Arthritis in dogs is, unfortunately, a very common condition. It can be
caused by many things; from physical damage to a joint like with a
cranial cruciate ligament injury; from poor joint structure as with
; from an infection or inflammation in the joint like with Lyme disease;
even from the body attacking itself as happens with auto-immune
diseases. And, as we take better and better care of our dogs, and they
live longer and longer, we see more just plain age-related arthritis
Early signs of arthritic pain in your dog include being stiff after rising or after exercise, hesitation to go up or down stairs, or difficulty getting into or out of the car or on/off the couch, bed, etc.. They are not necessarily limping at this stage, but they are indeed in pain. If these dogs are not already on a joint supplement, then now is great time to start them.
If your dog is overweight or obese, then losing weight now will decrease his pain and increase his mobility. I can't stress enough how much that extra body fat works against these dogs - get any extra weight off of that dog! Take a moment to read the Canine Obesity pages.
And, keep them moving - exercise is good for them, as long as its not so much as to cause a lameness or worsening of your dogs symptoms. You'll find that as the arthritis worsens, the amount of exercise that your dog can tolerate will decrease. Remember to decrease his calories as his exercise level goes down, to prevent weight gain.
Arthritis can happen in any joint. Common sites of arthritis in dogs are the hips, stifles (knees), back or spine, elbows, wrists (carpus), and hocks (ankles). Below are some x-rays. The top x-ray of the spine and the left x-ray of the hips are both fairly normal - no arthritis is visible. The bottom spine x-ray and the right hip x-ray show the same joint(s), but with arthritis in them.
As arthritis in dogs progresses over time, they become more and more painful. They show this to you by hesitating or refusing to go up or down stairs, or in having difficulty getting into or out of the car.
They're not being bad - they hurt, and they know that what they are about to do is going to make them hurt more. These dogs needs more pain relief than joint supplements, weight loss, and exercise can provide.
Its time to take your dog in to your vet for treatment. Its time to get the physical exam to see if your vet can isolate the problem, time to get the x-rays for the definitive diagnosis, and time to do the bloodwork to see if it looks like he will be able to handle long term anti-inflammatory treatment.
Arthritis is generally treated using a multi-modal approach. This means that not one single treatment is used, but many. The multiple treatment effects are synergistic (they work together), and each treatment attacks a different piece of the whole problem.
For instance, weight loss in overweight dogs decreases the forces applied to the painful joint, and so decreases pain.
Joint supplements are thought to increase the amount of available raw materials to keep joint cartilage and joint fluid in continuous repair and production, and thus decrease pain.
Look to the right for the tools you need to help your pet!
Anti-inflammatories, whether “natural” (fatty acids, MSM) or synthetic (prescription drugs) physically decrease inflammation at the site, and so decrease pain.
For severe cases or for those dogs that cannot tolerate synthetic anti-inflammatories, a centrally acting (meaning the drugs effect is in the brain) pain reducing drug can be used.
Surgery can sometimes be done to replace a badly affected joint.
Stem cell transplants are being successfully used to treat arthritis in dogs.
Alternatively, acupuncture can be a very safe and effective method of pain relief for arthritic dogs, and is well tolerated by the dogs.
Finally, physical therapy with a rehabilitation specialist can improve mobility in arthritic joints, allowing the dog to move more freely and with less pain.
The moral of the story is that arthritis pain is treatable, and your friend deserves your help to decrease his pain as much as possible.
So, you've done all of this, but it's been five years or more and your buddy is really having a hard time getting around. The really bad arthritis in dogs are often large breed dogs - I think that the smaller breeds get just as bad arthritis, but they have so much less weight to carry around that it's just easier for them to deal with it.
Those big dogs though, sometimes they need a little extra help to get up off of the floor, or to get up the stairs, and definitely to get into the car. There are 3 main tools you can consider using to help these guys:
*You can put grippy booties on their feet (but don't leave them on 24/7!), or place non-skid rugs strategically around the house. Both of these can help a lot with keeping traction on smooth floors.
*You can purchase a ramp to help with getting them into and out of higher cars and SUVs. These usually fold flat for storage, and can easily be carried about or left in the car for when they are needed.
*Finally, you can have an assistance harness made to fit the big old guy. These have heavy duty handles on top for you to hang on to and help steady or lift your buddy.
Unfortunately, short of a joint replacement arthritis in dogs is not a curable condition. It is a situation to be managed, as best as you can, to provide as good a quality of life as possible for your friend. Use the combination of joint supplements, medications, alternative therapies, and assistance techniques that work best for you and your dog!
Page last update 11/28/12.