How to Help Dogs with Arthritis Coping with Joint Pain in Your Dog

How to Help Dogs with Arthritis
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When arthritis strikes, it can be very debilitating and painful for older dogs. Learn how to cope with arthritis in your dog.

If your dog is having trouble laying down and getting up, you may think you're seeing the inevitable signs of aging. While to an extent the degeneration of joints that comes with aging can't be avoided, much like for humans, research into arthritis treatments has made many arthritic dogs far more comfortable as they mature into their golden years. Here's how you can help dogs with arthritis.

What Is Arthritis?

There are two types of arthritisโ€”a degenerative form that can occur during the normal aging process and an infectious form that can be caused by an infection or immune system disorder. In degenerative arthritis, which may affect one or two joints, the cartilage that protects the bones in the joints wears away. In inflammatory joint arthritis, which typically affects several joints throughout the body, the cause of the inflammation can be a bacterial infection such as that from a tick borne-disease like Rocky Mountain spotted fever or an immune-system disorder like lupus.

Signs of Arthritis

Much like for humans, the signs of arthritis in dogs include difficulty in laying down or getting up, lameness or stiff gait, slowing down on walks, and reluctance to play. Other signs include personality changes or cringing/flinching when being touched. 

Treatment for Arthritis

For dogs with infectious arthritis, the root cause of the issue needs to be diagnosed by a veterinarian to determine treatment. For degenerative arthritis, several treatments are available to give dogs greater comfort such as painkilling medication or a program of exercise and rest. Swimming is often recommended by vets as a good form of exercise that takes pressure off the joints.

Many dog owners also report seeing benefits with adding supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin, methylsulfonyl methane (MSM), and/or hyaluronic acid to a dogโ€™s diet. A few prime examples are Dasuquin and Cosequin.

Other options for degenerative arthritis include prescription medication such as carprofen (trade name: Rimadyl), polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (trade name: Adequan), firoxoxib (trade name: Previcox for dogs), and meloxicam (trade name: Metacam). Surgery or laser therapy may also be an option. Your veterinarian can help you weigh your dogโ€™s options.

Diet and Arthritis

The risk of developing arthritis is increased when a dog faces particular stresses on his joints. One way to help prevent arthritis is to ensure that your dog is fed a complete, balanced and healthy diet. If youโ€™re unsure of what that means, talk with your veterinarian. If your dog is overweight, they are at greater risk of developing arthritis, and if they are already arthritic, the extra weight puts a greater burden on already overtaxed joints.

Quality of Life

Like people, dogs with arthritis canโ€™t often do the things they could before. Arthritic dogs have more difficulty getting up into cars or onto a couch or bed. Products like pet stairs can help both you and your dog by allowing them the access to those favorite places while also helping you by not having to lift them.

Your dogโ€™s sleeping place should be warm, dry, and comfortable. Orthopedic and heated or thermo-regulating pet beds can provide more comfort to arthritic dogs.

The Complete Guide To Dog Arthritis

Arthritis is one of the most commonly diagnosed sources of pain in older dogs. Itโ€™s estimated that as many as one in five adult dogs will be affected by canine arthritis. Here weโ€™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 dogโ€™s joints. Itโ€™s caused by the cartilage that cushions your dogโ€™s joint bones breaking down, which leads to wearing on the exposed bone. Although itโ€™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 itโ€™s important to monitor your dogโ€™s health, exercise, and weight. A large percentage of arthritic cases develop from injuries or sprains obtained during a young dogโ€™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 dogโ€™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, like Glyco-Flex and Dasuquin for Dogs
  • Painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications, such as Novox, Metacam, or Previcox for dogs.
  • 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 dogโ€™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 โ€“ 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 theyโ€™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 Care

Nutrition for Your Senior Dog
Nutrition for Arthritic Cats and Dogs
All About Aging Dog Care

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.

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