As with human arthritis, there is no cure; however, there are things you can do to help minimize the pain from which your dog is suffering, and to help him live a more comfortable life. Recognizing the onset of arthritis is key to establishing the changes in lifestyle that will eventually become routine as your dog’s mobility changes and diminishes. The earlier you realize the limitations your dog will face, the easier it will be to make the changes needed for comfort.
WHAT IS ARTHRITIS?
Arthritis is a disease which involves the skeletal system, altering the proper function of and limiting the use of the bones, joints and cartilages responsible for mobility. This disease affects all breeds the same; the pain it causes and the limitations it imposes are equally debilitating and painful for any dog which suffers from it.
There are two types of arthritis. The first type is Degenerative Joint Disease (also know as osteoarthritis), which generally occurs as dogs age, either from normal joint wear and tear, or excess stress from accidents and injuries. The second type is called Inflammatory Joint Disease, which may be caused by either bacterial or fungal infections or ticks. Inflammatory Joint Disease is the least common of the two forms of arthritis.
Arthritis affects the ball sockets like hips and shoulder joints, hinged joints like the knees and the gliding or moveable joints such as the ankles. Inflammation in these joints is what causes the pain and reduces the mobility of your dog. Although this disease is more often seen in the larger dog breeds, it affects all breeds.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
In order to recognize arthritis as early as possible, it is important to know the early signs:
- A limp that begins to appear sporadically, eventually becoming more pronounced and more frequent. To make sure the limp is not the result of an injury, check your dog’s pads and paws for any thorns, rocks or debris that may need to be removed, or a cut or scratch that needs attention.
- Swelling around joints that seems to gradually get worse. Swelling may be so slight at first that it is unnoticeable when you glance at your dog. Being aware of your dog’s routines, how active and mobile he is and noticing a gradual reduction in those activity levels may be a signal to keep an eye on the joints to watch for swelling.
- Difficulty in getting to a standing or sitting position when laying down, or even to a standing position from a sitting position may indicate pain and discomfort and the onset of a joint disease.
- Normal routines change, such as showing less enthusiasm on routine walks. Where your dog normally led you along on the leash, he now goes at a much slower pace, and may even lag behind and needs to be nudged along to finish the walk. This is probably because his legs now hurt, where they didn’t before. He may begin refusing to do things he once did, such as hopping up on furniture, into your lap (if he is a smaller breed), climb stairs or jump during a game of frisbee.
- Decrease in movement or change in normal movements that cause your dog to wince or whine because he is in pain.
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT
If you notice any of the above mentioned signs or symptoms of arthritis, it is vital that you get your veterinarian involved as soon as possible. Early diagnosis will help your dog adapt to the upcoming limitations, and help you manage his pain and adjust his activities to give him the best quality of life possible.
- One area your veterinarian may address will be your dog’s dietary and nutritional needs. A diet that is rich in nutrients, calcium and phosphorous to help the bones will be needed. Fat content will also be reduced, as too much fat can aggravate your dog’s arthritic condition, and is also unhealthy. Keeping your dog’s weight at an optimal level will also put less strain on the inflamed joints, which will help with the limited mobility.
- Despite the arthritis, it will still be important for your dog to get the necessary exercise he needs to stay healthy, and to help ensure he retains some mobility. A diagnosis of arthritis does not mean to limit or restrict your dog from activity, but simply means you will need to make adjustments to minimize his pain and keep him active.
- Activity levels may change, but keeping your arthritic dog active will not only help him retain some use of his joints, but will also help reduce his stress and make him happy. Remember, because your dog is uncomfortable with the pain from arthritis, he longs for the attention and happiness that interaction and play brings. Your dog’s emotional state is as important as his physical one in the overall quality of life he experiences.
- After your veterinarian has diagnosed arthritis, treatments (depending on the severity and aggressiveness of the disease) may include acetaminophen for mild pain, NSAIDS (medications that deal with inflammation) for the swelling in the joints, and cortisone injected directly into the joints to help reduce inflammation and severe pain. In more advanced cases,some surgery may be needed or recommended to help with severely damaged joints. Surgery may be chosen to replace damaged joints, or repair a bone deformity to improve mobility, where an extreme reduction in mobility has occurred.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
Once arthritis has been diagnosed and it has settled into your dog’s joints, you will notice a change in not only his mobility and level of activity, but also his personality, as he will be stressed by the limitations and the pain will cause him to become stressed, less playful and more easily agitated. You may notice your dog become less comfortable with handling and petting and may show it in negative ways. Understanding the pain he is in, and knowing he needs comfort will help you both adjust to the upcoming changes in his lifestyle. Love, patience and understanding arthritis will help you give your dog the care he needs to live a happy life.