No one likes to think their dog is in pain, but when you notice something isn't right and you fear your pet is suffering, it becomes a mission to identify the problem as soon as possible to help them feel better as soon as possible, doesn't it.
The primary symptom of arthritis in dogs is joint pain. But since it is usually a dull ache which gets worse under specific conditions, your dog isn't likely to whimper or cry. Instead, symptoms can manifest themselves in their behaviour, how they move or if they obsessively lick or nibble themselves, for example.
Here are five questions to ask yourself with examples of why they are all potential signs of canine arthritis to help you check your dog's symptoms.
Is your dog unable to walk normally or is he moving less?
Altered gait is usually the first sign. For example, your dog will walk with a limp as he tries to reduce the movement of the affected joint.
A reluctance to play, walk or get involved in activities that he had no trouble with before, such as jumping down from the couch, climbing stairs or getting into the car, can also be signs that your dog is trying to move affected joints less to avoid feeling discomfort.
No matter how much he enjoys these activities, or where they might lead (a car journey to his favourite walk or a trip to the kitchen for a biscuit), the pain will take a lot of the pleasure out of them.
During the early stage of osteoarthritis, you may only see these signs fleetingly; often when he first walks after resting for some time (like in the morning) or possibly after relatively strenuous activity.
Are your dog's muscles changing?
If osteoarthritis strikes one joint or the joints of one limb, your pet will compensate with the other limbs. This will result in reduced muscle mass in the affected limb while the other limbs’ muscles could get bigger. Look for a difference in size between corresponding limbs.
It’s important to realise that even if your dog isn’t showing any of these signs, he could still be hurting. Look for these changes in his behaviour that might indicate that pain is affecting his quality of life.
Is your dog eating less?
Even mild pain can upset one’s appetite. It happens to us humans; it can occur in your dog as well.
If your dog starts turning his nose up at his dinner bowl when he once would have eaten anything you put in it, look for a reason for his disinterest in food. Sometimes the solution can be as simple as elevating their food bowl to make it easier for them to eat or drink, thus helping to relieve their neck of any discomfort as a result of stooping.
Is your dog cleaning obsessively or biting sore spots?
If your dog has sore hips, you may notice him nibbling at his rump. Your first thought may be that he has fleas or an allergy, but don’t rule out pain as the cause of this behaviour.
Similarly, a sore wrist will also see him licking or nibbling at his paws. For example, if he's been lying down for a while, his front paws may experience a tingling, pins and needles sensation known as paresthesia, which will make him lick or bite his paws.
Is your dog sleeping more or withdrawing from your family?
Your dog may get sore when he is bumped or nudged and if so, he may stay away from you to avoid that pain.
For example, he may no longer lie under the table at dinnertime, in case of an accidental encounter with a foot or he may be reluctant to join in a family game of football.
How many signs of arthritis do you recognise?
It’s not hard to notice your dog limping but the behavioural changes associated with arthritis are less obvious. However, if you notice at least one of these changes, it's best to speak with your vet to get expert advice.
If arthritis is diagnosed, your vet may recommend a combination of the following: weight control or a change in diet (to maintain or reduce weight so less strain is put on a dog's joints), anti-inflammatory medications or painkillers, as well as supplements, and controlled exercise and physical therapy (such as hydrotherapy).
Arthritis isn’t curable but can be managed effectively using canine arthritis treatments that focus on reducing pain and inflammation, slowing the progression of the disease, facilitating the repair of damaged tissues and maintaining or improving joint function to help your dog live as pain-free and happy a life for as long as possible.