Osteoarthritis is not exclusive to dogs, its textbook signs and symptoms can be seen in people too. The cartilage in the affected joints becomes worn down or damaged, the synovial fluid loses its lubrication, and movement becomes less smooth which leads to friction between bone surfaces. In time, new bone forms around the joint, making it stiffer and further limiting the movement causing joint pain.
About 1 in 5 dogs are affected by arthritis and osteoarthritis. Certain breeds are more disposed than others, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and German shepherds, for example. Certain lifestyles too can negatively affect the likelihood of old-age arthritis in dogs, obesity being the prime example.
That is why it is so important for owners to exercise their dogs, ensure they are at a suitable weight and always be on the lookout for changes in their dog's mobility and posture.
There are many signs that may indicate your dog is suffering from arthritis. Dogs are generally very good at hiding pain, therefore, astute observation is key to identifying and diagnosing the issue before it develops. Some of the warning signs may include:
If you notice any signs of arthritis in your dog's legs, hips or elbows see your local vet immediately. The doctor will perform a complete physical examination and determine the type of arthritis your dog is suffering from and provide temporary pain relief before deciding on the best arthritis treatment.
In most cases, dogs develop arthritis genetically as a result of predisposition to joint instability, such as in large breeds. In other cases, arthritis can be acquired through injury to ligaments and infection.
Older dogs are more susceptible to arthritis as the cartilage wears down and bones can grind together, leading to pain and discomfort. Obesity, lack of exercise or over-exercise, improper nutrition and joint injuries are also common causes of arthritis in dogs.
There’s no one way in which a dog may develop arthritis, as it is not something that happens overnight. Commonly, injury to ligaments will lead to joint instability and excess wear and tear on the cartilage in your dog’s joints. Owners should be on high alert if their dog has suffered any kind of injury in recent times, in such events, it is best to get your dog x-rayed to identify injuries.
Undiagnosed injuries will likely lead to joint instability, although certain dogs are predisposed to this. Some common joint instability issues are:
As we have already seen, it affects dogs genetically. DJD can affect almost any joint, including the spine, it is as likely to occur in small dogs as it is in large dogs and can be worsened by cold weather, which leads to joint stiffness. Exercise and active movement will help to combat this.
Osteochondritis dissecans (OC or OCD), is an inflammatory condition that occurs from abnormal development of the cartilage on the end of the bone joint. It is most commonly in the shoulder but can develop in the elbow, hip or knee.
Hip arthritis (resulting from Hip dysplasia), distorts the hip by flattening the normally rounded head of the thigh bone (Femur) which is connected to the pelvis. Because of the misalignment, the cartilage in the joint gradually deteriorates over time, causing discomfort, pain and inflammation.
Elbow Arthritis is a hereditary misalignment of the elbow joint, usually starting with lameness from a young age in large, fast-growing breeds. The condition worsens over time, leading to chronic pain and inflammation.
Knee arthritis is common in smaller breeds and as with elbow dysplasia, it is heredity. Patella luxation happens when the patella (knee cap) pops out of its place, leading to lameness in the hind legs. Patellar luxation, if left untreated, can lead to arthritis and painful joints.
Other causes, or conditions likely to lead to arthritis might be joint infection, as a result of an untreated injury, or autoimmune disorders, such as Lupus or Rheumatoid arthritis caused by an overreaction of the immune system.
In young dogs, it is important not to overfeed or administer a rich diet while they are growing. You don’t want to put any excess weight on the skeletal system before it can handle it.
For dogs of all ages, regular visits to the vet will ensure the correct detection and diagnosis of injuries or heredity imbalances. Your vet may advise on more or less exercise for your pet, or perhaps a variation on your regular routine. Most vets recommend exposure to water early so your dog becomes comfortable in the water and can take advantage of its alleviating benefits.
Rarely does damaged cartilage repair completely by itself. Thankfully, however, pets can be made pain free by implementing appropriate long-term use of the appropriate medication, proper dietary management and frequent exercise routines.
The three main families for successful treatment of arthritis in dogs are Cartilage Protectors, Nutraceuticals and Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.
Cartilage protectors that contain glucosamine, such as VetIQ, Lintbells, or Animology, stimulate the production of glycosaminoglycans and proteoglycans, two of the components of cartilage. Each also contains Vitamin C, a natural antioxidant that inhibits harmful substances in the body.
Nutraceuticals - like GWF Joint Aid for Dogs are feed supplements that support the healthy function of dogs internally, they contain natural amino supplements which promote healthy joint structure.
Anti-Inflammatory Drugs - are ideal for managing inflammation. Solutions such as VetSpec Joint Mobility aid the natural anti-inflammatory process that most vets recommend for treating inflammation associated with arthritis.
Arthritis affects all dogs, it is usually the result of a heredity misalignment in the skeletal system, most commonly associated with certain breeds, or it can be a result of untreated trauma or infection. It is important to observe your pet’s routine behaviour so that you notice any changes in posture or movement.
If you are unsure, contact your vet for a proper diagnosis. If necessary, they will advise on suitable treatment and may prescribe the appropriate medication to treat inflammation or reduce cartilage denegation. Responsible owners should always follow their vet’s advice and routinely exercise their pet to promote joint movement, especially in cold weather when joints are known to stiffen.