Signs of Arthritis in Dogs
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Arthritis?
According to The Arthritis Foundation, one in five dogs in the United States is affected by arthritis. In fact, arthritis is one of the most common chronic pain conditions that veterinarians see in their canine patients.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
Your dog can’t tell you when he is in pain, but there are some symptoms that you can watch for that can alert you to joint pain in your companion. These include:
- Difficulty standing or sitting
- Diminished interest in going for walks or playing
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Sleeping more
- Not wanting to be picked up or cuddled
- Hesitating on stairs
If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, particularly if any of these behaviors is becoming more pronounced and/or more frequent in nature, it is time for a trip to the vet. Your veterinarian can quickly rule out more serious causes of discomfort in your dog and suggest a course of treatment to help your dog live more comfortably.
What Are the Causes of Joint Pain?
Like people, many senior dogs develop problems with their joints. And just like people, these joint problems run the gamut from general stiffness and loss of range of motion to painful inflammation caused by conditions like arthritis.
Joint pain as we age often has its beginnings early in life. Stressed joints and poor mechanics can lead to joint pain. When puppies are not fed a proper diet, their bones, cartilage and muscle do not develop properly in relation to one another. If muscle develops too quickly, tendons and ligaments can be put under significant stress, especially at the point where they attach to the bone. This can lead to poor mechanics and loose joints.
Some joint pain is genetic in nature, and arthritis itself can be genetic. Some dog breeds are prone to joint problems due in part to the way the breed evolved. As an example, Basset hounds have long bodies and thick leg joints, and are very prone to back problems as well as leg joint problems. German shepherds as a breed are very prone to hip dysplasia, a condition where the muscles, ligaments and connective tissue that normally provide support for the hip joint aren’t doing their job, and the hip joint becomes very loose.
What Will Help Senior Dogs With Joint Pain?
Your goal as a responsible pet owner is to keep your pet healthy, happy and comfortable. While joint pain in your senior dog may become chronic, there are things you can do to help alleviate your friend’s pain.
A Trip to the Vet
As noted above, a trip to the vet should be step one. There could be an underlying and more serious problem like cancer, a broken bone or a torn ligament that could be causing your dog pain. Your vet can rule these things out with an x-ray or other diagnostic procedure so that you can get on with effective management of “simple” joint pain. If arthritis or a similar chronic condition is diagnosed, your vet may recommend putting your pet on medication.
Glucosamine for Dogs
Glucosamine is regularly prescribed by vets for the treatment of arthritis. Glucosamine works by helping to decrease inflammation around the affected joint. Though it can't reverse damage that has already occurred, glucosamine can help to strengthen and repair tissue. Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate are now found as additives in many geriatric dog food formulas.
Steroids and Anti-inflammatories
If your dog's arthritic pain seems to be particularly bad, your vet may recommend steroids. Steroids work in dogs similar to the way they act in humans, and they can be very effective in reducing the inflammation and swelling in affected joints. Care needs to be taken to closely monitor a pet on steroids, and long-term use can actually do more damage to bones and joints.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like Aspirin can also be beneficial in the treatment of joint pain and arthritis in dogs. These drugs do have potential side effects, and can cause stomach upset or even stomach bleeding and ulcers.
Never Medicate Your Dog Without a Vet's Approval
Your vet will likely start your dog on a low dosage if steroids or NSAIDs are prescribed, and will ask you to watch for changes in your pet's behavior. Please note...you should never give your dog aspirin or anti-inflammatories without advice from your vet.
You should never give your dog aspirin or anti-inflammatories without advice from your vet.
Watch for Excess Weight
Many dogs gain weight as they age, and this extra baggage can cause stress on older joints. It is up to us as responsible pet owners to make sure that our dogs have a good healthy diet and adequate exercise their whole lives.
Pet food manufacturers have special foods for older dogs. Hill’s Science Diet has a blend called “Healthy Mobility” to help joints and cartilage. It contains both Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate from natural sources, both of which have been found to assist the proper functioning of cartilage and joints, and aid with swelling. Your vet can also recommend prescription foods made especially for joint care and pain management.
Your dog may be slowing down, but exercise is still necessary and beneficial not only to keep excess weight off but to promote bone density and muscle tone and flexibility.
Your dog may still believe in his own mind that he is a young puppy, so it is up to you to regulate the type and amount of exercise he gets. Too much running and especially jumping can cause more wear and tear on already tender joints. Instead of accompanying you on your morning runs, a nice slow “sniffing” walk can be very enjoyable. Swimming is also very therapeutic, and it takes the weight off tired, sore joints.
How to Massage Your Older Dog
Massage and Stretching
You can take your dog to specially trained pet massage therapists, or do it yourself. What better way to help your dog and bond with them at the same time. Gently rub your dog’s muscles and around the joints. They will let you know if the pressure is too much.
Having a proper bed will take pressure off of sore joints and help your dog to get a good nights’ sleep. Nice thick sleeping pads or an old comforter you are no longer using will be especially welcome. A proper canine orthopedic bed may be the answer. They are made from orthopedic foam and come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors.
You might find that your older dog is more sensitive to the cold, and if they have joint pain or arthritis, extreme cold will only make the pain worse. Try to limit your dog's time outdoors when the temperature drops.
Ramps and Stairs
If stairs become too difficult for your dog, you can help by building a ramp so they can still go outside without being carried. Alternatives include wheelchair ramps that can be rented by the month for a reasonable sum.
If stairs are not a problem but jumping onto or down from surfaces is, portable doggy steps are also available to help your dog get up on the couch or bed (you know they get up there when you are out anyway). These slip-proof steps can be stored easily when not in use, and then pulled up to the couch or bed when your dog wants to have a nap.
Managing Canine Arthritis
For more information regarding canine arthritis, please review the website for the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation.
Keep Your Friend Comfortable
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.
© 2012 Kaili Bisson