinarian may recommend blood work to make sure that those organs are functioning properly.

Several surgical options are available for dogs with arthritic conditions due to hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament issues, or degenerative disk disease. Whether or not surgery is recommended depends on the patient and the nature of the joint disease.

Physical therapy
Physical therapy is also another way to manage arthritis, and it involves specific activities designed to improve strength, range of motion, and joint mobility without causing additional stress. It can be helpful in conjunction with other management methods such as medications and a weight-loss program.

Nutraceuticals/ Prescription diets
There are many veterinary diets out there that specifically target joint issues in dogs.  These prescriptions diets contain ingredients such as Glucosamine, MSM, Chondroitin sulfate, and Omega Fatty acids. These dietary supplements can help protect the joints by reducing inflammation and can safely be used long-term.

Weight Management
In dogs just as in humans, it’s always best to maintain a healthy weight and active lifestyle. In dogs with arthritis, carrying excess weight on weakened joints can exacerbate the breakdown of cartilage and cause pain. In younger dogs, obesity predisposes them to arthritis down the road.  If your dog has a weight problem, work with your veterinarian to develop a diet and exercise plan to improve your dog’s health.

Additional Treatments
Other treatments to help manage arthritis in your dog may include laser treatments, acupuncture, or acupressure.

Arthritis is very common in both humans and dogs and is often a result of the ongoing wear and tear of the joints, genetics, infection, or immune diseases.  If you have questions or suspect that your dog may have arthritis, schedule an examination with your veterinarian online or call our animal hospital in Alpena, MI at (989) 354-2241.  Your veterinarian is your best resource to help keep your best friend comfortable, happy, and healthy.

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