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Dog Arthritis 101
December 1, 2023

Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that occurs when the soft tissues surrounding the bones wear down. This is very common in our canine buddies. As many as 80 percent of dogs show signs of arthritis by the age of eight! Understandably, arthritis and its associated pain will negatively impact your pet’s health, happiness, mobility, and quality of life. Although veterinary medicine has come a long way in recent decades, there is sadly no cure for canine arthritis. The good news is that you can manage your dog’s arthritis pain and help him live a long, happy life. A local Gaithersburg, MD veterinarian discusses canine arthritis in this article.

Arthritis Pain in Dogs: What Pet Owners Need to Know

Canine arthritis is quite similar to human arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent form of arthritis in both humans and pups. This condition results from the gradual deterioration of cartilage between joints. In dogs, weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, shoulders, wrists, and knees, are usually affected. As the cartilage thins and loses its elasticity, it leads to friction, swelling, and inflammation, eventually becoming a source of great (and ongoing) discomfort for our furry friends. To make matters worse, some dogs also develop bone spurs, which make the condition even more painful. 

How Does Arthritis Affect Dogs?

In most cases, simple wear and tear is the leading cause. However, that isn’t the only culprit. Diet plays a significant role as well. If your canine friend didn’t receive proper nutrition as a puppy, he may also have an increased risk of osteoarthritis as he ages. Any problems during that crucial growth spurt can lead to issues later on. (This is particularly common in larger breeds, as they grow so quickly.)

Genetics, exercise level, injuries, and health issues can also contribute to or exacerbate arthritis in dogs. Certain breeds, like German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, Pugs, and Golden Retrievers, are particularly susceptible. 

Your furry friend’s fitness regime is also very important. Too much or too little exercise, or the wrong type of exercise, all increase the risk. Repeated jumping or standing can also put extra strain on Fido’s joints and worsen the condition. 

There are a few other potential causes as well. Arthritis can occasionally develop as a secondary effect of a more complex condition, like an autoimmune deficiency. Additionally, dogs who have experienced broken bones or damaged ligaments may be at higher risk, as are obese pooches and those with issues such as hip and elbow dysplasia, osteochondrosis, or diabetes. To learn more about how these factors may affect your dog’s risk for arthritis, reach out to your Gaithersburg, MD veterinarian.

What Are Some Arthritis Symptoms In Dogs?

Fido can’t clearly communicate to let you know when something is bothering him, so it’s important to watch for potential warning signs. Lameness is usually the first indication. You may notice your furry companion appearing stiff and sore, or perhaps having trouble standing up. That limp may initially disappear as your pooch moves around and warms up, but it will only get worse over time. Additional red flags include sluggishness, decreased appetite, lack of interest in play, and hesitancy or difficulty with activities like jumping, climbing stairs, or entering and exiting the car. You might also notice Fido losing his enthusiasm for things like exploring new trails, chasing squirrels, or visiting the dog park. You may also spot changes in your pet’s behavior, such as irritability or despondency. Inappropriate elimination can also be a red flag, especially if your canine buddy has to climb stairs to go outside.

What Is The Average Age Of Onset Of Arthritis In Dogs?

Approximately one in five dogs show signs of osteoarthritis by the age of one. However, arthritis can appear at any time in Fido’s life. Don’t forget that our canine pals all age differently. Big dogs reach their golden years before small breeds. For instance, a Saint Bernard can be considered a senior at the age of seven, while a Chihuahua is usually not considered a senior until he is about ten.

Does A Dog’s Arthritis Pain Come On Suddenly?

The pain of arthritis usually starts gradually, but continually worsens. However, sometimes the pain and symptoms accelerate rapidly. Cartilage does not have nerves, so Fido may not feel any pain until that tissue loses its ability to protect his joints. Unfortunately, that means you may not notice anything until the condition has become quite serious.

Arthritis Treatments for Dogs

There are a variety of treatment options for canine arthritis, ranging from supplements to surgical procedures. Options will vary depending on the stage and type of arthritis. If your furry buddy is displaying symptoms or is perhaps at risk due to his breed, health, or history, schedule a check-up with your veterinarian. Once a diagnosis is made, your vet can go over options with you, and help you determine the best course of action for your furry friend. 

Keep in mind that veterinary medicine is complex and differs from human medicine in many ways. Many human medications are toxic to dogs. Only give Fido medication that has been specifically recommended by your vet. 

In addition to medication, physical therapy may also be helpful. Surgery is an option for some pups, but your veterinarian may recommend alternative therapy, such as massage or physical therapy, first. Laser therapy is also becoming quite popular. 

Keeping Fido Comfy 

Home care is also important. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to ease your dog’s joint discomfort. A balanced diet is essential. Certain supplements, such as glucosamine, may be beneficial as well. Keep a watchful eye on your furry friend’s physique, and address any weight gain promptly. Paw care—particularly nail trims—are also helpful.

Keep in mind that cold/damp weather can exacerbate arthritis. Just like people, dogs often get stiff and sore when it’s chilly. Dogs with thin fur may also need sweaters on frigid days. Your canine buddy will also need a quality orthopedic bed. Or two. Or three.

How To Exercise A Dog With Arthritis

Dogs with arthritis often experience discomfort while running and playing. That joint pain can definitely take the fun out of playing Fetch. However, it’s important not to let Fido become a couch potato. That will eventually cause muscle loss, and will just worsen his pain and overall physical condition. Plus, this increases the chances of your pooch becoming overweight, which will also only make matters worse. 

Generally, most of our canine buddies require at least a daily walk to maintain good health. When possible, swimming is also an excellent choice, as long as it’s something your dog enjoys. Every dog is different, so ask your Gaithersburg, MD vet for specific doggy workout recommendations.

What Can I Do To Prevent My Dog From Getting Arthritis?

While it is impossible to ensure your furry best friend will never develop arthritis, taking proper care and preventative steps can greatly impact Fido’s health and well-being. A healthy diet is essential, as excess weight can create strain on their bones and joints. This isn’t mere speculation. A study conducted by the University of Glasgow and Utrecht revealed that weight loss can both improve mobility and decrease lameness in arthritic dogs. It is also important for Fido to regularly visit his veterinarian for physical exams, monitoring, and overall wellness care.

Conclusion: Arthritis is common, serious, and painful, but while it can’t be cured, it can be managed. Keep an eye out for warning signs of canine arthritis, and contact your Gaithersburg, MD vet as soon as possible if you notice any of them.

Our Advice on Dog Arthritis

What is arthritis, and how does it commonly affect dogs?

Arthritis in dogs is a degenerative joint disease causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. It typically affects older dogs, causing reduced mobility and quality of life. Common signs include limping, reluctance to move, and noticeable discomfort during activities. Early management is crucial.

What are the typical signs and symptoms of arthritis in dogs?

Typical signs of arthritis in dogs include limping, stiffness, especially after rest, reduced activity, reluctance to jump or climb stairs, visible joint swelling, and whimpering when moving. They may also show a decreased interest in play and changes in behavior due to discomfort.

What factors contribute to the development of arthritis in dogs?

Factors contributing to dog arthritis include aging, genetics (certain breeds are more prone), obesity, joint injuries, and repetitive stress from activities. Improper diet and insufficient physical activity can worsen the situation. Early intervention can help manage these risks.

How can I make my home more comfortable for a dog with arthritis?

To make your home more comfortable for an arthritic dog, provide a soft, orthopedic bed for joint support. Keep floors slip-free, use ramps for stairs or vehicles, and maintain a warm, draft-free environment. Regular, gentle exercise and weight management are also crucial for comfort.

What are the best exercises for a dog with arthritis?

For dogs with arthritis, low-impact exercises are best. Regular short walks, swimming, and controlled leash walks provide joint-friendly movement. Avoid strenuous activities like running or jumping. Consistency is vital; gentle daily exercise helps maintain mobility and manage discomfort.

Contact us, your local Gaithersburg, MD veterinary clinic, if you have any questions about the health or care of your dog.