Joint pain and issues such as arthritis are often associated with older pets or certain breeds of dog, but in actual fact, it can be common with any dog, at any age.
It is true that as they get older, you will start to see the effects of arthritis more prominently. But dogs who are especially active can have issues with joints in general. Those with joint and bone development problems, or who have been injured, will be more prone to joint issues.
Therefore, it is always best to plan ahead and help their joints out as soon as they reach adult age, with the help of dog joint supplements. But if you’ve noticed a change in your dog’s behaviour and activity levels, you may want to look at whether it is an issue with their joints.
What causes arthritis in dogs?
Just as with humans, dogs have cartilage at the end of their bones within the joints. This cushions the impact between the bones as they move around.
When dogs get older, this cartilage can weaken and start to erode, meaning their joints start to rub, causing inflammation and pain. Movement becomes difficult, and dogs will try to avoid it, by slowing down or stopping activity completely.
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is the term used for this progressive deterioration of the joints as a result of the inflammation.
According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, osteoarthritis affects up to one-quarter of dogs and is often the first stage of arthritis in your pet. Risks are often at 20% for younger dogs and reach 65% when they are over the age of 7.
Other conditions can encourage arthritis as well as age, such as:
- Previous injury to the area
- Developmental issues, such as Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia, or Luxating Patella
- Underdeveloped joints in puppyhood, from too much or too little exercise
- Infectious diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus or Lyme disease
These can cause a reduction in activity levels, which encourages the cartilage to erode. But, over-excessive activity levels can also be an issue.
Where in the body does arthritis affect?
The hips, elbows and knees are the leading sites of osteoarthritis in dogs.
These are the joints that are used the most, and so will see the most risk of not just arthritis but overall injuries such as knicks and tiredness aches.
What are the first signs of arthritis in dogs?
The signs of arthritis in dogs is similar to that of cats, and can indeed also cross over to behaviour exhibited by humans.
If your dog shows any signs of the below, they should be taken to a vet as soon as possible. It may not show that they have arthritis, because they can also be a sign of other health problems, but any issues can be diagnosed.
- Tiredness and lethargy
- Stiffness when raising from lying down
- Reluctance to go for a walk
- Not bothering about exercise and play
- Difficulty jumping up or climbing stairs
- Licking areas that could be sore
- Reacting negatively if a certain area is touched, or general irritability
- Leaning to one side when walking
How is arthritis diagnosed in dogs?
A vet will confirm the condition with an exam, radiographs, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or a CT scan. They can then discuss the best form of treatment options depending on the breed, lifestyle and severity of the issue.
Never self-diagnose your dog and take it for granted that they’re suffering from a certain condition. After all, limping or loss of energy could mean an illness, minor or major wound or loss of function in that one limb.
How to cure & prevent arthritis in dogs
In most cases, age-related arthritis can only really be delayed as opposed to prevented entirely, despite best efforts. Unfortunately, there is no cure, and your dog will not fully recover from arthritis.
But, their life can be made easier.
First of all, preparation can be key. Prevention and early intervention offer the best outcomes:
- Keep your dog at a healthy weight
- Ensure they don’t jump up and down too excessively
- Don’t push them too far with exercise, but ensure they get their daily required amount
- If you have them from a puppy, don’t overexercise them
- Give them rest days after long walks. Little and often is best
- Keep their joints in good condition with the use of joint supplements for dogs
Joint supplements for dogs are also beneficial. These can be taken from an early age as a preventative, and when your dog is diagnosed to slow down the progression of the issue.
There are other treatments which can help with pain and inflammation too, such as acupuncture, massages and hydrotherapy, but these are non-traditional and can be pricey.
The risk of some of the conditions which encourage osteoarthritis can also be reduced, such as hip dysplasia. If you’re buying from a breeder, check the parents for health issues and the hip scoring of potential parents.
Other ways to help could include food which can help preserve joint health, and make your dog’s life as comfortable as possible at home:
- Use ramps to help them access the car, human bed or sofa
- If they have their own bed, buy an orthopaedic padded option
- Try to limit slippy floors by adding non-slip rugs to surfaces
- Block off any dangerous areas such as stairs
- Accompany them outside
Surgery is another possible option – complete hip replacements have been seen to make a huge difference to dogs, but again remember that there is no doggy NHS so you need pet insurance that covers joint issues.
What will my dog’s quality of life be like with arthritis?
The prognosis for dogs with arthritis can still be great with due care and attention. As long as they can rest, and avoid long walks or strenuous activity, they can still live comfortably.
There are commonly different stages of arthritis. When your dog reaches stage 4, which is when they can no longer walk and is in obvious constant pain, your vet can give an accurate, personalised recommendation on the next steps, such as euthanasia.
It is a decision nobody wants to take, but if your dog’s ability to move is restricted, this in itself is life-threatening. So, it can be the kindest thing, especially if you have already prolonged their life and made it more comfortable.