Arthritis in dogs is a very common, but often misunderstood, condition. At present, over 14 million pets in the U.S. have some form of arthritis. While the symptoms and treatment of arthritis are fairly well known, what is less understood is the causes for the condition and what can be done to help prevent it in your pet.
As with humans, a dog’s joints are comprised of soft connective tissue and cartilage, which serve as a shock absorber for the bones. When this soft tissue becomes inflamed, the result is dog arthritis. The main difference between arthritis in humans and dogs is that with humans the inflammation is usually the result of natural degeneration that occurs as we age. In dogs it is an entirely different story.
Dogs tend to move differently than people, usually with more energy and speed, and as a result they are more prone to injury. This can be a direct cause of arthritis in dogs, as can a tendency toward elbow and hip dysplasia, as well as tick borne infections or disorders of the immune system. Also, eating a high calorie, high carb diet can cause your dog to put on weight more rapidly, thus adding to the stress on his joints.
Because weight can be such a serious mitigating factor in dog arthritis, it is not surprising that the condition is more common among larger breeds. That being said, it is possible for smaller dogs to develop arthritis as well. Also, while younger dogs may develop arthritis it tends to be more common in older dogs, simply because they have had more time to put stress on their joints or incur injuries that eventually lead to joint damage.
Mark Herreid / stock.adobe.com
Mark Herreid / stock.adobe.com
Symptoms of arthritis in dogs can include difficulty standing, resisting touch or whimpering when touched, sleeping more than usual, gaining weight from a lack of physical activity, loss of interest in exercise or play, reluctance to run or jump and moving slowly or stiffly or favoring one leg. If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms you should take him to the vet for a thorough physical exam.
There are many forms of treatment that can help to alleviate the pain and discomfort of dog arthritis. These include the use of anti-inflammatories, swim or underwater treadmill therapy, massage and stretching, acupuncture and chiropractic adjustment and dietary changes. It is important to ensure that your dog gets a well balanced diet so that weight can be kept under control. Some vets also encourage the use of natural supplements to help promote the regeneration of cartilage.
For dogs and handlers who are active in agility training, the subject of arthritis in dogs can be a difficult one. While it is important for dogs to get a healthy amount of exercise in order to keep their joints flexible and functioning properly, too much exercise can be painful and counterproductive for arthritic dogs. The difficulty is determining how much exercise is too much. Unfortunately, some of the very actions required in agility, including jumping, climbing and running at full speed, may be difficult or even impossible for dogs with arthritis.
Remember, your dog can’t tell you when he’s hurting too much and he is always eager to please, so he won’t instinctively know to stop when he’s in pain. It’s up to you as a responsible owner to be aware of any signs of distress and get your dog the proper diagnosis and treatment so that he can live a long and pain free life.