Dogs have a less life span compared to the human. A dog may encounter many medical conditions including early onset of arthritis by the age of eight or nine. Arthritis simply means 'inflammation of the joints' and is, unfortunately, a common problem for many dogs.
Most of you will no doubt know of a dog suffering from arthritis that has shown the textbook signs of pain, discomfort, and stiffness.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a medical condition that causes the swelling and tenderness of one or more joints inside a body. It is also known as the inflammation of the joints. Age, weight, and medical condition play an important factor in the onset of arthritis in pets.
One in four of 77.2 million dogs in the United States is diagnosed with some form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is more common than rheumatoid arthritis and pain is the number one observation among them.
The most common joint areas affected by arthritis in dogs are the hips, elbows, lower back, knees, and wrists.
What are the symptoms of arthritis in dogs?
The main symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and stiffness, which typically worsen with age. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Signs of arthritis may include one or more of the following:
- Reluctance to indulge in a walk, climb elevated floor, jump or play
- Limping or lameness
- Lagging behind on walks
- Pain or stiffness when getting up or down
- Yelping when touched
- A change in personality (aggression when normally good-natured)
- Licking of the affected joints
Different types of arthritis in a dog
The common forms of arthritis found in dogs are;
Osteoarthritis is also known as a degenerative joint disease (DJD). It refers to the progressive and permanent long-term deterioration of the cartilage surrounding the joints. It is more common in older dogs and cats. The bulging weight of the body can affect the joints in the legs of pets, which can lead to Osteoarthritis.
The common risks of osteoarthritis in large or giant breeds, such as German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers are;
- Repetitive stress from physical activities such as agility, flyball, or dock diving
- Injuries such as fractures or ligament tears
- Infections that affect the joints, such as Lyme Disease
- Improper nutrition
- Poor conformation
b. Septic arthritis
Septic arthritis is also known as joint infection or infectious arthritis. It is caused by the invasion of a joint by a bacterial infection that results in joint and cartilage inflammation. It causes the fluid to build-up in the joints. Symptoms of Septic arthritis include redness, heat, and pain in a single joint associated with a decreased ability to move the joint.
Treatment of septic arthritis includes antibiotic therapy and drainage of the infected joint (synovial) fluid from the joint (arthrocentesis).
In polyarthritis, the dog’s immune system becomes over-activated and it starts to attack the tissues of the multiple joints. It goes into overdrive and attacks the wrong cells.
The immune system can sometimes be ‘tricked’ to over-react in this way when there are diseases going on in other parts of the body, including infections, cancer or gastrointestinal disease.
It can affect five or more joints simultaneously. It is usually associated with autoimmune conditions and may be experienced at any age and is not sex-specific.
What causes arthritis in a dog?
Although arthritis is a problem seen in older dogs, the condition can develop from an early age following problems with bone and joint development. 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.
Some of the major causes of arthritis are;
a. Injury to Ligaments
If a dog has suffered from injury to ligament there are likely chances of encountering arthritis. The most common ligament damage in dogs is the CCL or Cranial Cruciate Ligament in the knee. The damage to the ligament can lead to joint instability and result in excess wear on the cartilage. If treated soon, it can help prevent or minimize arthritis from occurring in the future.
b. Joint Instability
A variety of joint instability is common in many dogs that can lead to arthritis over time. Some of the common joint instability are;
i. Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia in dogs is an abnormal formation of the hip socket that leads to joint instability. It often leads to damage to the cartilage and may lead to arthritis. If hip dysplasia is in its more severe form, it can eventually cause crippling lameness and painful arthritis of the joints. Hip dysplasia is most commonly diagnosed through X-rays and an orthopedic exam.
ii. Elbow dysplasia
Elbow dysplasia is a condition causing multiple developmental abnormalities of the elbow. This condition is more seen in large and fast-growing dog breeds. The early sign includes lameness that starts around 6 to 9 months of age. Specialized X-rays are used to make a diagnosis. Surgery can help minimize arthritis but most likely it will get worse over time.
iii. Patellar luxation
Patellar luxation is common in small dog breeds. It results from traumatic injury to the knee such as when the patella (knee cap) pops out of place. In smaller dogs, the kneecaps tend to pop to the inside. A dog may face lameness of a hind leg or skip or hop while walking.
c. Cartilage Issues
Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) is a joint disorder in dogs which causes thickening of joint cartilage that can lead to injury. OCD can tear the thickened cartilage in the affected joints that lead to the lameness of the joints.
OCD is more commonly seen in large and giant breed dogs. Obesity is one of the major causes of cartilage issues. The first sign of OCD may appear as early as 4 to 8 months of age.
d. Joint Infection
Joint infection in pets mostly occurs from an injury or damage such as wound to a joint. The infection can eventually develop arthritis.
e. Autoimmune Disorders
Although rare, an autoimmune disorder in pets, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause the immune system to attack the body's own cells and tissue. It often leads to inflammation of the joints and lameness. It can be life-threating to dogs.
Symptoms of autoimmune disorder such as lupus include;
- Arthritis in several joints.
- Muscle pain.
- Shifting lameness in the legs.
- Loss of appetite.
- Skin sores.
Vets will prescribe immunosuppressive drugs that can be effective against some autoimmune disorders.
Obesity is common in dogs with an unhealthy diet or lifestyle. As a pet owner, you must keep their weight in check and offer an optimum quantity of nutritious meals. It’s completely wrong to feed your dog from your plate or dinner table because their meal requirement vastly differs from humans. Osteoarthritis is one of the many risks caused by obesity in dogs.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s (APOP) 2016 clinical survey recently reported that nearly 54% of dogs and 59% of cats are clinically overweight or obese.
Treatment of Arthritis in Dogs
Some of the most sought after treatment for Arthritis in dogs include;
a. Joint Supplements
Vets will prescribe Glucosamine and chondroitin to improve joint function, reduce inflammation, increase water retention in the cartilage, and slow the progression of joint damage.
Green-lipped mussel or GLM is another most prescribed joint supplement ingredient that contains beneficial nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, glycosaminoglycans, and antioxidants.
The treatment of severe arthritis includes prescribing pain control medications such as Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs don’t only reduce pain but also decrease inflammation in the joints.
The continued use of NSAIDs has significant side effects such as poor liver or kidney function.
c. Weight Control
Weight control is one of the most effective ways to prevent arthritis in dogs. Often dogs with the problem of obesity may encounter issues with joints and cartilage. The long-term effects of obesity include Osteoarthritis.
Weight control is mainly done through food portion control and hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is a technique of cutting unnecessary body weight. In pets, the hydrotherapy helps to focus on their body weight and intensely cut fats. The advantage of hydrotherapy is that water is denser than air, hence providing more regression.
Various veterinary treatments are available to cure arthritis or joint problems in pets. The best option will depend on many factors involving your dog: such as age, the severity of signs, the progression of the disease process and whether they have any other health problems.
If you see any awkward signs from your dog such as lameness, hopping, agitation, etc. please speak to the best veterinarian in Urbandale. Urban Pet Hospital & Resort specializes in medical and pet therapy services in Des Moines