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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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, 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 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.
To reduce the risk of arthritis in dogs, owners can take the following practical steps:
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.
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
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
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Physiotherapy and rehabilitation are two highly effective treatments that can alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms in dogs.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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: