Arthritis is one of the most commonly diagnosed sources of pain in older dogs. It’s estimated that as many as one in five adult dogs will be affected by canine arthritis. Here we’ll help you understand the warning signs for dog arthritis and offer basic treatments and lifestyle changes that will help your dog life a more comfortable, happy life.
What is Dog Arthritis?
Arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis, is a degenerative joint disease characterized by inflammation and pain in your dog’s joints. It’s caused by the cartilage that cushions your dog’s joint bones breaking down, which leads to wearing on the exposed bone. Although it’s possible for arthritis in dogs to be caused by an immune disorder, that is much rarer than osteoarthritis.
Arthritis can be caused by many things, including just natural aging and joint wear from a lifetime of play. But there are risk factors. Animals with hip dysplasia can be at an increased risk for arthritis, so it’s important to monitor your dog’s health, exercise, and weight. A large percentage of arthritic cases develop from injuries or sprains obtained during a young dog’s growth period. So in many cases, responsibility for helping prevent arthritis rests in your hands.
But some factors are beyond your control. Large dogs, for instance, will always be at more risk of arthritis because of the heavier stress put on their joints.
Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
- Favoring a limb or limping
- Walking stiffly
- Difficulty or stiffness standing or sitting
- Swollen or sore joints that seem painful to the touch
- Behavioral changes, such as hesitancy to play or climb stairs
If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms of joint pain for more than a week, your veterinarian may recommend an arthritis evaluation. A physical examination and diagnostic tests like x-rays will help diagnose arthritis. Your vet may also look into your dog’s medical history for evidence of possible genetic predispositions or previous injuries that might have led to the disease.
Treatments for Arthritis in Dogs
Unfortunately, degenerative joint disease does not have a cure -- rather, treatments are geared toward improving or maintaining joint mobility and reducing pain. Your veterinarian will work with you on a treatment plan to make your dog comfortable. This may include:
- Supplements or a special diet to promote joint health and maximize cartilage production
- Painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications
- A low-impact exercise regimen or physical therapy (water therapies have shown great promise)
- Weight loss, if your dog is over the recommended guidelines for the breed
- Holistic treatments such as acupuncture and massage that may help alleviate symptoms of pain
- Surgical intervention is usually a last resort for treatment and may involve hip replacements or fusing joints
How to Make an Arthritic Dog More Comfortable
Once you have an arthritis diagnosis and treatment plan, there are some environmental and routine changes you can make at home for your dog’s comfort:
- Switch to gentle play sessions and slower, leashed walks.
- Provide soft bedding or consider purchasing an orthopedic foam dog bed
- Raise feeding and water bowls off the ground, to avoid neck strain
- Some places on your dog may be difficult for them to groom – help keep their coat healthy with regular brushing sessions to compensate for decreased flexibility
- Use a portable ramp to help your dog access the car, sofa, or any other place they’d normally climb or jump to reach
By diagnosing arthritis early and creating a treatment and lifestyle plan, you can make your dog comfortable and content for years to come.
More on Dog Arthritis
How To Help Dogs with Arthritis
Nutrition for Arthritic Dogs and Cats
How Healthy Dog Weight Can Prevent Disease
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.