Tips for Managing Arthritis in Dogs

A wire-haired fox terrier stands in a field of dried grass.

Your best friend has always bounded around the backyard and trotted easily by your side during walks. As your dog ages, some of the spring will inevitably go out of his step and you may need to look for products to help your older dog live more comfortably. But if you notice him occasionally having difficulty rising from sitting or avoiding activities he once loved, it’s possible he is showing the early signs of dog arthritis. Among the most common causes of chronic pain in dogs, some form of arthritis afflicts one in five adult dogs in the United States. The joint ailment is among the top ten reasons owners take their dogs to the vet.

Because your best friend is not one to complain, it’s important that you keep an eye on him for symptoms of canine arthritis, especially as he gets on in years. Read on to learn the warning signs of arthritis, what you can do to mitigate the symptoms, and how you can help your dog live with the condition in as much comfort as possible.

What Is Arthritis In Dogs?

Arthritis is the umbrella term for joint pain in dogs. It is really multiple diseases where swelling and stiffness in the joints results in chronic pain and impaired movement. Any joint in your dog’s body can be affected by arthritis, but it predominantly affects the hips, knees, lower back, wrists and elbows.

Types Of Arthritis In Dogs

Osteoarthritis: Also known as degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is by far the most common form of arthritis in dogs, and one of the more common ailments in older dogs. This progressive disease occurs when the cartilage that protects bones and cushions joints begins breaking down. The disintegration of the cartilage leads to a loss of the lubricating fluid that protects the joints. Without cartilage or lubrication, bones in the joints rub against each other, causing inflammation and pain. The breakdown of the cartilage can also lead to painful bone spurs.

Inflammatory Joint Disease: This less common form of arthritis is generally caused by bacterial or fungal infections such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It can also be brought on by hereditary problems with your dog’s immune system.

Risk Factors For Canine Arthritis:

  • Age – Older dogs are more prone to arthritis than their younger counterparts, but arthritis can afflict dogs of any age.
  • Congenital or joint disorders – Hip or elbow dysplasia, conditions characterized by abnormal joint structure and weakness in the supporting muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue around the joint, can eventually lead to osteoarthritis. Dogs with frequent occurrences of a luxated patella, a condition where the knee cap slides out of place, are also at higher risk of arthritis.
  • Obesity – The extra weight an obese dog carries around puts strain on his joints that increases his risk for arthritis.
  • Large dog breeds – Larger breeds of dogs are more prone to arthritis.
  • Injuries – Strains, broken bones, and pulled ligaments increase the risk of osteoarthritis in dogs.
  • Working/Highly-active dogs – The frequent stress placed on the joints of very active and working dogs makes them prone to arthritis.

Tips For Delaying Or Preventing The Onset Of Canine Osteoarthritis

  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight. Keep in mind that an appropriate diet for your dog will depend on his size, activity levels and age.
  • Go to a reliable breeder if buying a purebred dog. The breeder should not breed dogs who have exhibited abnormal joint formation.
  • Don’t let your dog over-exercise, especially as a puppy. While exercise is an important part of managing arthritis, too much exercise can strain joints.
  • Provide a comfortable sleeping space or dog bed for your puppy. With a soft spot to lay their little bodies, your growing puppy is less likely to injure or stress vulnerable joints.

Signs Of Arthritis In Dogs

The first symptoms of arthritis in dogs can be subtle, such as an increase in sleeping, weight gain, and a loss of alertness. New symptoms tend to compound gradually and worsen over time. Early intervention can help mitigate symptoms and progression of the disease. Here’s what you should watch for:

  • Limping or favoring a limb (can be intermittent)
  • Avoiding physical activities once handled easily, such as jumping off the couch, racing after tossed dog toys or climbing the stairs
  • Difficulty rising or moving
  • Stiffness after exercise or periods of stillness
  • Swollen joints
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Growling or nipping when joints are touched
  • Disinterest in physical activity
  • An increase in licking, biting, or chewing of joints

Treatment And Management Of Dog Arthritis

The treatment plan for your arthritic dog will likely be a combination of medical approaches prescribed by your veterinarian and tender loving care provided by you at home, depending upon the severity and underlying causes of the illness.

Here are the steps you can take to ensure your dog is as comfortable as possible, as well as the medical interventions your vet will consider:

  • If your dog is overweight, you’ll need to help him lose weight to prevent further joint damage caused by those extra pounds.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about dog food containing healthful dietary fat such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid which research shows can slow damage to cartilage, reduce inflammation, and lessen the painful symptoms of arthritis in dogs.
  • Daily moderate exercise is crucial to keeping your dog’s joints limber.
  • A soft dog bed will keep painful joints gently supported while your dog sleeps. Memory foam dog beds are particularly comfortable for senior or arthritic dogs.
  • Dog stairs and dog ramps can help your arthritic dog reach the places he loves – your bed, the car – without undue pain.
  • Raised dog bowls can make meal time more comfortable for an arthritic dog.
  • Massage can help restore blood flow to ailing joints, helping to reduce pain and swelling. There are certified canine massage therapists, but there are also simple techniques you can learn to do at home.
  • Your vet may prescribe Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Glucocorticoids, or steroids, can be given as pills or injections. They are more powerful anti-inflammatories, however their side effects are greater as well, especially if used for extended periods of time.
  • Chondroprotectants are prescription drugs delivered through injection that protect cartilage by blocking enzymes that lead to cartilage breakdown.
  • If joint damage and pain are severe, surgery may be required to remove cartilage debris in the joint, repair bone spurs, or even for joint replacement.

How To Massage Your Arthritic Dog

Massage is a lovely way to bond with your best friend, especially when your days of catch are behind you. It is most beneficial to massage your dog from 10 to 20 minutes, depending upon breed size, in the morning and the evening. Follow these steps, avoiding excessive pressure directly on the joint and backing off if the pain seems to worsen:

  • Pet your dog gently all over.
  • Lightly pet the affected joints to improve circulation.
  • Lightly knead muscles around the joints that can tighten up from arthritis.
  • Rub your hand over your dog’s skin to create friction and further promote circulation.
  • Change up between the light petting over the joint and slightly deeper kneading around the joint.
  • Gently stretch the joint you are massaging.
  • Lightly pet your dog once more all over.
  • End the session by giving your dog his favorite treat.

One of the most difficult things about being a dog owner is seeing your dog in pain. But with help from your vet and a dash of patience, you are sure to find a course of long-term treatment that manages your dog’s pain and improves his quality of life. Your best pal may not bound to the door to greet you like he once did, but the two of you will still have plenty of joyful, tail-wagging days ahead.

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