Arthritis is one of the most common diseases in dogs. 20% of dogs will be affected in their lifetime and the problem is not limited to older dogs. Certain dogs are bred to have certain characteristics, such as Corgi’s short legs or the huge size of the Dane. If your dog is a breed that is prone to arthritis problems, you need to be very careful to monitor for symptoms from an early age. While arthritis is most common in older dogs, caused by the natural erosion of the protective cartilage over the years, there can be a number of other causes.
If the dog suffers from a joint problem, such as a dislocation, infection or fracture, any resulting cartilage damage can lead to arthritis. Damage to the ligament or tendons around the joints can also increase the risk. Dogs with inherited conditions, such as hip dysplasia, should be checked frequently for signs of arthritis. Finally, obesity can put a lot of stress on joints and muscles, leading to arthritis problems.
Symptoms of arthritis in dogs
- Preference for certain limbs
- Walking or moving stiffly
- Problem getting up or lying down
- Finding certain positions seems painful
- Reluctance to jump, run or climb
- Touching certain limbs seems to cause pain
What are the symptoms of arthritis in dogs?
If your dog is at risk for arthritis or entering his golden years, you will want to watch closely for signs of arthritis. Dogs often limp or favor certain legs. They can also walk or move very stiffly. They may find certain positions painful and you will notice that they take extra care when they lie down or stand back. You may notice changes in behavior, such as a reluctance to jump up on your favorite chair or to avoid running or climbing stairs. Touching certain limbs can make them scream or pull away in pain.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, take them to a veterinarian for an official diagnosis. They will perform diagnostic tests and check your dog’s medical history for previous injuries or hereditary conditions. It may be something more serious than arthritis, or it may be a temporary muscle pain that will heal over time. Once you have made a formal diagnosis, your veterinarian will help you create a care plan for your dog. Pain medications can help relieve discomfort, and a healthy diet and exercise plan can slow or even prevent disease progression.
What can I do to prevent arthritis?
Canine arthritis is not always preventable. Inherited conditions, aging, and birthmarks can lead to arthritis later in life, regardless of care. However, there are things you can slow down or reduce the effects of arthritis on your dog.
- From the puppy stage, while your dog’s bones are growing, feed your dog a healthy diet and help him maintain a proper weight. If you have a large breed dog, work with your veterinarian to create a diet plan for all stages of your dog’s life.
- Keep your dog active. Some owners take their pet for a short walk every day and sometimes do something very impactful and explosive, such as a weekend trip to the dog park. A dog can wear out very easily if it does not get a stable, routine game. It may not be possible to bring your dog to the park every day, but try to give him time to run and play every day for a short period of time, instead of trying to pack all the fun into one hour a week. If you live near a dog beach, this is a great way for your dog to get low-impact exercise.
- Use ramps when possible. While climbing stairs, from the couch or in bed is not a challenge for you, dogs have much shorter legs than humans. Use ramps or ladders for dogs whenever possible. If you have a toy breed or a breed with short legs, this is especially important. Every time a dog lands on a hard surface, the joints absorb the impact. If jumping and landing are a regular part of daily life, the dog will be at high risk over the years as the cartilage that protects the joints wears out and the bones begin to rub painfully against each other.
Natural treatments for canine arthritis
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for arthritis once it starts. However, there are a few things you can do to make your dog more comfortable. Very simple home remedies will relieve the pain of dog arthritis.
- Your dog may have trouble getting into your bed or may be used to sleeping on the floor. If this is the case, buy a quality mattress for your dog . Make sure the bedding is soft to seal the joints while your dog sleeps. Try to get a sturdy, orthopedic foam bed if possible. Older dogs and dogs suffering from arthritis do well with extra support. If your dog’s bed is in a cold area, take a raised dog bed that will keep your dog a few inches off the floor – the cold makes the pain of arthritis worse.
- Keep your dog as active as possible , but adjust her routine. Try to take a few short walks each day instead of one long walk. If low-impact exercise such as swimming is an option, encourage your dog to do so. Keep playing time gently. Running around in a dog park can be too stressful and when dogs get excited, they tend to forget about the pain and push too hard. Throw a ball short distances in your own yard or park, play a gentle tug game, or just run slowly while your dog chases. As soon as you notice that your dog is starting to limp or favors his legs, stop playing time. Do not allow your dog to jump or stand on its hind legs.
- Give your dog gentle massages every day . The best times are when you wake up, before and after play time and just before bed. See the video below for massage therapy techniques. (The YouTube user expert also has a number of videos for massaging target areas.)
- Control your dog’s weight . The extra weight to carry puts extra pressure on the joints. Put your dog on a diet and encourage him to exercise if obesity is a problem.
- Place a bowl of water, food containers and toy boxes on low tables or in raised feeders . Try to keep them slightly below the level of your dog’s head so that you don’t have to bend over and cause neck and back strain.
- Feed your dog a healthy diet with Omega-3 fatty acids . Omega-3s have been shown to reduce joint inflammation. Buy a special dog food that has at least 60% of the fatty acid content in the form of omega-3. Once you make sure your dog has no allergies, feed him several times a week with foods such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, flaxseed and even cheese. You can also buy supplements to add to your dog’s regular diet.
- Buy ramps and small steps for all the tall furniture your dog uses. Try to eliminate the need for the dog to use stairs. For example, keep his food, water, bedding and toys at the same level of the house where you let him go for walks. That way he will have everything he needs in one place and will not have to climb stairs if he is not next to him. If your dog absolutely needs to climb stairs and you can’t provide a ramp, try adding a grip to the stairs to prevent accidents. Watch your dog not to jump at all and teach him to use ramps and stairs instead.
- Keep your dog’s nails trimmed . When your dog moves around, the nails wear out naturally by rubbing against the ground. If your dog develops arthritis and moves less, his nails will not wear out so quickly. If they outgrow, they will force your dog’s legs to an unnatural angle and cause increased pain.
- Apply heat to the affected areas . The heat increases circulation, stimulates muscles and reduces pain. You can use heating pads or a hot tub in the jacuzzi style. Remember to test the temperature first – hold the heating pad on your wrist or immerse your wrist in water for at least 30 seconds to make sure the temperature is tolerable. The calming effect will last for hours after the heat is removed. You can even buy dog bed warmers that are waterproof and have gum-resistant cords.
- If your dog’s arthritis is already advanced, their mobility may be too limited for any exercise. In this case, dog mobility products can help your puppy get around. You can talk to your veterinary or local pet store or check out an online retailer like handicappedpets.com.
Drug treatment for canine arthritis
There are also a number of medical procedures available to help your dog’s pain if you want anything other than home remedies. Any medicine powerful enough to stop the pain is also powerful enough to cause side effects, so discuss in detail with your veterinarian before starting drug therapy. Some commonly used medications for canine arthritis are:
- NSAIDs (NSAIDs): These are the same drugs that many people take to stop joint pain, such as Aleve. However, your dog will receive a much lower dose, so don’t grab anything from the medicine cabinet that you give your dog. NSAIDs have the same side effects in dogs as in humans: they slow down the blood clotting process, cause damage to the kidneys, stomach and intestines, and cause loss of appetite and diarrhea.
- Tramadol: This medicine works in much the same way as morphine in humans: it changes the chemistry of your pet’s brain to make it less painful. The drug can cause constipation or stomach problems, and overdose can cause seizures and damage to the nervous system. However, if applied correctly, there is a small risk of side effects.
- Drugs: They are usually reserved for extreme situations because they are drugs controlled by the DEA. While humans tend to associate drugs with addictions, dogs do not self-administer the drug and are therefore not at risk. They can do a lot to relieve pain with minimal side effects, but veterinarians may be hesitant to administer medications that can lead to potential lawsuits if people control them.
- Corticosteroids: These drugs are anti-inflammatory and reduce swelling in the joints to reduce pain. However, they come with a number of side effects and are not effective in the long run. Pets usually turn to corticosteroids when all other options are gone, and they provide the last few painless months before making the difficult decision to leave your pet.
A number of other medicines are available and each medicine will work differently in each case. Talk to your veterinarian about all available options before starting drug therapy.