Arthritis in dogs, also known as Osteoarthritis (OA) or Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), is a progressive worsening inflammation of a joint due to cartilage deterioration. As your pet’s cartilage breaks down, the joint moves less smoothly and starts to affect the joint’s range of motion, along with your dog’s overall mobility. Just like arthritis in humans, arthritis in pets is a very common condition with no single cause or cure. With proper care and management, your pet can live happily for many years following the diagnosis.
What are the first signs of arthritis?
While arthritis is a common condition, there is no single indicator for a pet’s diagnosis. Instead, multiple factors, including a combination of the pet’s age, breed, activity level, previous trauma or injuries, genetics, and nutrition all play a part when determining if your dog suffers from arthritis. Like any progressive disease, it’s vital to start your pet’s treatment plan as soon as you notice any symptoms or signs.
Unfortunately, your dog can’t tell you they are suffering from joint discomfort, but dogs are very good at expressing they are in pain by changes in their behavior or posture. Keep an eye out for these indicators that your dog might be suffering from arthritis. If you believe your pet is displaying any indications of joint stiffness, contact your veterinarian to determine the best treatment plan.
1. Difficulty moving and a reluctance to jump
Dogs with occasional joint stiffness and discomfort might seem lazy or reluctant to play or get out of bed, particularly during exercise time. Or maybe your pet isn’t as eager to jump up next to you on the couch. If you have an older dog, you might think these are just natural signs of aging, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Talk with your vet and come up with a treatment plan to help your dog live more comfortably.
2. Limping and lameness
Most symptoms of joint stiffness will start slowly and worsen over time. It can be easy for pet owners to miss the early stages of joint stiffness due to your dog only experiencing small amounts of discomfort. If you notice any changes in your pet’s gait, sensitivity, or trembling when a joint is touched, or your dog favoring/not properly using one of their limbs, contact your vet to implement a treatment plan.
3. Behavior changes
Is your fun-loving and overly affectionate dog now short-tempered and irritable? What if your potty-trained pet now has frequent accidents in your home? Or maybe your pet that was always excited for dinner suddenly has a loss of appetite. Just because your dog is not crying or limping doesn’t mean they are not in pain. Dogs are emotional animals, and limited or loss of mobility in their joints can lead to additional stress.
4. Loss of stamina
Other signs of joint stiffness in dogs include loss of stamina. Needing shorter walks, reluctance to go on walks, or less interest in activities are all signs that your dog could suffer from joint discomfort. Since your vet is unable to monitor your dog naturally at your house, it’s important to stay vigilant and alert your vet of any changes in your pet’s behavior.
Is arthritis painful for dogs?
Arthritis causes the cartilage around the joint to be damaged, meaning that your dog will experience some level of pain or discomfort every time they move that joint. The level of discomfort depends on what joint(s) are affected, how much the disease has progressed, and how old your pet is when diagnosed.
Arthritis in adult dogs
Arthritis might be more common in senior dogs, but it can impact dogs of any age with some cases appearing in dogs as young as one year old. It’s estimated that 80% of dogs will show signs of arthritis by eight years old. Another important factor that causes early arthritis diagnosis is the dog’s breed. Large breed such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepards are more prone to arthritis with it being less common in smaller breeds. Other conditions including hip dysplasia can be a significant factor for arthritis developing in young and adult dogs.
Arthritis in senior dogs
Arthritis is most common in senior dogs due to natural wear and tear of the bones around your pet’s joints. With new advancements in veterinary medicine, dogs are living longer and causing even more wear and tear on their joints. In senior dogs, four out of five dogs will be affected by some form of arthritis. Senior pets still enjoy the stimulation of being active, so working with your vet on a treatment plan to reduce pain is vital maintaining your senior pet’s quality of life.
How can I help me dog with arthritis?
There is currently no cure for arthritis, but there are many ways to slow down the disease’s progression and minimize symptoms. A “multimodal approach” including supplements, medications, diet/exercise, and therapies, have shown to be the most effective treatment plans for your pet’s joint stiffness. Since each dog has specific needs, always speak with your vet to determine what treatment plan is best for your pet.
Dog joint supplements
The overall health of the joint is critical when managing your dog’s joint health. It is never too late or too early to start your pups on a quality joint supplement to support their body’s natural inflammatory response and maintain joint mobility. Important ingredients to look for in a supplement include:
- Green Lipped Mussel – a great source of Omega-3s for soothing stiff joints
- Glucosamine – one of the major building blocks in cartilage formation
- Vitamins C & E – help neutralize free radicals to maintain joint mobility
- Manganese – supports collagen formation in cartilage
- Hyaluronic Acid – lubricates and cushions joints
Together those ingredients will help improve joint mobility to ease discomfort and promote joint health. It’s never too late to start your dog on a daily joint supplement plan. Dogs of all ages and sizes can benefit from a high-quality joint supplement.
Quite often, dogs in advanced stages of arthritis may experience changes in mobility. Along with stiffening joints and slowing dogs, joint pain may make it difficult for a pet to walk unassisted.
A dog wheelchair can be introduced for additional support and to make it easier for your dog to walk. The cart’s support will reduce the amount of weight your dog places on their back legs, allowing them to walk easier. Your dog’s cart can be introduced into therapy sessions and on long walks. While in their wheelchair your dog will still be able to walk and use their back legs, but the reduced pressure will encourage them to walk and allow them to get their exercise without struggling.
Only dealing with occasional joint stiffness? If your dog isn’t quite ready for a wheelchair a rear lifting harness can help you support your dog while walking or help them to stand after a nap.
Weight and exercise control
A healthy and balanced diet along with an exercise plan can help maintain your pet’s weight even when they are dealing with limited mobility. Overweight dogs will suffer from additional pressure on their already weakened joints.
Regular exercise can help improve stiffness and reduce pain but should always be done under the order or supervision of your vet. Over exercise or improper exercise such as running and jumping can be just as harmful as not enough exercise.
Adjust your home environment for your dog
Ensuring the comfort of a dog suffering from joint stiffness is a main priority if you wish to maintain your pet’s quality of life. Orthopedic beds and mobility aids such as wheelchairs will help improve the mobility of your dog while reducing stress. Also, be sure to remove any hazards for your dog that make life at home harder. This includes getting rid of slick surfaces and providing ramps or stairs to high places. The more assistance you can provide your pet, the easier their life will be.
n addition to joint supplements and pain medication, many rehabilitation therapies are available to relieve joint stiffness in pets. These practices should be done under supervision or by a rehab professional in order to keep your pet safe. These additional therapies include:
- Underwater treadmills
- Laser therapy
Arthritis is a condition that can affect your dog’s joints at any point in their life with singular cure or cause. Understanding the early signs and symptoms gives pet owners the best chance at minimizing the effects arthritis has on their dogs. Treatment and care of arthritis takes time and can change over time, so please consult with your veterinary professional to determine the best treatment for your dog.