As your dog ages, you might notice them limping or struggling to walk up and down stairs. These are classic indicators that they’re starting to develop osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disorder where the cartilage between their bones starts to dissolve. Symptoms for arthritis vary, but in general, look for:
- Lameness in one or more legs
- Difficulty going up or down stairs
- Difficulty jumping onto or off of surfaces
- Aversion to contact on some areas of their body
- Stiff, swollen, sore joints
If your dog is experiencing pain, they may also display sudden and unexpected aggression upon being touched. This type of aggression usually fades on its own once you start your dog on pain management.
Your dog may be adept at hiding pain. It’s easy to dismiss the more subtle indicators as part of the natural process of aging. Look for sleep disturbances, loss in appetite, depression, loss of interest in exercise, and lowered pain threshold.
Managing and Treating Arthritis in Dogs
Although osteoarthritis has no cure, you can manage the disease and slow progression through the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and nutraceuticals. While NSAIDs provide effective short-term pain relief, they come with a host of adverse side effects. Depending on your dog’s reaction to them, your vet may recommend hip and joint supplements for long-term management.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate form the backbone of joint supplements for dogs. The Veterinary Journal found that arthritic dogs treated with these two nutraceuticals saw significant reductions in pain and improvements in their ability to bear weight. Deley Naturals Advanced Hip & Joint Supplement for Dogs contains glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate in order to support cartilage and connective tissue development, then adds methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and turmeric for additional anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
If your dog develops osteoarthritis, pay careful attention to their weight. Talk to your vet about putting them on a diet if need be. Excess weight can increase the rate of cartilage degeneration in their joints and make basic movement more painful than necessary.
Canine Osteoarthritis Risk Factors
Osteoarthritis has no specific cause. Usually, a combination of factors can cause it to appear later in your dog’s life. Common ones include:
- Body conformation (how your dog is built)
- Genetics (ex. Hip dysplasia)
- Repetitive stress and high-impact activities, especially on hard surfaces
- Injury history
- Infections that attack the joints
- Poor nutrition
Certain dog breeds–Golden retrievers, German shepherds, Rottweilers, and Labrador retrievers–are some of the most prone to developing arthritis as they age. In general, the larger the dog, the higher the likelihood due to the combined risk factors of breed-related hip dysplasia and increased weight.
Young, athletic dogs that love to run and jump also need to consider their long-term joint health. Because of this, you may choose to start supplementing your dog’s diet with hip and joint supplements from an early age in order to prevent or delay the onset of arthritis as they age.
Improving Your Arthritic Dog’s Quality of Life
Strike a balance between too much exercise and too little. Your dog needs to keep exercising to maintain muscle tone and manage their weight. However, if your dog loves the outdoors, they may mask their physical discomfort beneath their excitement. Rather than long, high-energy walks or play sessions, opt for shorter but more frequent walks and allow them to rest. If your dog struggles to walk, hydrotherapy provides muscle relaxation and pain relief while reducing swelling and stiffness.
Change your dog’s environment to accommodate their needs. Provide soft, thick bedding as well as non-slip floor mats to cushion their joints and stop them from slipping. And, of course, they should always have access to water.
Use elevated bowls so that your dog doesn’t have to bend down to eat.
Add ramps and teach your dog to use them. These are easier to navigate and are less stressful on your dog’s joints. You can place a ramp down to help your dog get in and out of the car, or leave one out to provide access to the furniture.
Properly managed, osteoarthritis will not impact your dog’s lifespan. They can continue to live a full and happy life by your side, doing all the things they love–just at a slightly slower pace than before.