If your dog does develop osteoarthritis, there are ways to improve quality of life by decreasing inflammation, controlling pain, and slowing the progression of the disease. The best outcomes are often found using multiple therapies simultaneously. Here’s how to know if your dog may be at risk, how you can help delay the onset of osteoarthritis, and what to do if your dog is diagnosed.
What is Canine Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is commonly simply called arthritis, and it’s also referred to as degenerative joint disease (DJD). This disease is a progressively worsening inflammation of a joint caused by the deterioration of cartilage. The cartilage may break down due to repetitive stress, injury, age, or disease.
When the joint loses the cushion of cartilage, the result is inflammation, pain, and decreased range of motion. Any joint in the body can develop arthritis, though it’s most often the limbs and lower spine that are impacted.
Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Is My Dog at Risk?
Osteoarthritis is typically found in older dogs. However, dogs at any age may develop it. There are a number of factors that may predispose your dog to osteoarthritis, including:
- Breed—large or giant breeds
- Poor nutrition
- Injuries like a torn ligament or fracture
- Hip or elbow dysplasia
- Highly repetitive athletic activities like agility and flyball
- Bacterial or fungal infection and tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or others
If your dog has a predisposition to osteoarthritis, you’ll want to be sure to implement the preventive methods mentioned below. It’s also important to have regular vet visits and to be aware of the signs of pain in your dog.
Signs of Arthritis in a Dog
Osteoarthritis isn’t always easy to detect, especially in the beginning. Dogs often hide their pain until it becomes more severe when there is more damage to the joint(s). If you notice any of the following signs in your dog at any age, schedule an appointment with your vet.
- Unwilling to play, lay down, or jump
- Sensitive to touch
- Panting or excessive licking
- Barking or whining with no explanation
- Weight gain
- Difficulty pottying or having accidents in the house
Pain can be very subtle, so keep a close eye on your dog. If you notice any of these signs, and especially more than one, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your vet right away.
What Can I Do If My Dog Has Osteoarthritis?
To diagnose your dog, your vet will perform a full examination and will assess your dog’s range of motion. Your vet may also suggest x-rays as they show the degree of damage in a joint.
There are a number of things you can do around your home to make it easier for your dog. First, consider slip-free flooring if you can, like carpeting or even area rugs and runners. Keep your dog’s nails trimmed and trim any fur on their paws to help keep them from slipping.
Invest in an orthopedic bed if you can, and provide raised dishes so your dog doesn’t have to bed so far to eat and drink. You might need a ramp or steps to help your dog access their favorite spots and get into the car.
And speaking of steps, you might want to prevent access to stairs as the osteoarthritis progresses unless you’re around to assist. A baby gate can work well for this.
Treatments for Osteoarthritis
There are many different treatments for osteoarthritis. Some of them are beneficial as a preventive, and all can be used following diagnosis. Here are the top options.
Supplements are safe and effective ways to help reduce inflammation and slow joint damage progression. Two of the most common supplements are glucosamine and chondroitin. MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is also used, and commonly combined with glucosamine and/or chondroitin.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil and green-lipped mussel are also recommended, which are good for the skin and joints. They can be used at any age and are often considered a helpful preventive.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like Rimadyl, Metacam, and others) are commonly prescribed for dogs with osteoarthritis. They help to reduce inflammation as well as pain, making them very effective with this disease.
These drugs can have significant side effects, though. If you decide to give them to your dog, your vet will discuss the risks and will recommend regular blood work to monitor.
Please never give human pain medications to your dog unless directed by a veterinarian, as they can cause life-threatening side effects. NSAIDs will be prescribed specifically for your dog and human NSAIDs are generally not used.
Maintaining a healthy weight is a good idea for all dogs of any age, whether they have osteoarthritis or not. For dogs with the disease, it’s especially critical to not carry excess weight on their already damaged joints. Not only will extra weight cause additional pain, but it can cause the cartilage to break down faster. Obesity can also cause other diseases, so keep your dog healthy and trim.
Physical rehab is another great way to help your dog with osteoarthritis before and after the diagnosis. Canine rehab vets are trained on proper weight management and implementing an exercise plan to help your dog maintain muscle, important for arthritis.
Many rehab vets also use alternative therapies to help your dog by promoting healing and managing pain. Cold laser therapy and an Assisi Loop can be beneficial, as well as acupuncture, massage, and exercise.
Osteoarthritis in Dogs Can Be Manageable With Help
No owner wants their dog to develop osteoarthritis. However, there are a lot of effective options to help most dogs maintain a great quality of life. It’s all about mobility and effectively managing pain to maintain a good quality of life.