Arthritis in Dogs: Signs, Causes & Treatment

As your dog ages, it can be heartbreaking to notice her having trouble getting up and around. Fortunately, mobility problems that arise with arthritis in dogs are well-known, and there are a variety of strategies to help your pet with this common canine condition.

 

pug laying down

 

Arthritis in Dogs

The literal definition of arthritis is “inflammation in the joints.” (2) This disease affects one in five adult dogs and is twice as likely in dogs over seven years old. (4) Arthritis is a degenerative disease, meaning it gets worse over time, particularly without treatment.

 

Symptoms and Signs of Arthritis in Dogs

Arthritis and the joint inflammation associated with it cause pain and decreased mobility. Being a degenerative disease, signs of arthritis in dogs tend to appear gradually rather than suddenly.

You should consult with your veterinarian if you notice signs of arthritis in your dog like:

  • Limping

  • Difficulty getting up or lying down

  • Slowing down during or seeming to be in pain after walks

  • Avoidance of stairs or jumping

 

How is arthritis diagnosed?

Your vet will conduct a full physical examination of your dog, including her joints and range of motion. Your vet may also take x-rays to get a closer look at the amount of damage to the cartilage in the affected joint(s).

 

Are there any conditions like arthritis?

There are a wide variety of conditions that could cause mobility problems in dogs. These include degeneration of nerves and/or muscles, injuries like torn ligaments, inflammation in other parts of the body, various diseases, and even nails that need clipping. Since so many conditions could contribute to mobility problems in your dog, it is important to see a veterinarian as soon as you notice that your pet is having trouble moving around.

 

Causes of Arthritis in Dogs

Arthritis is caused when the cartilage in a joint breaks down. A variety of factors can damage cartilage over time, including age, repeated stress to a joint, poor nutrition, obesity, injury, and disease.

 

Breeds Affected

All breeds can develop arthritis, but large breeds such as Labrador/golden retrievers and German shepherds tend to be more susceptible to arthritis due to the increased joint stress that comes with being larger in size.

 

pup laying down

 

Treatment for Arthritis

There is no cure for arthritis. Treating arthritis in dogs is primarily focused on reducing inflammation and managing pain through a variety of strategies:

  • Prescription medication

  • Supplements

  • Physical therapy/massage

Treatment plans vary for each individual dog and often involve a combination of different strategies. Early detection is extremely beneficial in maintaining a good quality of life for your dog for as long as possible. Your vet can help you formulate the management plan that works best for your dog.

Some more advanced treatments, like injectable joint therapy and stem cell therapy, are being developed but should be discussed at length with your veterinarian, as these therapies are more invasive and are not appropriate for every dog.

 

What types of medication will my vet prescribe for arthritis?

Veterinarians may prescribe medications to help manage pain and/or reduce inflammation in arthritic dogs. These medications include:

  • NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): Reduce swelling, pain, and stiffness

    • Examples: Carprofen, deracoxib, firocoxib, meloxicam, aspirin

  • Painkillers: Reduce pain when NSAIDs are not enough (These are used much less often than NSAIDs.)

    • Examples: Gabapentin, tramadol

It is essential to follow your vet’s prescription exactly, even for medications that are available over the counter. Additionally, all medications carry potential side effects, which you should watch for closely. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you think your dog is having a reaction to a medication. 

 

What supplements can help my dog’s arthritis?

Many joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin are readily available and even come as treats. Omega 3 fatty acid supplements may help reduce inflammation in arthritic joints.  Various dog foods are also formulated to potentially improve your dog’s mobility. It is best to discuss all of these options with your veterinarian in order to determine what could be more effective.

When using supplements with your dog, it is important to consider the additional calories these may provide, particularly if your dog is already overweight. Even the best supplements will not be as helpful if excess weight is contributing to your dog’s pain.

Additionally, supplements may not be effective at all and often require more long-term use before benefits may be seen. As with medications, it is very important to give supplements only as your veterinarian directs.

 

Should I try CBD oil with my arthritic dog?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, products may help reduce your dog’s pain, but credible research can be difficult to find given the rapid rise in popularity of CBD products for humans and dogs. More information is likely to become available with the increasing legalization of marajuana across the country. It is best to do your research and consult with a professional before making the decision to use CBD oil with your dog.

 

What types of physical therapy are helpful for arthritis in dogs?

Various therapies can help improve your dog’s mobility, keep him fit and at a healthy weight, and reduce pain. Some of these include:

  • Physical therapy

  • Acupuncture

  • Laser therapy

  • Massage

  • Hydrotherapy/underwater treadmill

  • Aromatherapy

Your vet should be able to refer you to a specialist in at least some of these treatments, such as a canine rehabilitation specialist, licensed veterinary massage therapist, or certified veterinary acupuncturist.

 

What can I do to make things easier for my dog?

Many factors can contribute to arthritis in dogs, so sometimes keeping on top of things that seem unimportant can make a big difference.

  • Trim your dog’s nails regularly to avoid discomfort or interference with walking.

  • Modify your walking routine to ensure that the length of the walk and the temperature/time of day are manageable for your dog. Do not eliminate exercise unless directed by your veterinarian.

A variety of things within your home may be making your pet’s arthritis more difficult without you even realizing it. Many of these things are very fixable. Here are some things to consider:

  • Sleep: Make sure your dog has a supportive and well-cushioned place to relax during the day and sleep at night.

  • Food Placement: Place your dog’s food and water somewhere that he or she can get to easily. If your dog shows discomfort in her neck or back, you may want to purchase a set of elevated bowls. (Before using elevated bowls, consult with your vet to make sure your dog is not at risk for bloat, which is sometimes tied to elevated bowls.)

  • Flooring: Hardwood, laminate and tile flooring can be slippery for your dog and make it harder for him or her to move around safely and comfortably. Placing a carpet or rug in areas where your pet walks the most can be very helpful. Make sure to include non-slip padding or grips under the rug to keep it from slipping.

  • Stairs: Non-carpeted stairs can be slippery for your dog as well. Consider purchasing non-slip treads for your stairs or special “socks” to give your dog’s feet more grip.

  • Getting into the car or onto the bed/couch: Lifting your pet onto these can become exhausting and potentially unsafe for you and your dog. Pet ramps or steps can help your pet remain independent and help save your back!

  • Temperature: Always make sure your pet is in a space that isn’t too hot or too cold, including walks and trips outside. Extreme temperatures can greatly aggravate the discomfort associated with arthritis.

 

Cost of Arthritis Treatment

The cost of arthritis treatment can vary greatly and depends on the methods of treatment used. A modified diet, for example, may cost the same as your dog’s previous food, while an advanced treatment like stem cell therapy could cost up to $2500. (2)  

Pet owners can expect the medication for arthritis to cost at least $300 a year. (6) Additionally, an arthritic dog needs to be seen more often by a vet, which will likely cost at least $50 per visit but can cost much more, especially if x-rays and lab work work being done. (5)

 

Prevention of Canine Arthritis

Good veterinary care is essential in the prevention of just about any canine health condition, including arthritis in dogs. Even if your dog seems healthy, make sure to have him evaluated at least once a year by a qualified veterinarian. This care becomes even more important as your dog ages.

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is perhaps the most significant way to prevent complications of arthritis. Just as is true for people, being overweight causes extra stress on the joints, which can make arthritis more uncomfortable.

 

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References

  1. Merriam-Webster. (2020). Degenerative. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/degenerative?src=search-dict-hed

  2. Nicholas, J. (2020). How to Help an Older Dog with Arthritis and Other Mobility Problems. Retrieved from https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/how-to-help-an-older-dog-with-arthritis-and-other-mobility-issues

  3. Racine, E. (2019). Osteoarthritis in Dogs--Signs and Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/osteoarthritis-signs-treatment/

  4. Straus, M. (2020). Natural Dog Arthritis Treatments. Retrieved from https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/health/natural-dog-arthritis-treatments/

  5. The Simple Dollar. (2019). Pet Ownership Costs Guide for 2020. Retrieved from https://www.thesimpledollar.com/save-money/pet-cost-calculator/.

  6. Turner, A. (2018). 5 Common- and Costly- Conditions that Can Send Your Pet to the Vet. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/09/common--and-costly--conditions-that-can-send-your-pet-to-the-vet.html

  7. WebMD Veterinary Reference. (2018). Pain Medications for Dogs. Retrieved from https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/dog-pain-medications#1