Across all ages, about 20 percent of dogs suffer from arthritis. The condition can be mild and unnoticeable or up to the point of excruciating pain and lameness.
Your dog can have arthritis and joint pain but you can help ease their discomfort by learning about and giving them the right support for their condition.
As dogs get older, their joints will begin to weaken and their muscles become more flaccid. To remedy the situation, it is very important that you educate yourself about the different dog joint problems.
Caring for an older dog is part of the deal we sign up for when we first bring that fluffy ball of energy into our lives.
One of the most common queries older dog owners may have relates to caring for their senior dog – how much exercise is right, is the diet right, is there anything else I should be doing?
If your dog has just been diagnosed with arthritis, you may be confused and worried about the effect of his condition on his enjoyment of life thus we have compiled an ultimate guide to canine mobility & dog joint care to help you out.
First things first!
What is arthritis?
What are the signs of arthritis in dogs?
There are several different types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most common forms.
Although the symptoms of these two types of arthritis can be similar, it's very important to distinguish between them in order to determine the proper treatment.
Arthritis can be difficult to detect in its early stages and often the symptoms do not become apparent until the affected joint is badly damaged. Some dogs can also be very stoic and will hide their pain until it becomes severe.
Also known as Degenerative Joint Disease is the deterioration of the joints.
The signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Favouring a leg
- Difficulty getting up and down
- Reluctance to climb, jump and play
- Licking of the affected area
- Appetite loss
- Fear of touch
- Swelling or tenderness
- Limited mobility
This is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints and the whole body. Autoimmune diseases are those in which the immune system, which normally protects the body from disease and infection, mistakenly attacks healthy blood cells.
Rheumatoid arthritis specifically attacks the joints by degrading the cartilage.
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in dogs include:
- Lack of appetite
- Joint swelling
- Kidney disease
- Urinary tract infections
- Decreased appetite
- Unwillingness or inability to walk
- Limb or muscle atrophy
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Lameness in one or more limbs
What can I give my dog with arthritis?
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to slow the progression of the disease and keep him happy and mobile. Lifestyle changes, anti-inflammatory/anti-pain medication and nutritional supplements are the cornerstones of treating arthritis.
Supplements can certainly be given to help ease their arthritis and keep them pain-free, but knowing when to transition can be tricky – but throughout the process remember one important fact – you know your dog better than anyone else.
Remember, not all dogs age at the same rate, so judge your dog based on what you know is normal for them, rather than normal for their age.
Before giving your dog supplements you need to identify the problem and to do this, you should keep a diary of changes.
Monitor everything from how they cope with their normal walks, to how they react to getting up from a lying down position, to walking upstairs, to particular times of the day when they seem to feel more uncomfortable moving around.
Some supplements which have received good feedback from dog owners include a supplement that includes glucosamine and chondroitin. This component basically is hygroscopic and attracts water to keep the cartilage more lubricated.
If your dog is overweight, that may have a negative impact on your dog’s mobility, so it’s crucial to understand what the problem is and what could have caused it, to help you give your dog the best care.
Sometimes preservatives and food colour could induce joint problems in dogs and so it is very important to make sure your older dog’s diet is the best it can be.
Pain relief for dog joint problems
Pain doesn’t do your dog any good at all. It makes his favourite activities such as a walk or a game of ball-less enjoyable for him.
If he has been diagnosed with arthritis, good pain control will make a big difference in his quality of life. If you think your dog may be suffering from arthritis, talk to your vet.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are usually the first choice of pain medications for arthritis.
You should never give human drugs to your dog and in fact, don’t give him any medication except under medical supervision. There could be serious side effects, including death if the wrong medication or an incorrect dose is used.
While pain relief has been shown that in some instances it can help recovery, medication over-extension may have adverse effects.
That’s why you should watch for side effects. All drugs have them, but if you give your dog his medication according to the right directions, the risks are very small.
The great thing about making lifestyle changes for your dog is that they are within your control. They are not going to be easy to make, but keep in mind that pet dogs are like toddlers.
They are largely a reflection of their parents. Managing your dog’s lifestyle is almost completely your responsibility.
If your dog is a working dog or is involved in other strenuous activity, the chances of injury and associated arthritis increases.
At the other extreme, if your dog does not get enough exercise and his weight drifts above normal, his susceptibility also rises.
Weight management for dogs with mobility problems
This is a biggie! The target weight for an arthritic dog should be leaner than normal to ease the burden on his joints.
Aim for a gradual reduction in weight. Numbers are your friend in this: weigh your dog regularly and chart it; initially every two weeks, then every month.
Once his target weight is reached, put him on the scales quarterly or semi-annually. Similarly, use a weighing machine or a measuring cup to ensure that his food intake is regulated.
As your dog gets older, his energy needs will reduce. If you continue to chart his weight, you should have no trouble noticing the weight gain and reacting to it.
A weight reduction program is a lot easier to write about than to implement. You must ensure that all members of the family realise the importance of the program.
Table scraps have to be few and far between; better still, eliminate them completely. Your pet will not be happy during the period that he is losing weight. But, once his weight is stabilised, he will be healthier and happier than before.
An overweight dog will be less likely to actively exercise and this, in turn, will mean that he may begin to show his age much earlier and may even succumb more quickly to some of the diseases to which older dogs are often prone.
Exercise for dogs with joint problems
Exercise is important for your arthritic pet. Not only will it help him remain at his target weight, but regular mild exercise has been known to improve the health and mobility of the affected joints.
It reduces the pain of arthritis and the progression of the disease while maintaining good muscle mass. The important part of any exercise program for arthritic dogs is that it is low impact.
Try to prevent him from jumping. Also, avoid asking him to repeatedly climb up and downstairs.
Remember that medications could mask his pain, thus allowing him to get more vigorous than is good for him. To prevent such ‘accidents’, it is best to exercise him on a leash.
Swimming is an excellent exercise for dogs with arthritis. It encourages mobility in the joints, but without painful weight-bearing.
Hydrotherapy also builds up muscle mass which helps to support the painful joint. It is amazing how quickly muscle can waste away when it isn’t used. Anybody who has had a cast will immediately recognise the truth in the statement.
That’s what will happen if you let your dog snooze all day — even though he’d prefer to spend his time napping.
Equally amazing is how quickly muscles recover their strength when exercised. Stronger muscles reduce the likelihood of injury while your dog enjoys an active lifestyle, which, in turn, maintains muscle strength — a cycle that we can all benefit from!
Best diet for dogs with joint problems
Careful control of your dog’s food intake will help to keep him safe.
Diet, especially in the growth phase of large-breed dogs, is very important. Too many or too few nutrients can result in growth abnormalities that will predispose your pet to injury and later, arthritis.
His diet throughout his earlier years can play an important part in determining how and when the signs of ageing begin to show, for example using raised dog bowls as early as you can help to keep arthritis at bay.
However, bear in mind that decreasing the number of calories in a regular diet may cause a deficiency in other nutrients, such as protein, vitamins and minerals.
Nutritional supplements or nutraceuticals such as fish oil omega-3 fatty acids may improve the signs.
Feeding a good quality food that is correct for your dog's life stage will help them grow at the correct rate and receive the correct nutrients throughout their life.
How long can dogs live with arthritis?
Dogs are warriors. They may stumble or express small signs of discomfort when their pain is actually quite significant.
Understanding this will allow you to ensure you never mistake their baseline comfort level for what is in effect, pain that could easily be managed with proper veterinary intervention.
Arthritis in dogs is a long-term condition and does not directly shorten the dog's lifespan but needs life-long management. Arthritis slowly worsens over time if it is not managed properly and the quality of life declines.
If arthritis is managed properly, most dogs can live a happy life even after diagnosis.
Should you walk a dog with arthritis?
You can have regular controlled short walks with your dog but on a leash especially when he is under pain relievers because pain medications can mask the dog’s pain.
Allow your dog to walk and run a little but don’t let them jump, skid, chase balls, or run on uneven ground.
Encourage your dog to get up and move around throughout the day. Lying down for hours can cause joints to become stiff, a little bit of movement every now and then can help.
The best recommendation for dogs with arthritis is “exercise modification.” This means dogs should exercise, in fact, they should ideally do something every single day rather than be weekend warriors.
The ideal exercise program for dogs with arthritis is one that is regular, low-impact and controlled.
Dog breeds are most prone to arthritis
Although arthritis can strike any dog, some breeds are at higher risk than others. In general, large breed dogs are more prone than their small breed companions. Such breeds include:
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Great Dane
- Springer Spaniels
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
Talk to your veterinarian about your concerns. They have been trained to look for specific markers of arthritis. In all likelihood, they will examine your dog with both a physical check and by taking radiographs.
Consulting an expert, or taking care to choose the best care program for your dog will give you a great all-round plan of action!
Having said that, bear in mind that it is somewhat difficult to assess the risk of arthritis using such tests.
Marge Chandler, a clinical nutritionist commented,
“It’s best to consult your vet for a tailored treatment programme. A mixture of a therapeutic diet with appropriate supplements, weight control, pain medication and a modified exercise plan is the best course of action.”
Canine arthritis is not life-threatening, but it is progressive and can make your dog extremely uncomfortable. There are several things you can do to help reduce the chance of your dog developing arthritis.
With your help and support, there is no reason why he cannot enjoy a happy and fun-filled life.
The fact that you are reading this already suggests that you are a responsible owner.
Great! Owner knowledge and watchfulness are the keys to your dog’s joint health, so you are already on the right track.
The earlier you detect signs of arthritis, the better your dog’s prognosis.