In the U.S., nearly a quarter of adults have arthritis. When it comes to dogs, the figures aren’t all that different. One in five dogs (some stats say one in four) suffer from canine arthritis, a degenerative, inflammatory joint disorder that makes it difficult and painful for dogs to do even the simplest things.
Those evening walks that you and Fifi look forward to? A quick jump up on the couch for afternoon cuddles? Those ballet-like morning stretches that remind you why your furry girl has her own Instagram account?
Canine arthritis can rob you and your fur baby of those shared pleasures. And although, like human arthritis, there is currently no cure for canine arthritis, fortunately there are options to manage or lessen the pain and help improve an arthritic dog’s quality of life.
What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?
The most common form of arthritis in dogs is osteoarthritis, a disease often associated with aging. Other factors can cause this condition, including repeated trauma to joints, congenital joint disorders, or too much exercise or work that places excessive stress on your dog’s joints. Being obese or overweight, too, can result in your dog developing this type of arthritis.
Other types of arthritis can impact our canine companions, including rheumatoid and septic arthritis, both of which are less common and caused by joint infection. For the purposes of this blog, our focus will be on osteoarthritis.
When your fur baby suffers from osteoarthritis the rubbery material in his or her body known as cartilage wears out slowly, reducing the cushion that prevents joints from rubbing against each other. This, in turn, leads to inflammation, pain and decreased agility and flexibility.
How Does Arthritis Affect Dogs?
Although your dog isn’t going to tell you in actual words that he or she is suffering from arthritis, as an intuitive pet parent you’ll recognize that something is wrong.
For example, your dog may no longer show enthusiasm for bounding up the stairs, jumping up to join you on the couch, chasing you around the yard. Even simple playtime activities like rolling over or handing you a paw, may cause pain. You may also notice that your dog has gradually developed a limp, another sign that osteoarthritis may be in play.
Other tell-tale signs of osteoarthritis include stiffness or lameness. If your dog seems sluggish or not interested in eating, she may be signaling she’s in pain. And that pain may be from osteoarthritis.
Also keep an eye out for other behavioral changes, like irritability or annoyance when being petted. Some dogs with osteoarthritis are prone to peeing in places they previously hadn’t since they were puppies—in other words, in the house, and we don’t mean on their wee-wee pads.
Can Your Dog Develop Arthritis?
While the degenerative joint condition is most commonly found in older dogs, younger dogs are not totally immune from the disease. Generally, osteoarthritis takes place over time, starting out slowly. Some experts believe that some dogs can show signs of osteoarthritis as early as one year old. But remember, because it is a degenerative disease, it manifests as progressive, with symptoms that get worse over time.
While some of the larger breeds—like German shepherds, rottweilers, Bernese mountain dogs, springer spaniels and Labrador or golden retrievers—are prone to developing osteoarthritis, the littles can be victims too. As the American Kennel Club (AKC) says, “any dog can develop osteoarthritis, particularly as they age.”
And if you’re wondering where your dog may develop osteoarthritis, the AKC advises it’s most common in the limbs and lower spine but any joint in the body is susceptible. Think hips, knees, shoulders, elbows (yes, dogs have elbows), as examples.
What’s a Concerned Dog Parent to Do?
The best thing to do is to try to prevent osteoarthritis from happening in the first place. So, now you’re probably wondering about how to prevent arthritis in dogs?
There’s no secret sauce for preventing canine arthritis, but there are things you can do to help protect your dog’s joints. It’s the basics of a healthy doggie lifestyle: a nutritionally complete and balanced diet, use of appropriate dietary supplements, proper exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and regular visits to the veterinarian.
Even if you do everything right, there is no guarantee that your dog won’t develop osteoarthritis. But having a head start on healthy living may help your dog better live with the disease if it comes to that.
What Helps a Dog’s Arthritis?
If your dog develops osteoarthritis, the best you can hope for is to manage her symptoms. There is no cure for this illness, but fortunately there are options that may help reduce inflammation and pain, improve mobility, and make her life more comfortable.
The Basic Three: Exercise, Diet, Weight Management
Your dog needs exercise from the beginning of his life. But as this article points out, when it comes to canine osteoarthritis and exercise, there’s a right way and a wrong way.
Dogs with osteoarthritis still need to get exercise—but in moderation. Walking is important to keep your dog’s joints lubricated. The experts at PetMD recommend short walks, several times daily to provide consistent exercise for your arthritic dog. They suggest avoiding not only running, but also jumping and chasing balls—all of which can be stressful and painful for a dog with osteoarthritis.
It should go without saying that what your dog eats matters—all throughout her life. Just like you, consider that your dog, too, needs a well-balanced nutritious diet. Some pet food companies make dog food specifically targeted for concerns about osteoarthritis and your veterinarian may be able to make some suggestions.
- Maintain a healthy weight
Watch your dog’s weight. But do more than just watch it. If the pounds are piling on, call in your veterinarian. It’s time to make a plan. Your dog’s weight has an impact on his arthritis.
Treatment Modalities That Can Help Relieve Symptoms
There are several dietary supplements touted to reduce inflammation, increase mobility and help repair cartilage. This is another area where your veterinarian can help you identify which supplements—and possibly even specific brands—will provide the best options for your dog. Remember that supplements may alleviate some of the symptoms but will not cure your dog’s arthritis. Don’t fall for too-good-to-be-true product claims. (And it’s probably not a good idea to give your dog your supplements.)
Among the most popular supplements for dogs with joint issues is glucosamine (used alone or in combination with chondroitin sulfate). Both substances have anti-inflammatory properties and can help repair damaged cartilage that is worn away by osteoarthritis. And, each has a strong safety profile, including for long-term use. As a result, veterinarians often recommend glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate as an early intervention and throughout the progression of osteoarthritis. Not only are the two used separately or in combination, but they can be helpful for managing osteoarthritis in combination with other supplements and drugs.
Another popular, healthful supplement for dogs is omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Dogs can’t make this essential nutrient on their own, making it necessary to obtain it from their diet or supplementation.
Not only are omega-3 fatty acids supportive for heart health, brain health, immune health, to name a few, but they are also important for joint health due to their anti-inflammatory properties—making them especially important for dogs suffering from arthritis.
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most well-researched nutrients for humans—and there is also some research specifically in dogs. For example, this trial on EPA and DHA demonstrated that daily supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids reduced the clinical signs of osteoarthritis in dogs, including discomfort, lameness and joint pain severity. Further the study observed no major side effects.
CBD is another emerging potential tool to alleviate common symptoms of canine arthritis. Read more here.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) should be considered—either individually or in combination with other therapies as part of the overall treatment plan to reduce inflammation and control pain for canine arthritis sufferers. As there are various options, including prescription and over-the-counter products, it’s best to work with your veterinarian to select the right product, brand and dosage for your dog’s use.
As effective as NSAIDs may be in pain management, they also come with some risks. There may be significant side effects, especially with long-term use. Be sure to ask your veterinarian to explain the benefits along with any potential risks for your dog.
Complementary Lifestyle Choices May Also Offer Relief
Don’t discount acupuncture, massage and physical therapy as they may offer pain relief for your arthritic dog. This article gives you additional ways to help your dog cope.
Bottom line: Dialogue regularly with your veterinarian about how best to manage your dog’s osteoarthritis.