How To Identify Arthritis In Dogs

Knowing if your dog has arthritis can be difficult for any pet owner. If you think your dog might have arthritis or if you want to know how to check for the future, read below to find out more.
Osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a progressive and chronic condition that affects most dogs as they grow older. However, it can also occur at various ages depending on previous injuries, infections, type of breed, lifestyle and genetic makeup.
Dog’s joints have three parts: bones, cartilage and synovial fluid. The bony parts of the joints are covered by a lining of cartilage that acts as a cushion and facilitates the smooth movement of the joints aided by the synovial fluid (lubricant). Due to daily wear and tear, the cartilage starts degenerating over time, leading to friction between the bony parts of the joint and causing inflammation and pain. With time, new bone formation occurs, making these joints thickened and less flexible, and restricting the range of movement and affecting the dog’s mobility as it hurts them when they move.
Dogs are stoic creatures by nature. Generally, they tend to cope well with the first stages of OA. However as the latter becomes worse, it can affect their quality of life dramatically. Some of the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are:

  • Reluctance to run, play, climbs stairs.
  • Slowing down when on a walk or stopping and wanting to go back home.
  • Stiffness, joint swelling and muscle weakness.
  • Occasional or permanent lameness.
  • Discomfort/pain when raising after being asleep.
  • Difficulty in finding a comfortable position when resting.
  • Altered sleep patterns.
  • Pain/heat in the affected joint/s.
  • Consistent licking on the joint/s affected.
  • Change in personality (grumpy when previously affectionate)
If you are concerned that your dog is displaying some or all of these symptoms, please go to your vet for advice. Your Vet will perform a thorough clinical and orthopaedic examination and might suggest further tests to rule out other causes of pain and lameness. X-rays are the most common method to rule out the latter and diagnose OA. Although on occasions, more advanced imaging techniques such as CT, MRI etc., are necessary to reach this diagnosis.
If your dog has been diagnosed with OA unfortunately, there is no cure. However, there are various treatments that (when used in combination) will help your dog to be able to better cope with this condition:
  • Anti-inflammatories and painkillers: OA can cause severe pain when in the advanced stages, and some dogs will need long-term medication to help them maintain a good quality of life. Please discuss with your Vet a long-term management plan to monitor for possible side effects and manage this condition safely.
  • Weight control: Often underestimated, optimal weight can slow down the progression and reduce the pain associated with OA.
  • Exercise: Gentle and regular exercise tailored to each patient, can help to control your dog’s weight, keep them fit and reduce joint stiffness.
  • Joint supplements: Glucosamine, chondroitin and green lip mussel have been clinically proven to protect the lining of the joint and help to slow down its progressive degeneration. There are a large variety of products in the markets of different qualities and strengths. Please do your research and ask your Vet for advice.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Foods and supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids provide an additional natural anti-inflammatory action that is beneficial to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with this condition.
  • Physio/ Hydrotherapy: These treatment modalities are very useful in preserving and building muscle mass and supporting the joints in the process.
  • Surgery: This option is only considered in specific cases, and when all previous therapies have failed to improve the patient’s quality of life.
Additionally, if your dog suffers from OA, there are a few things you can do at home to help them out. These will include regular short walks, using rugs, carpets or non-slip mats around your home to help their grip when they walk and using bedding made with a thick and supportive mattress that is kind to the joints. As we all know, a night of restful sleep does make one feel like a million dollars!
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