By Courtney Prue | July 26, 2023

What Can I do for my Dog with Arthritis?

Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Life Expectancy and Home Management.

Arthritis is a common condition that affects many dogs as they age, and it can be a source of pain and discomfort for our beloved furry friends. As dog owners, we all want to provide the best possible care for our pets, and understanding arthritis and its treatment options is an essential part of that care. We appreciate that this progressive condition means lifelong management for owners, which can be emotionally draining and costly. In this resource, we'll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for arthritis in dogs and offer some helpful tips for managing this condition. We will also touch on pain assessments, quality of life and the value of keeping your beloved pet comfortable for as long as possible.

What is osteoarthritis? What is arthritis in dogs?

Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of chronic pain in dogs, affecting 80% of dogs over the age of 8 and potentially up to 35% of dogs of all ages. OA is a disease that affects all structures within the joint, including the bone, cartilage, joint fluid, and ligaments. As the condition progresses, the joint becomes inflamed and painful, and the dog may experience reduced mobility. If left unmanaged, it can lead to complete joint failure and immensely impact quality of life.

It is commonly and mistakenly described as a disease of the cartilage of a joint, but it impacts the whole body. The pain it creates does not remain confined to the affected joint and local area, with the local pain causing whole-body changes as it works to compensate.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis in dogs, and it is a progressive disease. However, with proper management and care, many dogs with arthritis can live comfortable and happy lives for years. Palliative care can be helpful in the late stages of the disease to keep them comfortable for as long as possible.


What are the signs of arthritis? How do I know if my dog has arthritis?

One of the most challenging parts about arthritis is identifying whether it is there. Our pets are very good at hiding signs of discomfort, and as a chronic disease, the symptoms often come on slowly and subtly. If you are unsure if your dog is in pain, consult a pain scale.

Some signs to look out for in your pet include:
      • Limping or favouring one or more limbs
      • Stiffness, especially in the morning or after periods of rest
      • Difficulty standing up or lying down
      • Collapsed and cannot get up
      • Difficulty finding a comfortable position to lie down, readjusting regularly
      • Reduced mobility or reluctance to exercise
      • Tiring quickly during exercise and lagging behind on walks
      • Avoiding certain activities they used to enjoy
      • Changes in posture, such as a hunched back or a tucked-up tail
      • Reduced activity or lethargy
      • Yelping or whining when touched in certain areas
      • Loss of muscle mass
      • Changes in behaviour, such as irritability or aggression
      • Gait changes, such as wobbly or unsteady walking, dragging their feet, or walking on their toes
      • General signs of pain such as panting, licking or chewing at their joints, varied appetite and more

 

 

 

Is arthritis painful?

If you notice any signs or want to ensure your pet is comfortable, visit your veterinarian for an examination. You can also use pain assessment tools to assess for signs of pain in your dog. Click here to download a comprehensive resource on pain in dogs.

How is arthritis diagnosed?

Diagnosing arthritis in dogs can be challenging since dogs often display subtle behavioural changes, which may be attributed to normal aging or other medical conditions. To explore possible arthritis, your veterinarian will perform or recommend the following diagnostics:

      • Comprehensive history: Your veterinarian will begin by taking an extensive history of your dog’s medical background and recent clinical concerns. They will question you about your observations of your dog’s behaviour and any changes in their activity levels.
      • Physical examination: A thorough physical examination is vital, and your veterinarian will focus on the joints most commonly affected by arthritis, such as the hips, knees, elbows, and spine. They will assess your dog’s posture, muscle mass, and mobility and look for any signs of inflammation or discomfort. They may manipulate your dog’s joints to look for restricted movement and sensations such as crunching or crepitus and signs of pain.
      • Blood tests: Blood tests can help to rule out other medical conditions that may cause similar symptoms, such as infections or immune disorders. They can also assess your pet’s overall health and whether they are healthy enough for medications.
      • Xrays: These can help identify the presence of arthritic changes and show the extent of joint damage and any changes in the bone structure, such as bone spurs or narrowing of the joint space.
      • Joint fluid analysis: If needed, joint fluid analysis may be recommended. This involves taking a fluid sample from the affected joint and examining it under a microscope for signs of inflammation or infection.
      • Advanced imaging: Specialist diagnostic tools like MRI or CT scans may be necessary in more complex cases.

It is important to note that early diagnosis and treatment of arthritis are crucial for managing the condition and preventing further joint damage. If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from arthritis, don’t hesitate to seek out veterinary advice.


What causes arthritis?

Osteoarthritis is often considered an old age disease, but it can affect dogs of all ages. Aside from general age-related wear and tear, the major causes include:

Developmental Joint Disease:
Developmental joint disease is one of the most common causes of arthritis in dogs. Developmental joint disease is a term used to describe a group of conditions that affect the development and structure of the joints in dogs while they are young and growing. These conditions can cause abnormal growth, instability, or malformation of the joints, leading to joint pain, stiffness, and lameness. This can occur in any joint in the body but is commonly found in dogs’ hips, elbows, and knees. The most common developmental joint diseases in dogs include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, and osteochondritis dissecans (OCD).

A combination of genetic and environmental factors often causes developmental joint diseases. The condition may be hereditary in some cases, meaning it is passed down from one generation of dogs to the next. In other cases, environmental factors such as overfeeding or over-exercising a puppy can contribute to developing these conditions. These conditions occur as dogs grow from puppies into adults, meaning that many dogs may have been dealing with joint pain for much longer than noted.

Obesity:
Obesity, or carrying any excess weight, significantly influences the development, progression, and severity of the clinical signs of arthritis. The increased weight of excess fat causes abnormal mechanical loads and forces to be placed through a dog’s joints daily, which increases significantly when the dog does more taxing activities such as running or jumping. It is vital to keep your dog at a healthy body weight throughout their life, so a good balance of nutrition suitable for their breed, age, and lifestyle should be chosen.

A sensible alternative to using breed averages to determine your dog’s ideal body weight is monitoring their body condition score. Consult this resource to work out your dog’s body condition score.

Joint Trauma and Infection:
Any joint inflammation during your dog’s life will predispose it to arthritis later in life.
This includes any injury, such as cruciate ligament rupture, fracture, dislocation or surgery. Conditions such as septic arthritis or immune-mediated polyarthritis will also cause damage to the joints, likely leading to arthritis.

Abnormal Forces:
Abnormal forces that a joint must contend with may influence the development of arthritis. These forces include repetitive actions that cause sudden acceleration/deceleration and twisting, excess weight, and the environment that dogs live in. Early access to slippery floors and stairs, jumping onto/off furniture, and into/out of cars can all contribute to the development of arthritis. Certain games, such as ball chasing, can also contribute.


How can I prevent arthritis in my dog? Is arthritis preventable?

To reduce the risk of arthritis in dogs, owners can take the following practical steps:

      • Keep your puppy and juvenile dog lean: Excess weight not only influences the development of arthritis but also reduces a dog’s lifespan by an average of two years. Regular weight checks and learning to body condition score your dog can help ensure your dog maintains an appropriate weight.
      • Use your veterinary team: Regular orthopaedic health checks, musculoskeletal checks with a veterinary physiotherapist, and help from vet nurse teams for weight checks and body condition scoring are essential in identifying problems early on.
      • Limit access to stairs and slippery floors: Stairs and slippery floors can be dangerous for puppies, and studies show that puppies who have had access to stairs under three months old have an increased risk of hip dysplasia. Covering slippery floors with non-slip flooring, such as rugs and limiting access to stairs can reduce the risk.
      • Be considerate of how much you exercise your pup: Research shows that the type of exercise a puppy or dog is exposed to is more important than the exercise duration. Avoiding trauma to growing joints and avoiding repetitive actions that cause sudden acceleration/deceleration and twisting can help reduce the risk of arthritis.


What if I do nothing about my dog’s arthritis?

Arthritis is a progressive and painful disease that affects dogs of all breeds and ages. If left untreated, the condition will worsen, causing increased pain, reduced mobility, and decreased quality of life for your dog. Although some dogs may be able to cope with mild arthritic changes, the disease will eventually become all-consuming for most dogs, causing them to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and become less interactive with their human companions. Consult a pain management scale to see if your dog might be in pain.

When a dog has arthritis, it will try to avoid using the painful joints, causing its muscles, tendons, and ligaments to weaken over time. This can result in compensatory weight shifting and injuries to other body regions. Central sensitisation can occur, causing the pain to persist even with gentle touches or strokes. The longer the disease goes untreated, the more challenging it becomes to manage the pain and loss of function.

If you do nothing to treat your dog’s arthritis, their condition will worsen over time. Their limbs will weaken, their pain will increase, and their quality of life will deteriorate. Eventually, the dog may be unable to stand or walk, and their interactions with their human companion may diminish or disappear altogether. Elective euthanasia is often considered when the dog’s quality of life has reached a point where it can no longer enjoy life.

However, by intervening early, the progression of the disease can be slowed down, and the dog’s mobility and quality of life can be maintained. Pain can be eased, and the bond between the dog and its human companion can be preserved. Early identification and treatment of arthritis are crucial for successfully managing the disease. If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from arthritis, it is essential to consult with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate management plan.

If they seem increasingly uncomfortable or their quality of life is impacted, palliative care may be the kindest option.


Can my dog’s arthritis be treated? How is arthritis treated? How do I manage my dog’s arthritis at home?

While arthritis is a chronic condition that cannot be cured, many ways exist to manage the situation and improve your pet’s quality of life. All treatment options are aimed at managing the problem, not fixing it
Remember, with many treatment options available, it can be overwhelming at first, but by working with your veterinarian or our team, you will find what works for you and your dog. Caring for a dog with arthritis doesn’t have to be
stressful.

An in-home veterinary assessment can also help identify any other areas of improvement that can help your beloved pet stay comfortable for as long as
possible.

Five key ways to manage arthritis in pets include:

1. Weight Management: Does my dog’s weight impact its arthritis?

Weight management is crucial for arthritis in pets as excess weight increases mechanical forces on joints and contains inflammatory mediators that aggravate pain. Losing just 6% of excess body weight can significantly reduce pain in arthritic dogs. Body condition scoring helps assess whether your dog is overweight.
Consult your veterinarian if you feel your dog is overweight, and they can help you formulate a weight loss plan. Consult this resource to work out your dog’s body condition score.

2. Medical treatment: What treatment options for arthritis in dogs?

When it comes to managing osteoarthritis in dogs, medical treatment is a commonly used option to help manage the condition and improve mobility and quality of life. Several medications are available to manage osteoarthritis symptoms, and they can be used alone or in combination. If you’re worried your dog may be in pain – use our pain scoring tool to find out.
For personalised advice and discussion about medications and possible treatments for arthritis, get in touch with our team.

      • NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs)
        NSAIDs are commonly used to manage osteoarthritis in dogs as they can reduce inflammation and pain associated with the condition. Owners should initially plan to give the NSAID for 2-3 weeks to see the best effect and reassess their dog’s pain status. NSAIDs are more effective and safe for chronic pain if given regularly as prescribed. Some side effects include gastrointestinal upset, vomiting and diarrhoea, kidney and liver damage, and more. Due to this, it is essential to follow instructions closely, always check if they are compatible with other medications and follow veterinary advice regarding blood testing.
      • Grapiprant
        Grapiprant is a new non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is more targeted in its action, resulting in fewer side effects than traditional NSAIDs. The mode of action is appropriate for chronic joint disease in younger animals and is not as effective for severe disease or active inflammation. Common side effects of Grapiprant include vomiting, soft stools or diarrhea, and decreased appetite.
      • Corticosteroids
        Corticosteroids can also be used to manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs. They work by reducing inflammation and suppressing the immune system. However, these drugs should be used with caution as they can cause side effects such as increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, and weight gain. Long-term use of these drugs can also lead to more severe side effects, such as diabetes and liver damage.
      • Bedinvetmab (Beransa)
        Bedinvetmab is a new and exciting injectable medication targeting a protein called Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). NGF plays a role in the transmission of pain signals, and Bedinvetmab works by neutralising NGF, resulting in a decrease in pain signals. Bedinvetmab is administered as an injection every four weeks, effectively reducing pain in dogs with osteoarthritis. Side effects can include vomiting, diarrhea, and lameness.
      • Paracetamol
        Paracetamol is a commonly used pain medication in humans, but it should not be given to dogs unless under the guidance of a veterinarian. Overdosing paracetamol can be fatal to dogs.
      • Pentosan Polysulfate (Cartrophen, Synovan, Zydax)
        Pentosan polysulfate is a medication that helps repair cartilage and reduce inflammation in dogs with osteoarthritis. It is administered by injection and is usually given once a week for the first four weeks and once every 1 to 3 months after that.
      • Gabapentin
        Gabapentin works by blocking the transmission of pain signals to the brain, thereby reducing pain perception, but it does not address inflammation. Gabapentin is generally well-tolerated in dogs and has fewer side effects than other pain medications. The most common side effects include sedation, dizziness, and unsteadiness. In rare cases, it can cause gastrointestinal upset or liver damage.

It is important to note that not all medications are suitable for all dogs, and some may interact with other medicines your dog is taking or has contraindications based on their health condition. Always consult with your vet before giving your dog any new medication, and follow their instructions regarding dosage, administration, and monitoring for side effects.

Please get in contact with our team for further information and guidance.


3. Exercise: Can my arthritic dog exercise? What exercise can I do with my arthritic dog? Is walking good for arthritis?

Arthritis can significantly impact a dog’s exercise capabilities, making it essential to modify their exercise routine to ensure they stay active without aggravating their joints. Exercise is vital for arthritic dogs; they should get 30-60 minutes of modified exercise daily.
Regarding exercise modification, it’s essential to understand that dogs can’t link activity with pain later. Therefore, we must influence their exercise routines to ensure they do everything correctly.

High-intensity activities such as ball chasing or running off-leash can be detrimental to dogs with arthritis, even if they still seem capable of participating. Therefore, it is crucial to replace these activities with more mentally stimulating challenges that won’t put additional stress on their joints—for example, playing hide-and-seek with a ball or practising obedience commands.

It’s also essential to monitor your dog’s energy levels during exercise. Dogs will often continue walking or playing until they are tired or in pain. Therefore, it’s essential to be observant during walks and to recognise signs of fatigue, such as stumbling or dragging behind. If you notice any of these signs, it’s best to turn around and head home sooner rather than later.

Choosing suitable terrain is also crucial when it comes to exercise modification. Certain surfaces, such as sand or stones, can be harder on a dog’s joints and should be avoided. Instead, opt for predictable and stable surfaces like short grass. If you notice that your dog is struggling with a particular terrain, it’s best to avoid it in the future.

As a dog’s arthritis progresses, it may lose strength, power, endurance, and coordination, making navigating obstacles like stairs or jumps challenging. Therefore, it is vital to avoid hazardous activities that could lead to stumbles or falls and exacerbate their pain.


4. Joint Supplements: What supplements are suitable for my dog’s joints?

Supplements can also help support joint health in arthritic pets. The efficacy varies, but some supplements that may help are:

      • Glucosamine and chondroitin: These supplements help repair and maintain joint cartilage, which can help reduce pain and inflammation.
      • Omega-3 fatty acids: Besides being found in certain foods, omega-3 supplements such as fish oil capsules are also available and can boost anti-inflammatory properties.
      • Turmeric: This spice has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, and some studies have shown that it can help reduce joint pain in dogs with osteoarthritis.
      • Green-lipped mussel: This supplement contains omega-3 fatty acids and other anti-inflammatory compounds and has been shown to be effective in reducing joint pain and inflammation in dogs.


5. Home Environment Changes: How can I help my arthritic dog at home?

Home modifications can go a long way in improving the quality of life for arthritic pets. By making simple adaptations to their homes, pet owners can reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, improve their pets’ mobility, and reduce pain and discomfort.

An in-home veterinary assessment can also help identify any other areas of improvement that can help your beloved pet stay comfortable for as long as possible.

Flooring
Dogs may struggle to walk on slippery floors such as wood, laminate, or tile due to weakened muscles and stiff joints caused by arthritis. Paw pads are designed to handle rough terrain, not smooth surfaces, so it can be challenging for them to walk on slippery floors.

Slips on smooth floors can cause significant damage to dogs’ joints, muscles, and ligaments, exacerbating arthritis symptoms. Improving traction on slippery floors can make it easier for dogs to move around without slipping and reduce the risk of injuries.

To prevent repetitive trauma and pain, pet owners can add:

      • grip pads and non-slip mats
      • non-slip rugs or carpets
      • paw booties or non-slip socks


Stairs and Steps

Arthritic dogs may have difficulty climbing or descending stairs, as it requires strength, coordination, and balance. Pet owners should restrict access to stairs using a stair gate if possible and consider carrying smaller dogs or using a ramp for larger dogs. A harness can provide support and stability for pets with limited mobility. Stairs can be particularly challenging for arthritic pets, and it’s best to
avoid them if possible. However, if stairs cannot be avoided, it’s essential to ensure the dog can navigate them safely. Harnesses designed for this purpose can be purchased online.


Doorways and Thresholds
Door thresholds can be challenging for pets to negotiate, making them a common cause of trips and falls. To make it easier for pets to navigate doorways and thresholds, pet owners can consider adding a ramp or a pet door. Pet doors allow pets to move freely between rooms without navigating entries, while ramps can help pets move up and down steps or over thresholds more easily.

 
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Furniture

Arthritic dogs may struggle with jumping on and off furniture, leading to pain and discomfort. Pet owners can help their dogs by providing ramps or steps to reach elevated surfaces, such as beds or sofas, or purchasing lower furniture. Specialised dog beds with orthopedic support can also be beneficial, providing extra support and cushioning for pets with arthritis. Elevated beds can also be helpful for pets with mobility issues as they are easier to get on and off.

Toileting

Arthritic dogs may have difficulty accessing appropriate areas for toileting due to the need to climb stairs or move quickly. Creating a designated toileting area that is easily accessible, such as a flat area in the yard, a litter box, or a pee pad indoors, can be helpful for arthritic dogs. Installing a ramp or using a harness can also help them navigate outdoor stairs or steps more safely. Additionally, it is crucial to remember that some arthritic dogs may need to go to the toilet more frequently due to medication or health issues, so ensuring they have easy access to a toileting area can help prevent accidents and discomfort.

Does physiotherapy help with arthritis in dogs? What other therapies can help my old dog at home?

Physiotherapy and rehabilitation are two highly effective treatments that can alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms in dogs.

      • Physiotherapy is a non-invasive, drug-free approach to treating osteoarthritis. It involves a range of exercises and activities designed to help reduce pain, inflammation, and stiffness in the joints. Physiotherapy can also help improve your dog’s mobility, strength, and balance, which can help prevent further joint damage and improve overall well-being.
      • Rehabilitation is another complementary therapy for osteoarthritis in dogs. This involves a comprehensive program of exercises and activities tailored to your dog’s needs. Rehabilitation can include a range of treatments such as hydrotherapy, massage, and acupuncture, all of which can help reduce joint pain and stiffness.
      • Hydrotherapy, in particular, is a highly effective form of rehabilitation for dogs with osteoarthritis. The buoyancy of water takes the weight off the joints, which makes it easier for your dog to move and exercise. Water resistance also provides gentle resistance for your dog’s muscles, which helps build strength and improve mobility.
      • Massage is another valuable treatment for osteoarthritis in dogs. It helps increase circulation, reduce inflammation, and release muscle tension. This can help reduce joint pain and stiffness, improving your dog’s quality of life.

If you think your dog may benefit from physiotherapy and rehabilitation, talk to your veterinarian or our team about developing a customised treatment plan for your furry friend.


Can arthritis in dogs be cured with surgery?

In some cases, surgery may be recommended as a treatment option for osteoarthritis in dogs. Surgery is typically considered when medical management options, such as weight management and medication, have not successfully managed the dog’s condition. Surgeries for arthritis include:

      • Joint replacement surgery involves removing the damaged joint and replacement with an artificial joint.
      • Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure usually performed by a specialist surgeon who uses specialised tools to remove damaged tissue or bone spurs, repair damaged ligaments, or remove loose pieces of cartilage.
      • Osteotomy is usually only performed in young dogs and involves surgically reshaping the bones surrounding a joint.

It is important to note that surgery is not always necessary and should be considered as a last resort option. Other treatments, such as medication and weight management, should be tried before surgery.

Surgery may be helpful for arthritis in dogs in the following situations:

      • Severe pain and lameness: If the dog is experiencing severe pain and lameness that medications or other conservative treatments cannot manage, surgery may be necessary to improve its quality of life.
      • Joint instability: If the dog’s arthritis has progressed to the point where their joint is unstable, or they have a torn ligament, surgery may be necessary to stabilise the joint and prevent further damage.
      • Limited mobility: If the dog’s arthritis severely limits its mobility and ability to perform everyday activities, surgery may be necessary to improve its range of motion and overall mobility.
      • Bone spurs or fragments: Arthritis can sometimes cause bone spurs or fragments to develop within the joint, leading to pain and inflammation. Surgery may be necessary in such cases to remove the bone spurs or fragments and alleviate the dog’s symptoms.
      • Joint deformity: In some cases, arthritis can be caused by joint deformity. Surgery may be necessary to correct the deformity and improve the dog’s quality of life. This can also be performed when the dog is young to prevent long-term pain.

 

How long can my dog live with arthritis?

The prognosis for a dog with osteoarthritis can vary greatly depending on several factors, including the dog’s age, overall health, the severity and type of arthritis, and the treatment plan. Arthritis is a chronic condition that can worsen over time, and there is no cure for it. However, with proper management and treatment, most dogs with arthritis can still lead happy, active lives. Arthritis can be managed with lifestyle changes, medication, and other treatments. In general, the earlier arthritis is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis is for the dog. With early intervention, the progression of the disease can be slowed, and the dog’s pain and mobility can be managed more effectively. Dog owners need to work closely with their veterinarian to develop a treatment plan tailored to their dog’s needs and to monitor their dog’s condition closely over time. If they seem increasingly uncomfortable or their quality of life is impacted, palliative care or in home dog euthanasia may be the kindest option for your arthritic dog.


End-of-Life Care Tips:

If your dog’s arthritis has progressed to a point where treatments are no longer effective and you feel their quality of life is compromised, you may need to consider end-of-life care or even putting your dog to sleep (euthanasia)Rest Your Paws is here to support you and provide compassionate care for your beloved pet throughout their journey. This can be a difficult decision, but there are several ways to provide comfort and support for your dog during this time, including:

 

 


Please know that we are here to support you every step of the way. We understand this is a challenging time for you and your family, and we are committed to providing you with the guidance and care you and your furry friend deserve. If you want to learn more about putting your pet to sleep, dog euthanasia at home, options to put your pet down at home, costs of euthanasia at home or what it looks like to put your pet to sleep at home, call us on 0422 157 675 or visit our website. While it can be challenging to see our furry friends struggle with arthritis pain and discomfort, many effective treatment options, including medication, supplements, and lifestyle changes, are available. By working with your veterinarian and staying proactive about your dog’s health, you can help manage the symptoms of arthritis and ensure that your furry friend enjoys a happy, comfortable life for many years to come. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns – we are here to help.

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