What Causes Arthritis In Dogs?
Arthritis is one of the most common diseases in canines. 20% of dogs will be affected in their lifetime, and the problem isn't limited to older dogs. Certain dogs are bred to have certain features, like a Corgi's short legs or a Great Dane's immense size. If your dog is of a breed that is prone to arthritis problems, you should take great care in watching for symptoms from a young age. While arthritis is most common in older dogs, caused by the natural erosion of protective cartilage over the years, there can be a number of other causes.
If the dog suffers a joint problem, such as a dislocation, infection, or fracture, any resulting cartilage damage could lead to arthritis. An injury to ligament or tendons around joints can also increase risk. Dogs with inherited conditions, such as hip dysplasia, should be checked often for signs of arthritis. Finally, obesity can place a lot of stress on joints and muscles, leading to problems with arthritis.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
- Favoring certain limbs
- Walking or moving stiffly
- Trouble standing up or laying down
- Seeming to find certain positions painful
- Unwillingness 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 is entering his golden years, you'll want to keep a close look out for signs of arthritis. Dogs will often limp or favor certain legs. They may also walk or move very stiffly. They may find certain positions painful, and you'll notice them taking extra care when lying down or standing back up. You may notice changes in behavior, such as an unwillingness to jump up on what used to be a favorite chair, or avoiding running or climbing stairs. Touching certain limbs may cause them to cry out or recoil 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 prior injuries or inherited conditions. It may be something more serious than arthritis, or it might be a temporary muscle ache that will heal in time. Once you have an official diagnosis, your vet will help you create a plan to care for your dog. Pain medications can help ease discomfort, and a healthy diet and exercise plan can slow or even prevent progression of the disease.
What Can I Do To Prevent Arthritis?
Canine arthritis is not always preventable. Inherited conditions, aging, and inbred traits can all lead to arthritis later in life, regardless of care. However, there are things you can to to slow or reduce the impact of arthritis on your dog.
- From its puppy stage, while your dog's bones are growing, feed your dog a healthy diet and help it maintain a proper weight. If you have a large breed dog, work with your vet to create a diet plan for all stages of your dog's life.
- Keep your dog active. Some owners only take their pet on a short walk each day, and occasionally do something high-impact and explosive, like a weekend trip to the dog park. Your dog can wear itself out very easily if it isn't getting steady, routine play. It may not be possible to bring your dog to a park each day, but try to give it time running and playing each day for 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 an excellent way for your dog to get low-impact exercise.
- Use ramps wherever possible. While getting up the stairs, off the couch, or into bed is not a challenge for you, dogs have much shorter legs than humans. Use ramps or dog stairs wherever possible. If you have a toy breed or breed with short legs, this is especially important. Each time a dog lands on a hard surface, the joints are absorbing the impact. If jumping and landing is a regular part of every day life, your dog will be at high risk over the years, as cartilage protecting the joints wears down and the bones began to painfully rub against each other.
Natural Treatments For Canine Arthritis
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for arthritis, once it sets in. However, there are a number of things you can do to make your dog more comfortable. Many simple home remedies will ease your dog's arthritis pain.
- Your dog may have trouble getting into your bed, or it 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 cushion the joints as your dog sleeps. Try to get a firm, orthopedic foam bed if possible. Older dogs and dogs suffering from arthritis do well with the extra support. If your dog's bed is in a cold area, get a raised dog bed that will keep your dog a few inches off the floor- the cold aggravates arthritis pain.
- 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 like swimming is an option, encourage your dog to do it. Keep play time gentle. Running around at the dog park may be too stressful, and when dogs get excited they tend to forget about the pain and push themselves too hard. Throw a ball short distances in your own yard or a park, play a gentle game of tug-o-war, or simply jog slowly while your dog chases you. As soon as you notice your dog starting to limp or favor a leg, end playtime. Don't allow your dog to jump or stand on its hind legs.
- Give your dog gentle massages each day. The best times are when waking up, before and after play time, and right before bed. See the video below for massage therapy techniques. (The YouTube user expertvillage has a number of videos for massaging target areas as well.)
- Control your dog's weight. Extra weight to carry puts extra pressure on joints. Put your dog on a diet and encourage it to exercise if obesity is a problem.
- Place water bowls, food dishes, and toy boxes on low tables or in raised feeders. Try to keep them just slightly below head level for your dog, to avoid it needing to bend down and cause neck and back strain.
- Feed your dog a healthy diet with Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have been proven to reduce joint inflammation. Buy special dog food that has at least 60% of its fatty acid content in the form of omega-3. After making sure your dog has no allergies, feed it foods like salmon, tuna, mackeral, flaxseed, and even cheese a few times a week. You can also buy supplements to add to your dog's regular food.
- Buy ramps and small steps for all high furniture that your dog uses. Try to remove the need for your dog to use stairs. For example, keep his food, water, bedding, and toys on the same level of the house where you let him out for walks. That way, he will have everything he needs in one place and not need to climb stairs if he is not up to it. If you dog absolutely has to climb stairs and you can't provide a ramp, try to add gripping to the stairs to prevent any accidents. Monitor your dog to prevent it from jumping at all, and teach it to use ramps and stairs instead.
- Keep your dog's nails trimmed. When your dog moves around, nails wear down naturally through friction with the ground. If your dog develops arthritis and moves around less, its nails will not wear down as quickly. If they get overgrown, they will force your dog's feet to an unnatural angle, and cause increased pain.
- Apply heat to affected areas. Heat increases circulation, stimulates muscles, and lessens pain. You can use heating pads or a jacuzzi-style warm bath. Be sure to test the temperature yourself first- hold the heating pad on your wrist or dip your wrist into the water for at least 30 seconds to make sure the temperature is bearable. The soothing effect will last hours after the heat is removed. You can even buy heated pads for dog beds that are waterproof and have chew-resistant cords.
- If your dog's arthritis is already in an advanced stage, their mobility may be too limited for any exercise at all. In this case, dog mobility products may help your pup get around. You can talk to your vet or local pet store, or check out an online retailer like handicappedpets.com.
Medical Treatments for Canine Arthritis
A number of medical treatments are also available to help with your dog's pain, if you want something in addition to home remedies. Any drug powerful enough to stop pain is also powerful enough to cause side effects, so have a thorough discussion with your vet before starting drug therapy. Some common drugs used for canine arthritis are:
- NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): These are the same drugs many people take to stop joint pain, such as Aleve. However, your dog will get a much lower dose, so do not grab anything out of the medication cabinet to give to your dog. NSAID's have the same side effects in dogs as they do in humans: slow the blood clotting process, cause damage to the kidneys, stomach and intestines, and cause lack of appetite and diarrhea.
- Tramadol: This drug works almost the same way as morphine would in a human: it alters your pet's brain chemistry to feel less pain. The drug can cause constipation or stomach problems, and overdoses can cause seizures and nervous system damage. However, if administered properly, there is a low risk of side effects.
- Narcotics: These are generally reserved for extreme situations, as they are DEA-controlled drugs. While humans tend to associate narcotics with drug addiction, dogs are not administering the medicine themselves and therefore are not at risk. They can do a lot to relieve pain with minimal side effects, but vets may be hesitant to administer drugs that can lead to potential lawsuits if humans get a hold of 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 an effective long-term plan. Vets normally turn to corticosteroids when all other options are gone, and they provide a few final pain-free months before making the difficult decision to put your pet down.
There are a number of other drugs available, and each drug will act differently in each case. Talk to your vet about all available options before beginning any drug therapy.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2013 brokenmeadows
Kim on May 22, 2017:
My Rottweiler is 10 years old she has arthritis in her right front leg and sometimes the pain hurts her so bad she hopes she takes glucosemine and I give Aleve what else can I do as I can't afford the vet expense right now I live on one income and it's minimum wage .
Emaida on May 19, 2017:
My dog has arthritis it is so sad but this so helped
Marion on July 12, 2016:
bear is a soft haired 11 year old Wheaten Terrier, he has a large swelling in his joint at the top of right leg. He is in terrible pain and can hardly walk. We had an x ray done and it's not broken or a tumor, we give him antibiotics and pain meds, this is not working, we put heating pad and it seems to help. The Vet suggested surgery , We live on pensions and it will be over 3,000. I was hoping to see if anyone has any suggestions, Bear was overweight, we have put him on a special diet, he also takes Glucosamine
Lily on May 24, 2016:
Lots of great information contained in this hub! I have a 12 year old boxer who has arthritis in both of her knees. She's still pretty active and I take her on a few moderate walks each day, and in the summer when I can we get down to the beach to go for a swim or to a friend's pool. I've found that in addition to keeping her weight under control and keeping her activity at a decent level, using a dog knee brace on both of her arthritic knees tends to help her with stiffness/limping. I got the Ortocanis dog knee brace after looking into them online, and the neoprene is flexible while still giving enough support. And best of all she isn't bothered by them at all, it was stick them on the first day and immediately take her for a walk with no problems. For the time being it seems like it's making her quality of life better.
Geri McClymont on January 02, 2016:
Thank you for the wonderful information here about caring for our aging dogs and above all, for communicating that we need to honor our pets in their old age. I recently read several stories about animal abuse -- tears me up when I read those stories-- so it is so encouraging to see your obvious concern for the well-being of dogs in their old age. We need to love and care for our pets from the moment we have them until they are no longer with us.
Samson on January 20, 2015:
Hey! This is my first comment here so I just waentd to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading through your blog posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects? Appreciate it!
Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on August 17, 2013:
Thank you, I hope so, too.
brokenmeadows (author) on August 14, 2013:
Thanks Blossom, I hope everything goes well with your pup!
Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on August 14, 2013:
Thank you for a very helpful hub. My little four-legged friend is twelve and is now limping noticeably and sometimes stumbles when she tries to lift her back leg as it seems to be a front leg that is sore. She loves to sleep in an armchair and I tried putting some steps in front to help her get up and down, but she takes a flying leap instead to avoid them and then stumbles when she lands, so I've had to give up that idea. Thank your for the useful hints.
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on August 12, 2013:
Informative hub. Our 3 dogs are all seniors and all have arthritis that bothers them every now and then. We walk them every day- even if it is just to the park to keep their legs strong and don't let them get overweight. They also take glucosamine and fish oil pills. We keep rimadyl in the house just in case they have a flare up too. Voted this hub up!