Arthritis is a common health issue for dogs as they get older that can seriously interfere with their quality of life. If your dog is having trouble jumping up on the couch, walking up or down the stairs, or unable to walk without limping or trembling, this degenerative joint disease may be at the root of the problem.
What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?
Just like people, dogs have cartilage at the ends of their bones within the joints that serve to cushion the impact between the bones as they move around. As dogs get older, this cartilage can erode and weaken, which can lead to inflammation and pain. Arthritis can also be influenced by other factors, including:
- Developmental issues that cause the joint to develop improperly, such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, or luxating patella
- An earlier fracture in the area of the joint
- Previous rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) in the knee that weakens the joint
- Obesity—this extra weight puts pressure on the joints and damages the cartilage
In addition to arthritis, obesity can cause a number of health issues, like kidney, liver, or heart problems, as well as diabetes. It’s essential to help your dog maintain a healthy weight through proper nutrition and exercise.
Dogs at Risk for Arthritis
Any dog can develop arthritis, but it is more common in older dogs and large breeds, such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and Great Danes. It can also occur more often in breeds with hereditary conditions linked to arthritis. For instance, Chihuahuas and Yorkshire Terriers tend to have luxating patella, and Bulldogs, Mastiffs, Saint Bernards, and Labrador Retrievers are prone to hip dysplasia.
Dog Arthritis Symptoms
Many dog parents find themselves asking the question, “Can arthritis in dogs come on suddenly?”
The symptoms of arthritis in dogs often start slowly and get worse over time. Dog parents may miss the early stages of the disease when their four-legged friends are experiencing only a small amount of discomfort. However, as the disease progresses and pain increases, it will become more evident that something is wrong. Some of the signs of arthritis in dogs include:
- Stiffness and difficulty getting up from a sitting or lying down position
- Limping, trembling, or tenderness when walking
- Trouble climbing stairs or jumping up on couches and chairs
- Less interest in going for walks or engaging in other activities
- Behavioral changes, like increased irritability, that occur in response to the pain
If your dog is older, you might think some of these signs are a natural part of the aging process. However, you shouldn’t ignore them, since treatments for arthritis are available and can help your dog get along more comfortably.
Diagnosing Arthritis in Dogs
To diagnose arthritis, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and check the joint areas for pain. Blood tests and X-rays may be ordered to rule out other ailments, such as bone cancer. These diagnostic tests will show how severely the joints have been affected and help guide the treatment plan.
Treating Dog Arthritis
Upon learning that your dog has this condition, one of your first thoughts may be, “How long can a dog live with arthritis?” There is no one answer to this question since each dog’s health and diagnosis can differ from one another. However, it is important to know that arthritis in dogs can’t be cured. The good news is that there are ways to help treat the pain and make everyday activities easier for the dog. Although you and your dog’s daily lifestyle may look a little different your canine companion can still live a long and happy life with proper treatment.
Your veterinarian may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also called NSAIDs, to help reduce inflammation and manage the pain related to arthritis. If your vet prescribes medication for your dog, be sure you clearly understand and follow the dosage instructions.
You should also ask about potential side effects, such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, or vomiting, and find out what to do if they appear. Keep in mind that most long-term medications require follow-up lab work on a regular basis to ensure that liver and kidney functions have not been compromised.
Does your dog refuse to take medication? Get some tips and tricks to giving your dog a pill.
Dogs who are overweight or obese are especially sensitive to the pain of arthritis. If your dog is arthritic, ask your veterinarian to recommend a safe weight loss program that includes both diet and exercise. Dogs with severe arthritis may be limited physically, but your vet can offer advice on how much and what types of exercise your dog can tolerate.
If your arthritic dog is already at a healthy weight, you should take precautions to maintain it. Your dog may resist exercising due to discomfort and start putting on weight before you know it. You may need to adjust your dog’s caloric intake or find some new ways to make exercise fun and less uncomfortable. You should also avoid the temptation to offer extra treats and goodies even if you feel bad for your painful pooch.
You can make adjustments around your home to help make life a little easier for your dog. For example:
- Install ramps or steps – Put in ramps or pet steps to help your dog get to favorite resting spots, like on the couch or bed.
- Raise food and water bowls – Use a small shelf or sturdy box to raise food and water bowls so your dog can reach them more easily without bending down.
- Get a pet bed – Buy a soft pet bed, if you don’t have one already, so your dog can comfortably rest.
- Add carpeting for better traction – Consider putting in carpeting or secure rugs to help your dog gain traction and stay steady on their feet.
- Assist your dog – Help your dog manage by carrying your pooch up the stairs or lift them into the car whenever possible.
If you lift or carry your dog, be careful you don’t injure yourself, especially if your four-legged friend is of the larger variety. And take care not to irritate inflamed arthritic joints. Not only will you cause your dog discomfort, but you could also cause an accident or injury since your dog might jump out of your arms or nip at you if gripped by sudden pain.
There are natural supplements available that may help your dog’s arthritis. These include glucosamine and chondroitin, which can help support joint health and rebuild cartilage. You should always talk with your veterinarian about any supplements you are considering before giving them to your dog.
Surgery can be an option, but it is often only used as a last resort since it comes with its own set of risks and complications. For instance, hip replacement surgery might be recommended if the hip is badly deformed in some advanced cases. This surgery has a long recovery period but can be successful in relieving joint pain.
Dogs with arthritis may benefit from various alternative therapies such as massage, physical therapy, hydrotherapy, or acupuncture. Your vet can offer guidance on whether any of these treatments might benefit your dog. Some alternative therapies used to treat eligible conditions can even be covered by pet health insurance.
The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.
title: Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
author: Dr. Mary Beth Leininger